I was in the United States Military, inside the infantry at the height of the Vietnam war. I was being trained to use my knowledge of physics to advance the war. However, I used to meet people carrying on lonely, seemingly useless vigils outside our headquarters, just like you are today. Sometimes, I would talk to them. Eventually, through these conversations, I began to realize that everything I had believed in up to that time about war and peace was in fact wrong. The lesson here is that by having peaceful protests, we touch people's hearts and minds, and that is what this is all about.
I've been a professor of physics for the past twenty-five years. As a physicist I've learned you should always look at both sides of the story. I've gone through hundreds of pages of computer output from NASA, line for line and at first they seem to have a convincing case. They have computer programs as thick as the Manhattan telephone book. They have teams of engineers, squadrons of NASA bureaucrats, multimillion dollar budgets and they ask, "So, what do you have? You critics are nothing but scandal mongers, simpletons, and know-nothings." They may have computer programs as thick as telephone books, but you have just one, tiny thing on your side, and that is the laws of physics, the truth.
The laws of physics tell us, number one, that a chain is no stronger than its weakest link. And the weakest link in the Cassini is human error and design flaws. How do you quantify human stupidity? How can you write a computer program to put a number on human error? The real know nothings and simpletons are the NASA bureaucrats who don't understand this. When the Hubble telescope was first launched, this billion dollar pinnacle of American science was sent into orbit near-sighted. Why was that? Among several reasons, during its assembly a man inserted a ruler backwards to measure the mirror, jeopardizing a billion dollar space mission. How do you put a number on that?
So what's inside those thick computer programs? I've gone through most of them and I was shocked to find they took their programs directly from the nuclear power plant industry. Event-tree analyses, Monte Carlo simulations, and Single-Event Failure Analysis: they all failed to predict Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, events precipitated by human error and design flaws. A few years ago I was in Los Angeles debating a senior engineer from the Bechtel Corporation. They had been asked to remedy the fact that the two billion dollar nuclear power plant at Diablo Canyon was installed backwards by accident. The containment annulus, containing all the sensitive emergency core cooling systems, was installed 180 degrees backwards, forcing the NRC to temporarily halt construction. The nuclear industry became the laughing stock of the world.
But that's not all that's backwards. The heads of the utilities are screwed on backwards, putting expediency before the health and safety of the people of this country.
This Bechtel engineer then got very angry when I mentioned that Diablo Canyon was actually the second reactor in Calif. installed backwards. The 500 ton reactor vessel at San Onofre, south of LA, was also installed backwards, and this time the engineers simply put in the control rods and fuel rods backwards, and changed the computer program to operate a backwards reactor. Well, this senior engineer's face was getting redder and redder. Finally he pounded his fist into the table and said, as loud as he could, "Dammit! Sure we put in Diablo Canyon backwards. Sure, we put in San Onofre backwards. BUT THOSE ARE THE BEST DAMN REACTORS THAT WE HAVE EVER BUILT!"
The laws of physics tell us, number two, you should test with full scale experiments. If the RTGs and plutonium are safe, put them in an explosion to prove they're safe. Has NASA done the acid test: raise the RTGs to 3,000 degrees centigrade, fire bullets at it at 1,000 ft/sec while its under 2,500 psi pressure? No. This violates one of the most precious principles in space science, "Test your theories before you send them into orbit." So where did they get their numbers from? They made them up. Their numbers claim that only 28.7 curies of plutonium, only .01%, a tiny fraction of the total of 400,000 curies, will escape if there's an accident on launch. Where did they get this number of 28.7 curies? They simply made it up. You too can follow in NASA's footsteps: make up your own numbers, publish a telephone book size computer program, and then use that program as a door stop, because its worthless.
The laws of physics tell us, number three, to look at the track record, the actual experience. The second weakest link in the chain after human error is the Titan IV booster rocket. Its failure rate is one out of twenty. Let me ask you a question: Would you put a gun at your head with twenty chambers in it and one bullet and keep firing it while telling your friends, "Nothing is going to happen. Its safe. Believe me. Honest." That's what the NASA bureaucrats are telling you. One in twenty, not one in a million, are the true odds of an accident for this mission. One in seventy are the odds for the average booster rocket. The actual failure rate of plutonium missions is three out of twenty three. Rely on the actual experience, not the creative imagination of NASA bureaucrats.
The laws of physics tell us, number four, that winds can blow this material many miles. Uranium dioxide dust has been experimentallytracked to about 25 miles after being released. In their accident scenario, NASA used to say that 2,300 people could be killed from cancer over a fifty year period from a maximum accident. Now they say 120. From which hat did they pull that number? I went through their calculations, through hundreds of pages. The reason they now say only 120 people will be killed when Cassini comes flaming back down, losing 1/3 of its plutonium in the upper atmosphere...is because they assume that all the plutonium that finally hits the ground with the space probe will be concentrated in an area about two square miles. NASA bureaucrats have discovered a fantastic, remarkable new law of physics. It says: "The winds suddenly stop blowing within one mile of a nuclear accident." A remarkable law of physics! NASA bureaucrats simply fail to factor in the true dimension of wind effects in order to arrive at this unusually low number of 120 deaths.
