Cassini's plutonium "radioisotope thermoelectric generators," (RTGs) pose a risk of spreading cancer both at launch time, and later when it flies back around the Earth in the "slingshot" or flyby maneuver being planned by NASA:
- Launch Risk: The odds of a failure during the launch on a Titan IV rocket are, "between one in ten and one in twenty," according to John Pike, head of the Federation of American Scientists. (5)
- "Flyby" risk: During the "flyby" scheme - when Cassini shoots back toward Earth from Venus, in order to use Earth's gravity and increase its velocity for the trip to Saturn, Cassini will be traveling 42, 300 mph and trying to circle the globe only 312 miles overhead. But if Cassini falls into Earth's 75-mile deep atmosphere, the machine will disintegrate, globally dispersing minute particles of plutonium oxide.
The amount of plutonium that NASA calculated might be released under those circumstances is "an astronomical quantity of a potent alpha-emitting cancer producer," writes Dr. John Gofman, medical physicist and co-discoverer of uranium-233. "The number of cancer doses is so high as to make calculations extraneous." (6) NASA claims that Cassini's plutonium power pack is built into a tough container that will withstand any accidental crash through the Earth's atmosphere.
Karl Grossman, a professor of journalism who has written extensively on the dangers of nuclear power in space, talked with Dr. Horst Poehler, a veteran of 22 years of work with NASA contractors at the Cape. Dr, Poehler said that the shielding for the plutonium on Cassini is, "fingernail thin. Itís a joke." (7)
"They have no right to do this in a populated area," Poehler said. Poehler suggests that NASA should launch with another agency that has a more isolated and less-populated launch site. (8)
Cassini and the Plutonium Risks it Entails is Unnecessary
- In 1994, the European Space Agency (ESA) - a partner in the Cassini project - announced a "technological milestone"; its construction of high-efficiency solar cells to generate the modest amount of electricity needed for deep space probes like Cassini. With the money to do the work, within five years the ESA could have solar cells ready to power a space mission to Saturn, according to Carla Signorini, a physicist with the ESA in Holland. (9)
- The ESA reported that, until now, deep-space probes had to use thermonuclear power generators, like the so-called RTGs." (10) During a debate broadcast on Tampa Florida's WMNF radio, a NASA representative admitted that solar power would have worked on the deep-space Galileo mission to Jupiter in 1989. This was the first time NASA had made such an admission. (11) On June 23, 1997, Gerhard Stroble, project leader for the ESA said on German television without any reservations that, "We can do solar cells for deep-space missions." (12)
- As Geov Parrish reports, "The scariest part is that the risk is being taken on for no apparent reason. Cassini is a scientific probe; alternative fueling via solar panels is perfectly feasible. Life on Earth is being jeopardized essentially to feed the macho, pro-technology sensibilities of a militarized government bureaucracy (NASA) incapable of admitting error." (13)
The Outer Limits of Nuclear Madness
- In a January 17, 1997 warning against NASA's planned Cassini launch, a U.S. Delta II rocket exploded and crashed 13 seconds after takeoff from Cape Canaveral. The $60 million rocket was carrying a $40 million NAVSTAR satellite used for pinpointing targets for nuclear missile warheads and B-2 bombers. The rocket's crash resulted in fire and debris bombarding the neighboring community. Residents as far away as Vero Beach, 100 miles south, were warned to stay in their homes because a toxic cloud from the burning rocket fuel, etc. was heading their way. (14)
- In another warning, the $300 million Russian "Mars 96" spacecraft failed on its Nov. 17, 1996 attempt to leave the Earth's gravitational field. The craft crashed back into the atmosphere traveling 17,000 mph. The U.S. government understood just how serious a disaster may have occurred, because President Clinton himself phoned the Australian Prime Minister to warn him. The New York Times reported that the threat of the satellite's half-pound of plutonium landing on Australia, "sparked a short-lived national emergency." That day, the U.S. announced the "very good news" that the plutonium appeared likely to land harmlessly in the Pacific Ocean." The government admitted the possibility that a small lethal cloud of plutonium wold contaminate the atmosphere if the canisters had burned up. In fact, the Russian craft burned and crashed over Northern Chile, according to eye witnesses, and may have reached the ground. (15)
- NASA's controversial Cassini space mission to Saturn has already created reason for concern. Government workers in New Mexico are being contaminated by Cassini's toxic plutonium. Based on official =documents it obtained, The New Mexican of Sante Fe, NM, has reported that 241 cases of radioactive contamination occurred at the Los Alamos National Laboratory between 1993 and 1995 as the Cassini RTGs were being processed. The New Mexican revealed that previous denials by NASA and the DOE concerning worker contamination (reported in February in the Albuquerque Journal) were lies.(16)
What You Can Do:
- Contact the Florida Coalition for more information or to purchase a copy of the award-winning "Nukes in Space" videotape: Florida Coalition for Peace and Justice, P.O. Box 90035, Gainesville FL 32607, (352) 468-3295
- Participate in the Coalition's campaign of education and action. Send a dlegation to Florida for the "Cancel Cassini International Demonstration and Nonviolent Actions," at Cape Canaveral, on Oct. 4, 1997.
- Organize a letter-writing campaign to your congressional delegation.
- Write to the President and your U.S. Senators and Representatives urging:
- 1) Legislation canceling the Cassini Mission until NASA pursues replacing the plutonium with an alternative power source; and send copies of Congressional reply letters to the FL Coalition.
- 2) Congressional hearings to investigate: a0 the need for the mission; b) the potential consequences of a "Plutonium Challenger" disaster over Florida; and c) alternatives to the plutonium powered deep space missions.
- 3) Urge your local cable provider and public broadcasting stations to show the "Nukes in Space" video.
- 4) Use the information available from the FL Coalition and the Progressive Foundation to write letters to newspaper editors.
- Send copies of your letters to news directors at your local TV and radio stations and insist they report on the issue.
1) "Stop using Plutonium in Space," Global Response, G.R. No. 3, 1997, Boulder, CO. (303) 444-0306, website:www.globalresponse.org;
2) Final Environmental Impact statement for the Cassini Mission, NASA, June, 1995, p. 4-76;
3) David Chandler, "Hot Spot": Mars 96 failure renews concern about plutonium carrying spacecraft," The Boston Globe , Dec. 9, 1996;
4) Ibid., n. 3;
5) Ibid., n. 1;
6) Ibid., n. 1;
7) Dr. Karl Grossman, "Nuclear menace in Outer Space," commentary, The Baltimore Sun, Dec. 8, 1996;
8) Marilyn Meyer, Risks of plutonium launch debate," Florida Today, May 21, 1995;
9) Ibid., n. 8;
10) European Space Agency, "New Solar Cells with record efficeincy," Press Information Note, No. 07-94, Noordwijk, Netherlands, April 29, 1004;
11) Just Peace, newspaper of the Florida Coalition for Peace and Justice, Vol. 15, No.1, p.6;
12) Press release, June 25, 1997, Florida Coalition for Peace And Justice;
13) Geov Parrish, "How NASA could doom life on Earth this October, Eat the State!, Seattle WA, June 17, 1997;
14) "Self-destructive Rocket," The New York Times, January 18, 1997, p. A7;
15) Ibid., n. 3
16) "Lab contamination rises: Alamos cites NASA project," (AP), The Denver Post, July 30, 1996.
See also: Dr. Karl Grossman, "Risking the World: Nuclear Proliferation in Space," Covert Action Quarterly, Summer, 1996.
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