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.

Comments (2) Add New Comment
mike saunders
Good work of the doctor trying to rid the world of nuclear weapons.

However his comments on the effects of low level exposure to radiation are stated as fact when in fact these effects have not been proven.

The Health Physics Society's position statement first adopted in January 1996, as revised in July 2010, states:

"In accordance with current knowledge of radiation health risks, the Health Physics Society recommends AGAINST quantitative estimation of health risks below an individual dose of 5 rem in one year or a lifetime dose of 10 rem above that received from natural sources.... Estimation of health risk associated with radiation doses that are of similar magnitude as those received from natural sources should be strictly qualitative and encompass a range of hypothetical health outcomes, including the possibility of NO ADVERSE HEALTH EFFECTS at such low levels

As for the doctor's comments on nuclear waste, it has not harmed anybody and we have the technology to safely use it as fuel in fast spectrum reactors thereby destroying it.

Does anyone at the Georgia Straight check the stories printed for accuracy? Even a 5 minute Google search would have helped give this article balance.

I hope for better journalism on such an important topic. Nuclear power can help us with our climate crisis, but we need to hear rational voices in order to make the proper choices.

Come on Georgia Straight, don't let us down with this sloppy journalism.
Rating: +3
mike saunders
The doctor's statement QUOTE:

"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,"

Should really be applied to the Oil and Coal industries. With their proven track record of killing millions of people per year through pollution and endangering our planet.

As a member of Physicians for Social Responsibility" the doctor is ignoring another of their reports. To Quote from the PSR report...

Physicians for Social Responsibility has released a groundbreaking medical report, “Coal’s Assault on Human Health,” which takes a new look at the devastating impacts of coal on the human body. Coal combustion releases mercury, particulate matter, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, and dozens of other substances known to be hazardous to human health."

Coal is the real enemy. A rational approach to nuclear power could actually help us solve our problems.
The doctor is being irresponsible for spreading his bias against nuclear instead of allowing rationality to guide our decisions on how to tackle climate change.

Nuclear may not be perfect, but is is a lot better than the alternatives.

Rating: -1
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