Caldicott, Helen 1938- (Helen Mary Caldicott)

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Caldicott, Helen 1938- (Helen Mary Caldicott)


Born August 8, 1938, in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia; daughter of Philip (a factory manager) and Mary Mona Enyd (an interior designer) Broinowski; married William Caldicott (a physician), December 8, 1962 (divorced); children: Philip, Penny, William, Jr. Education: University of Adelaide, B.S., M.B., 1961.


Home—Long Island, NY. Office—P.O. Box 348, Arlington, MA 02174. E-mail—[email protected].


Physician, activist, and author. Royal Adelaide Hospital, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia, intern, 1961; general practice of medicine in South Australia, 1963-65; Harvard University Medical School, Cambridge, MA, fellow in nutrition, 1966-68, instructor in pediatrics, 1977-80; Children's Hospital Medical Center, Boston, MA, fellow in nutrition, 1967-68, fellow in cystic fibrosis, 1975-76, associate, 1977-80; Adelaide Children's Hospital, Adelaide, intern, 1972, resident, 1973-74, founder and head of cystic fibrosis clinic, 1975-76; Sydney Children's Hospital, Sydney, Australia, pediatric physician, 1997-98. Lecturer, New School for Social Research; host of a weekly radio talk show. Appeared in documentary films, including If You Love This Planet, National Film Board of Canada, 1982, and In Our Hands, Action for Nuclear Disarmament, 1982; guest on radio and television programs, including Merv Griffin Show, Donahue, Today Show, Good Morning, America, 60 Minutes, and Nightline. Ran unsuccessfully for seat in Australian Parliament, 1990.


American Thoracic Society, Royal Australian College of Physicians, Physicians for Social Responsibility (president, 1978-83; president emeritus, 1983—), Medical Campaign against Nuclear War (founder), Women's Action for Nuclear Disarmament (founder), Women's Party for Survival (founder).


Prize for clinical medicine from British Medical Association, 1960; Consumer Action Now award, Margaret Mead Award from Environmental Defense Center, Thomas Merton Prize for Peace from Thomas Merton Society, and Humanist of the Year Award from Ethical Society of Boston, all 1980; Gandhi Peace Prize from Promoting Enduring Peace, and SANE Peace Award from SANE Education Fund, both 1981; Humanist of the Year Award from American Association of Humanistic Psychology, and Audubon "A" Award from Massachusetts Audubon Society, both 1982; Woman of the Year Award from Boston College, Peace Award from American Association of University Women, Humanitarian Award from Massachusetts Psychological Association, Elizabeth Blackwell Award from American Medical Women's Association, Abraham L. Sacher Award from Brandeis University, Ansel Adams Award from Second Biennial Fate of the Earth Conference, and Outstanding Writer Award from Massachusetts Bay Association of Writing Programs, all 1984; President's Award from Hofstra University, Integrity Award from John-Roger Foundation, Peace Medal Award from United Nations Association of Australia, and Nobel Peace Prize nomination, all 1985; International Year of Peace Award from Australian Government, 1986; honorary degrees from Antioch University, Emmanuel College, Russell Sage College, State University of New York at Binghamton, University of Linkoeping (Linkoeping, Sweden), and University of Notre Dame.


(With Nancy Herrington and Nahum Stiskin) Nuclear Madness: What You Can Do!, Autumn Press (Berkeley, CA), 1978, new edition published as Nuclear Madness: What You Can Do; with a New Chapter on Three Mile Island, Bantam (New York, NY), 1980, revised edition, W.W. Norton (New York, NY), 1994.

Missile Envy: The Arms Race and Nuclear War, Morrow (New York, NY), 1984.

(With Major-General Leonard V. Johnson) Nuclear War: The Search for Solutions: Proceedings of a Conference Held at the University of British Columbia, October 19-21, 1984, with Special Essays, Physicians for Social Responsibility (Vancouver, BC, Canada), 1985.

If You Love This Planet: A Plan to Heal the Earth, W.W. Norton (New York, NY), 1992.

A Passionate Life, Random House Australia (Milsons Point, New South Wales, Australia), 1996, published as A Desperate Passion: An Autobiography, W.W. Norton (New York, NY), 1996.

(Author of foreword) Gayle Greene, The Woman Who Knew Too Much: Alice Stewart and the Secrets of Radiation, University of Michigan Press (Ann Arbor, MI), 1999.

