The Wrong Stuff - Space Program's Nuclear Threat To Our Planet
Environment News Service
Dr. Karl Grossman is full professor of Journalism at the State University of New York College at Old Westbury. He is the author of "The Wrong Stuff: The Space Program's Nuclear Threat To Our Planet," and producer of television programs on the issue of arming space.
Grossman's award-winning investigative reporting has uncovered the fact that there has been a 12% accident rate involving both the U.S. (now 27 accidents) and Soviet/Russian (now 42 accidents) for their space nuclear shots. Additionally, he has exposed that the Cassini probe contains the most plutonium -- 72.3 pounds -- ever used in any space device.
Grossman's reporting has uncovered the fact that the use of plutonium is merely as a heat source to make electricity. It is not a propulsion fuel, and not fuel for the type of kind of nuclear fission reaction we normally associate with a nuclear power plant. The plutonium simply decomposes and makes enough heat to provide the necessary wattage for the electrical equipment on board. NASA opted out of using solar power as an alternative for a variety of reasons, mostly involving its contractors and its desire to develop nuclear energy as a power source rather than solar energy.
He adds, "NASA is now planning up to 13 additional nuclear space shots in coming years, so disaster is inevitable. Moreover, and this is extremely important, the U.S. military is seeking to deploy high-powered weaponry in space -- lasers especially -- which need enormous amounts of power and the Pentagon sees nuclear power in space as what these new weapons will need as a power source."
Transcript Of Dr. Grossman's Statement At The United Nations, June 24,1998
By Dr. Karl Grossman
U.S. nuclear-powered activities in space are illegal under the international Outer Space Treaty of 1967. The U.S. has been covering its nuclear space flights since 1991 by the Price-Anderson Act, a U.S. law which the U.S. contends would limit liability in the event of an accident-involving Cassini or any another nuclear-fueled space device -- to $8.9 billion for U.S. domestic damage and just $100 million for damage to all foreign nations. This is in violation of the treaty's provision that nations "shall be liable" for damage caused by their space devices.
As for consequences of the planned 1998 Cassini Earth "flyby," in the event of what NASA calls an "inadvertent reentry" -- a crash of the space probe fueled with 72.3 pounds of plutonium dioxide into the Earth's atmosphere -- NASA says in its "Final Environmental Impact Statement for the Cassini Mission" that "approximately 5 billion of the estimated 7 to 8 billion world population at the timeÉcould receive 99 percent or more of the radiation exposure." NASA in the report projects 2,300 fatal cancers in the event of such an accident. The report also speaks of plans to -- if plutonium rains down on urban areas, for example -- "demolish some or all structures," [and] "relocate affected population permanently."
The U.S. government's Interagency Nuclear Safety Review Panel "Safety Evaluation Report" on the Cassini mission, which I have obtained from Dr. Earl Budin, associate clinical professor of radiology at the UCLA, speaks of the possibility of "several tens of thousands" of cancer deaths. It notes that in an Earth "flyby" accident, because the plutonium canisters "have not been designed for the high speed reentryÉmuch of the plutonium is vaporized" and provides "a collective dose to the world's population." NASA, not in its publicity statements but in the Final Environmental Impact Report, also concedes a release of much of the plutonium -- and as respirable [breathable] particles.
Meanwhile, the U.S. is moving to deploy weapons in space and to exercise what it terms "space control." This is closely linked with space nuclear power. As the 1996 U.S. Air Force report "New World Vistas" states: "In the next two decades, new technologies will allow the fielding of space-based weapons of devastating effectiveness to be used to deliver energy and mass as force projection in tactical and strategic conflictÉThese advances will enable lasers with reasonable mass and cost to effect very many kills."
But, the report notes, "power limitations impose restrictions" on such laser-based weapons systems making them "relatively unfeasibleÉ.A natural technology to enable high power is nuclear power in space."
In April of this year, the government left [sic] contracts for the development of this space-borne laser-non-nuclear powered but a first step. Meanwhile, the Outer Space Treaty bans deployment in space by any nations of "weapons of mass destruction." The treaty also states that nations should "avoid " activities that stand to produce "harmful contamination" of "space and celestial bodies" as well as "adverse changes in the environment of the Earth."
As General Joseph Ashy, commander-in-chief of the U.S. Space Command has stated: "It's politically sensitive, but it's going to happenÉSome people don't want to hear this, and it sure isn't in vogue, but -- absolutely -- we're going to fight in space. We're going to fight from space and we're going to fight into spaceÉThat's why the U.S. has development programs in directed energy and hit-to-kill mechanisms."
The U.S. space military approach is detailed in this book, "The Future of War: Power, Technology & American World Dominance in the 2lst Century," in which George and Meredith Friedman state that through the domination of space with weaponry the U.S. will dominate the planet below and "just as Europe shaped the world for a half a millennium" by the Britain, France and Spain dominating the oceans with their fleets, "so too the United States will shape the world for at least that length of time." They boost the use of nuclear power as an energy source in this regard.
As to future U.S. plutonium-fueled space shots, the U.S. General Accounting Office has just issued a report describing eight of them in coming years. A NASA statement speaks of up to 13. With a 12% failure rate already in both the U.S. and Soviet/Russian space nuclear programs, accidents -- and disaster -- are inevitable.
The National Space Symposium at which the new space-borne laser contract was announced was, said the advertisements of the United States Space Foundation for it, to, "Explore the Global Relevance of Space and the interdependence of Civil and Commercial and Military space efforts. It is clear that 'space is open for business'." I say space must not be declared "open" for the colosally dangerous, wasteful and illegal nuclear and military "business." Space, as the Outer Space Treaty states, should be used "for peaceful purposesÉ The exploration and use of outer space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies, shall be carried out for the benefit and in the interest of all countries."++