I'm trying to tell you something very simple. NASA bureaucrats are bordering on scientific dishonesty. It is dishonest to make up numbers without conducting full-scale tests, to use computer programs without considering human error or design flaws, to neglect the track record of actual failures. --They are also not considering billions of dollars in law suits.
So what could happen in October when we have that Cassini launch? Maybe nothing. Maybe, out of twenty chambers pointed at your head, the gun will say, "Click" -a perfect launch. But sooner or later the laws of physics catch up with you.
Let's now go through what might happen in case of an accident, in case of a booster rocket explodes at launch. Tempera- tures will soar to 2,500 centigrade, above the melting point of the plutonium's iridium casing. (Local temperatures may be as high as 3,300 degrees, like the temperatures found in an acetylene torch). Shrapnel will pierce these weakened RTGs. These RTGs have failed at room temperature when aluminum and titanium bullets were fired at them at 1000 ft/sec. At 2,500 degrees, far beyond room temperature, with its iridium casing weakened or even melted, the RTGs will be ripped to shreds by the shrapnel. Also, at room temperatures the RTGs have withstood overpreasures a little over 2,000 psi. But explosions can create local pressures beyond 2,500 pounds per square inch, enough to blow them apart. We must put all these three things together at one time, as it will be during an accident: with high temperatures, high pressures, and flying shrapnel. I estimate that not .01% will come out, but more like 30 to 40%.
Then we will look in the sky. This plutonium will be dispersed as a fine, invisible mist. At that point the radios will announce that there's been a mishap, but there's nothing to worry about because NASA has everything under control. Then the radio will announce the wind conditions. The people of Florida will put two and two together, get into their cars and hit the road. Evacuation will be impossible: there will be a massive traffic jam with everyone on the road tracking wind conditions, trying desperately to flee or to find their wife, husband, or child. Within two hours the dust will begin to settle over your homes. Plutonium dioxide is a greyish, invisible dust, much of it microns in size. It will get in your hair, your nose, in your lungs and stay lodged in your body forever. Micron and submicron size particles can not be expelled from the lungs by ordinary ciliary action. Even after you die, your grave will be slightly radioactive. Some of it will get into your bloodstream where it will be carried to your bone marrow, your kidneys, your liver.
Then the Governor of Florida will come on the radio and announce that the National Guard has been mobilized. They will come out and try loosen up some of the traffic bottle necks. But there will be mutinies among some of the National Guardsmen. They will say, "Why should I risk my family, my wife, my child at the day-care center?" Some will mutiny.
How do I know all this? Because it's happened before. This is what happened at Chernobyl. There was total chaos as the true dimensions of the tradegy became known. Later, fire trucks came through the streets of Kiev to hose down all the radioactive isotopes that had landed on people's homes. Crops had to be impounded. Billions were lost.Thousands will die.
At that point the Florida Growers associations will get on the radio and television and say, "Nothing to worry about. The food from Florida, like the orange juice, is perfectly safe. So what if it's slightly radioactive...what's a little radiation?" Then the lawsuits will come. What is Walt Disney going to say when people don't want to take their children into a place reputed to be radioactive? At Three Mile Island the authorities claimed only 13 curies came out of that reactor, yet 13 curies created billions of dollars in lawsuits? Remember that Cassini contains 400,000 curies of plutonium.
Let me ask you a riddle that someone asked me. What do oil company executives, vampires and NASA bureaucrats all have in common? They fear solar energy. They fear the power of the sun. There is one paragraph in NASA's Environmental Impact Statement that states you can't equip the Cassini with solar panels because it is 130 pounds over weight. The pay load of the Titan booster is roughly 13,000 lbs. Cassini is one percent overweight for a solar mission and the NASA bureaucrats conclude that solar is therefore impossible.
My solution is simple: Loose the weight! NASA admits they can downsize the mission. On Mars today, the Mars Rover is a byproduct of a new strategy: smaller, better, faster, cheaper. The old probes were like the huge Mars Observer which blew up in '93 on its way to Mars, a left-over from the cold war. The new philosophy is to down size your space probes: make them half the size and send them twice as often. THAT is the future of space exploration. We should down size all these left overs from the cold war, make them half the size, send them twice as often and energize them with solar power.
On the Cassini we're only talking about eight light bulbs worth of energy needs. The peaceful solution to this problem is for NASA to get with its own program: cheaper, smaller, faster...and go solar.
Today I'm calling on President Clinton to personally come in on this case and postpone the launching of the Cassini Probe. I'm calling on the White house because enough scientific uncertainty exists. I'm a scientist; I want to explore outer space. But I want to do it safely, without the loss of human life, and democratically: where is the free-wheeling debate on this question?
Only one force can stop this mission: the will of the American people. They have not been asked. Do they want to endanger their loved ones, their industry with this launch? One force is more powerful than plutonium, the spirit of the American people united.