The New Nuclear Danger: George W. Bush's Military-Industrial Complex, New Press (New York, NY), 2002.

Nuclear Power Is Not the Answer, New Press/W.W. Norton (New York, NY), 2006.

(With Craig Eisendrath) War in Heaven: The Arms Race in Outer Space, New Press/W.W. Norton (New York, NY), 2007.


Since her 1971 fight to stop France from testing nuclear weapons over the southern Pacific Ocean, Australian-born physician Helen Caldicott has become "probably the most effective antinuclear speaker" in America, averred Nobel Prize-winning biologist George Wald in a 1979 Ms. article. Caldicott's speeches on the health dangers posed by nuclear fallout helped convince many Australians to protest and end the testing; she later led the successful effort to halt uranium mining and exporting in that country. Since moving to the United States in 1977, Caldicott has focused much of her energy on protesting against nuclear weapons, pushing for a freeze on the building of such weapons, and urging all Americans to become involved in the debate over nuclear technology. In Nuclear Madness: What You Can Do!, written with Nancy Herrington and Nahum Stiskin, Caldicott states: "I believe it imperative that the American public understand that nuclear power generation is neither safe, nor clean, nor cheap; that new initiatives are urgently required if we are to avoid nuclear catastrophe in a world armed to the teeth with atomic weapons; and that these initiatives must begin with awareness, concern, and action on the part of the individual citizen…. We must educate ourselves … then move powerfully as individuals accepting full responsibility for preserving our planet for our descendants."

Caldicott's own awareness of nuclear hazards stemmed in part from her experiences as a pediatrician. In treating patients stricken with cystic fibrosis and leukemia, she realized that even one radioactive particle could damage a cell or a gene, thus making such genetic diseases and cancers more likely. Based on her findings, she revived the antinuclear organization Physicians for Social Responsibility and left her medical practice to devote more time to publicly spreading her views.

Concern for her children also motivated Caldicott to activism. "When my husband and I decided to have our first child, I had nightmares thinking that the baby would live to see the horrors that I'd read about as a girl," she once told a CA interviewer. Reading scientific studies of nuclear issues helped solidify her opposition to the technology, showing how weapons tests and routine reactor operation produce substances that affect the entire food chain. Caldicott was particularly troubled to discover that children face the greatest dangers from radiation. Because children are still growing, their cells reproduce quickly; a radiation-damaged cell only reproduces more damaged—cancerous—cells.

From the beginning of her campaign for a nuclear-free world, Caldicott has focused on a personal approach to sharing what she has learned. As a physician and as a parent she addresses church groups, college students, hospital staffs, and labor unions. She reaches many people through magazine and newspaper articles, and she speaks on radio and television news programs. Using blackboard drawings, Caldicott explains the technological and medical realities, and data collected from government reports and scientific studies fuel her arguments.

Caldicott also spreads her message with her books, which have been deemed useful educational tools. In the New York Times Book Review Philip M. Boffey described Nuclear Madness as "a primer on the medical hazards of nuclear fission." The critic questioned some of Caldicott's assertions, but he also acknowledged the book's "undeniable strengths," among them clarity, simplicity, a dispassionate tone, and attention to neglected issues. For example, among the issues she discusses is the disposal of radioactive waste; she notes that "even if unbreakable, corrosion-resistant containers could be designed, any storage site on earth would have to be kept under constant surveillance by incorruptible guards, administered by moral politicians living in a stable, warless society, and left undisturbed by earthquakes, natural disasters, or other acts of God for no less than half a million years." Nuclear Madness was revised and updated in 1994.

In Missile Envy: The Arms Race and Nuclear War Caldicott analyzes the intricacies of defense strategy and the capabilities of nuclear arsenals worldwide. She offers several explanations for the U.S.-USSR arms race and suggests that human nature must change to prevent the annihilation of humankind. Taylor Branch, writing in the New York Times Book Review, faulted the author's diagnosis as superficial and criticized her emotional leaps between denunciations and religious appeals, but nonetheless judged Caldicott's arguments regarding specific arms issues convincing. "Caldicott is at her best," Branch reflected, "when she goes into the maw of the doomsday machine itself to describe the missile systems, nuclear warheads and military theories in their deadliest applications." Branch also hailed the author's contention that "the logical consequence of the preparation for nuclear war is nuclear war." In 1985, shortly after the publication of this book, Caldicott was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. The Cold War came to a peaceful end during the administration of George H.W. Bush following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

If You Love This Planet: A Plan to Heal the Earth is Caldicott's guide to saving the planet from nuclear war and environmental disaster. Drawing on her background as a medical doctor, she first diagnoses the ills of the planet and then outlines a comprehensive plan to save Earth from its human population. In the final chapter of the book, she recommends that the planet's human residents take up the four "Ls" to heal the planet: love, learn, live, and legislate.

