Alan Kohn: Speech at Cape Canaveral

Air Force Station Main Gates July 26, 1997

and associated commentary
ALAN KOHN: Cape Canaveral AFS Main Gate, July 26, 1997

NASA is lost in space and can not find its way home. My name is Alan Kohn and I worked here (at NASA) for thirty years. I've been in the Missiles and Rockets business since 1955. I know the mind of NASA, and its heart...that is if they still have a heart. Things have deteriorated a little bit of late. We've all seen NASA and the Air Force light up the sky out here with rocketry mishaps, every single year. Rocketry, believe me, is still in its infancy. There is no safe rocket. Not out here there isn't. Not in today's world there isn't. Rockets blow up very easily.

And the plutonium canisters, NASA says they are indestructible. There's no such thing as a man made object that's indestructible. That claim is totally ridiculous.

As the Emergency Preparedness Officer on the Ulysses and Galileo missions my responsibility was to protect the government workers from the possible catastrophe of a plutonium release. They didn't give me a budget until I threatened to go public and that scared them so they gave me a budget. I converted the government buildings to fallout shelters with a lot of people's help, and there are a lot of people in there that agree with us. But they can't say so without losing their jobs. But I didn't do anything to protect the public. The notion that the public could be protected is a farce. Once plutonium is released and it begins to fall --and it would fall over populated areas onto a footprint according to wind direction, velocity and the height of the RTG breech-- there would be absolutely nothing they could do to evacuate the area. If the public were given a few minutes' notice, there would be pandemonium and gridlock. No one could get out. People would lose their lives, their homes and their health insurance. Property and health insurance, all insurance policies have exclusions due to war, terrorism and nuclear accidents.

I'm not just talking about people here in Brevard County. A strong wind condition and fine atomization of the plutonium could carry this deadly poison a long way. And plutonium is the deadliest known poison. One pound of this equally distributed could kill all 5.5 billion of us and we're talking here of 72.3 lbs. This is not a game.

According to the May fifth, 1997 issue of "Aviation Week and Space Technology," the Cassini mission after its eleven year cycle will cost you the taxpayers more than 3.2 billion dollars. That's a lot of money, that's a lot of clout, that's a tough thing to stop. Tough even to delay it to convert it to solar. I don't know if we can stop Cassini or not, or if we can stop future plutonium launches. But I do know this. If NASA spills plutonium on the heads of the people, we can vote out everyone who's in Washington. Because every member of the Congress and Senate plus the President and Vice President were personally handed petitions asking them to have public hearings and to please stop this insanity. And if this happens, there won't be anything left of NASA either except for a dirty smudge on the pages of history.


Comments garnered from activists, bystanders, protesters and sympathizers during various anti-Cassini demonstrations and rallies over the last two years (1996 & 1997).


NASA begins a long term program of launching plutonium 238 in unprecedented quantities this October 6 ('97) ostensibly for reasons of science and for the Department of Defense. Many point to how much all this is costing in tax revenues, who benefits from those large and long term revenues, and arguing the reason is neither good science or defense, but Corporate welfare in a very big way. Many in the scientific community who are not on the government pay roll are pointing out precisely how dangerous launching plutonium 238 can be to life on earth should any one of these launches fail, either at launch or in the upper atmosphere. In spite of years of lack of news coverage (Sonoma University calls it censorship) people are beginning to talk about this. Public awareness of plans and activities held in secrecy is the last thing NASA wants. Functional democracy begins with free and open discourse. Some argue that the reason U.S. leadership can afford to be so disconnected from the interests of working people in the rest of the country is because public engagement of the issues (discourse) is diminished or so skewed. The following spontaneous and unpolished material is presented in the interests of stimulating discussion on the issue of plutonium launching.