On eve of Hiroshima anniversary, Vancouver doctor recalls father's work on Manhattan Project
Dr. Curren Warf isn't afraid to speak his mind.
The head of the adolescent-medicine division at B.C. Children's Hospital has been an outspoken critic of gun violence and U.S. foreign policies, including the war in Iraq. He's also the former president of the Los Angeles chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility, which has vociferously opposed the spread of nuclear weapons.
Shortly before tomorrow's 66th anniversary of the first atomic bomb falling on the Japanese city of Hiroshima, Warf talked to the Georgia Straight about why he is so passionate about this issue.
Warf explained that both his parents worked on the top-secret Manhattan Project, which developed the atomic bombs that fell on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945. Within four months of the bombings, up to 250,000 people had died from their effects.
His mother was a technical editor for a magazine attached to the Manhattan Project. His father was a scientist and group leader, who held patents for processes separating plutonium from nuclear waste.
"Immediately after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, he and many other scientists started what was called the Federation of American Scientists, which was effectively an antinuclear-weapons group," Warf said.
In a YouTube video following his father's death in 2008, Warf noted that his dad was a lifelong peace activist, who "worked indefatiguably to ban the bomb".
Dr. Curren Warf describes his father's efforts to promote peace.
As a child, Warf spent several years in Indonesia. He said the United States actually offered to use atomic weapons against the Vietnamese when France was losing a colonial war in the early 1950s. The French declined the offer.
Warf also mentioned that General Douglas MacArthur also threatened to drop about 40 atomic bombs during the Korean War in the early 1950s. The physician said that many years later, he was sickened and appalled by the use of American firepower against villages in Vietnam.
"I still get very upset even talking about it," he admitted.
He was inspired by Dr. Helen Caldicott's opposition to nuclear weapons in the 1980s, which is when he got involved with Physicians for Social Responsibility.
As a doctor who specializes in adolescent health, Warf is very familiar with the "pernicious effect" that radiation can have.
"It is cumulative over time," he said. "It can have effects on the DNA at very low levels."
That means that pregnant women who are exposed to low-level radiation will have children with an increased risk of birth defects.
"We know this from studies of Hiroshima that there is no safe low dose of radiation," Warf pointed out. "In fact, the increased risk of cancer in survivors of radiation exposure is really directly proportional to the cumulative exposure over time."
Warf emphasized that people need to be worried about more than just nuclear weapons. He said that uranium tailings have been put into materials that go into the manufacture of buildings. "That low-level radiation is not monitored or regulated."
He is also extremely concerned about the storage of nuclear waste from nuclear reactors. He explained that the half-life of these products is longer than the existence of human civilization.
"To continue to produce dangerous methods of energy production without an implementable plan for the safe disposal of the inevitable byproducts of these plants is utterly irresponsible," Warf stated. "Biological effects are much, much worse on developing fetusus and small children, but play a role with adults as well."
He said he didn't feel qualified at this early stage to discuss the immediate impact that the nuclear-plant problems in Fukushima are having in B.C. However, he suggested that this should be studied in the future.