A Desperate Passion: An Autobiography chronicles Caldicott's personal and professional trials and triumphs— from a strict childhood where her mother beat her for small infractions to her success in negotiating arms treaties with heads of state. Caldicott writes about how, at the age of nineteen, she read Nevil Shute's novel On the Beach, a haunting tale of five people who are waiting to die following a nuclear attack. The horror of the novel stuck with her, and she decided that she would become a medical doctor in order to help as many people as possible. Her grandmother had been the first woman to graduate from medical college in Melbourne, and Caldicott herself was one of the first female physicians to practice in her native Australia. She soon began her second career as a crusader, talking to women's groups about health issues and the dangers of venereal disease, and she was seen by many as strident. As she gradually became more concerned with the potential effects of a nuclear war, she became a crusader on this front, too, founding antinuclear groups and eventually winning audiences with leaders like Leonid Brezhnev, Jimmy Carter, and Ronald Reagan. At the same time that she was becoming more renowned professionally, however, Caldicott's personal life fell apart, and she and her husband of twenty-five years divorced. A Desperate Passion ends with its author's reflections on becoming a single person. Patricia D'Alessandro wrote in the Bloomsbury Review that "Caldicott is an iconoclast who has struggled to rise above the patriarchy in medicine, politics, the peace movement, and her private life…. She is endowed with a passion that goes beyond the call of duty, one that could very well be the most important call to arms that we face."

In 2002 Caldicott published The New Nuclear Danger: George W. Bush's Military-Industrial Complex, which not only provides the general reader with a solid grounding in the Bush administration's defense programs and various weapons projects but also displays Caldicott's fears of allowing the U.S. government to continue producing nuclear weapons. The book focuses on the connection between the American weapons arsenal and large corporations, as well as the millions of tax dollars spent on nuclear-weapons projects. The book does not examine the nuclear weapons arsenals of other countries. Caldicott also explains the medical implications Americans potentially face from carcinogenic nuclear waste. Donna Seaman, a critic for Booklist, called The New Nuclear Danger a "meticulous, urgent, and shocking report" about nuclear arms in the United States.

Nuclear Power Is Not the Answer revisits Caldicott's positions on nuclear energy. While her previous books on the subject had concentrated on nuclear weaponry, Nuclear Power Is Not the Answer looks at the increasing emphasis on nuclear power as a possible solution to the problems of global warming and high costs of fossil fuels. Caldicott rejects the option of nuclear power altogether: it is not, she argues, as environmentally friendly as its supporters suggest. Besides the well-known problems of nuclear waste disposal and power plants' vulnerability to terrorist assault, wrote Booklist contributor Donna Seaman, "enormous amounts of fossil fuel are burned during the nuclear-energy process, and nuclear reactors use and pollute vast amounts of water." Furthermore, the author argues, atomic power is so inefficient that it has to be subsidized around the world by government agencies rather than through private funding. "In its 2005 budget alone," declared Pam Barrett in the Edmonton Journal, "the U.S. government put 13 billion dollars into propping up some of the 103 plants currently operating there. They simply can't function without large taxpayer subsidies, she argues, and that is true no matter where in the world nuclear power plants exist." As alternatives to turning to atomic power, explained a Publishers Weekly contributor, the author recommends that we "switch to wind and other benign renewables, turn down the thermostat, wear a sweater, use energy efficient lights and dry clothes on the clothesline." "The book," concluded Guardian contributor Steven Poole, "is limpid and expertly argued."

In War in Heaven: The Arms Race in Outer Space, Calidcott teams with former diplomat Craig Eisendrath (author of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty) to argue for the disarmament of space technology. This issue became more and more divisive under the George W. Bush administration, which saw space-based weapons technology as an effective tool to limit terrorist access to nuclear delivery systems and other weapons of mass destruction. Together, Caldicott and Eisendrath foresee the potential for a new arms race; but this one, unlike the nuclear arsenal buildup of the Soviet and American governments during the Cold War, promises to involve more states (including, in addition to Russia, the nations of China, Iran, and North Korea, all capable of creating space programs or achieving nuclear weaponry) and offers the possibility for disaster even without the threat of nuclear annihilation. Together, declared John Burns, writing for, the authors "weigh space tech's many benefits (such as the way worldwide communication can end-run totalitarianism) against the terrible costs of missile defence: Washington has spent almost US $150 billion on research to date (it accounts for 95 percent of all military spending in space)—‘with virtually nothing to show for it’."

Through her writings and lectures Caldicott "has captured the hearts and minds of people around the world," stated scientist Freeman Dyson in the New Yorker. "You cannot brush aside her message as the emotional outpouring of a fanatic. She speaks from a solid basis of medical experience." In December of 1982 Caldicott won a lengthy private meeting with U.S. President Ronald Reagan, but she left frustrated because Reagan was "not receptive at all to what I had to say," she recalled in Missile Envy. Explained Dyson: "There is prejudice and antipathy on both sides. The military establishment looks on the peace movement as a collection of ignorant people meddling in a business they do not understand, while the peace movement looks on the military establishment as a collection of misguided people protected by bureaucratic formality from all contact with human realities. Both these preconceptions create barriers to understanding." Reflecting on what she has achieved and what remains to be done, Caldicott urges in Missile Envy: "It is time for people to rise to their full moral and spiritual height, to take the world on their shoulder like Atlas…. Think how much Americans could achieve by using … the democracy they have inherited from their forebears. All it takes is willpower and determination…. Think of what we are about to destroy."



American Women in Science, 1950 to the Present, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1998.

Caldicott, Helen, Missile Envy: The Arms Race and Nuclear War, Morrow (New York, NY), 1984.

Caldicott, Helen, Nancy Herrington, and Nahum Stiskin, Nuclear Madness: What You Can Do; with a New Chapter on Three Mile Island, revised edition, W.W. Norton (New York, NY), 1994.

Contemporary Issues Criticism, Volume 2, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1984.


Arena, August 1, 2006, Annie Davis, "Nuclear Power Is Not the Answer to Global Warming or Anything Else," p. 53.

Bloomsbury Review, November-December, 1996, Patricia D'Alessandro, review of A Desperate Passion: An Autobiography, pp. 17, 21.

Booklist, September 15, 1996, Alice Joyce, review of A Desperate Passion, p. 186; March 15, 2002, Donna Seaman, review of The New Nuclear Danger: George W. Bush's Military-Industrial Complex, p. 1186; August 1, 2006, Donna Seaman, review of Nuclear Power Is Not the Answer, p. 15.

Edmonton Journal, September 10, 2006, Pam Barrett, "A Question of Fossilized Thinking."

Guardian, October 14, 2006, Steven Poole, "Nuclear Threats and Promises."

Library Journal, April 15, 2002, Daniel K. Blewett, review of The New Nuclear Danger, p. 110.

New Yorker, February 6, 1984, Freeman Dyson, "Weapons and Hope I—Questions," p. 52.

New York Times Book Review, August 26, 1979, Philip M. Boffey, "Knocking the Nukes"; July 29, 1984, Taylor Branch, review of Missile Envy: The Arms Race and Nuclear War.

Publishers Weekly, July 22, 1996, review of A Desperate Passion, p. 221; March 25, 2002, review of The New Nuclear Danger, p. 53; July 17, 2006, review of Nuclear Power Is Not the Answer, p. 151.

Reference & Research Book News, May, 2007, review of War in Heaven: The Arms Race in Outer Space.


No Radiation Web site, (March 11, 2008), "Helen Caldicott."

Radio 4 All, (March 11, 2008), interview with Helen Caldicott., (March 11, 2008), John Burns, "War in Heaven."

Women's International Center Web site, (March 11, 2008), "Helen Caldicott: Peace Is Her Passion."


Eight Minutes to Midnight: A Portrait of Dr. Helen Caldicott (film), Physicians for Social Responsibility, 1981.

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