Subject: STOP CASSINI NEWSLETTER #18 -Louis Friedman Responds to #17
Cc: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
After newsletter #17, I received an email from Louis Friedman, Executive Director of the Planetary Society, asking if he could respond in this newsletter to my condemnation of an article he wrote and published at his web site. I said yes. His unedited response appears below with my rebuttal preceding it.
Please note: there are also two corrections to newsletter #17; the corrected text is shown in [brackets] below.
Sincerely, Russell D. Hoffman, Editor, STOP CASSINI NEWSLETTER
**** STOP CASSINI NEWSLETTER Volume #18 June 18th, 1997 ****
Dear Mr. Friedman,
Thank you for your email. As promised I am publishing it. Now, what are YOU going to publish at YOUR web site regarding this conversation?
What you've written is mostly just restating your opinions. You haven't read the 36-point article I referred to, have you? You don't know or don't agree with the idea that low levels of radiation, especially in the form of inhaled plutonium 238, can be dangerous, do you?
You rewrite that you think things are safe enough, and you reiterate this to me because I have explained to people nine ways to Sunday how they are not -- but do you go back and get real facts to oppose my statements? NO! You cannot! You cannot prove that 5 billion people getting an additional low dose of radiation is safe. You cannot prove that your failure rates are accurate. And apparently, you cannot even take the time to go back to NASA's own documentation before you respond:
You say NASA says the shields for the plutonium are not "expected" to fail significantly, but I say they are. Because NASA says they are. Read page 4-51 of the "Final" EIS for the Cassini mission" "For all the reentry cases studied, about 32 to 34 percent of the fuel from the three RTGs is expected to be released at high altitude" EXPECTED, Mr. Friedman, EXPECTED. A quote directly from NASA. And that is in addition to the part that can be released on impact with hard objects and hard-headed people on earth. So why should I publish your misrepresentation? I am, because I said I would, but what good will it do the truth?
As to other environmental organization's support or lack thereof, I have spoken to the director of one important organization which shall remain, for his reputation, nameless, who said, when I told him what I was working on, "What's a Cassini?". Personally, I only learned of Cassini in January of this year. Anyone opposed to nuclear power who is not opposed to Cassini is unaware of the true facts of the case, as, clearly (and surprisingly), are you.
You say "several of the active opponents [of nuclear power] have said they don't really feel this particular launch poses much risk." NAME THEM. And tell me how much they know about it. Have they read NASA's own documentation, for starters? Or was that their response after they said "What's a Cassini?" and you explained it to them in your own way?
Apparently, you need white flags on the graves of the lung cancer and leukemia victims that say "I died from such and such a radiation release" or "I died from that one". Just a few months ago a new study concluded that second-hand cigarette smoke kills 50,000 people a year in the United States yet until 1997 we couldn't see those deaths -- the tobacco lobby still cannot. So it should surprise no one that "unobserved" consequences CAN exist. You didn't argue the science, you didn't argue the reasons the learned Doctors I named are afraid of "low level" radiation. You simply stated that you, being blind to the deaths all around you, are not afraid to risk more nuclear deaths, but would not do it for electricity or to win a war (even a "just" war) but would only do it for YOUR sacred science.
You dismiss solar because of a "law of inverse squares". I assume you are referring to the distance Saturn is to the Sun, ignoring the fact that solar works fine around 90 MILLION miles from the Sun, which seems to me to be a rather great distance to begin with. And you are definitely NOT referring to NASA documents obtained by Karl Grossman through the FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT which state that NASA believes it could have built a solar-based mission. RTGs are perhaps a little easier, but they are extremely expensive, have an enormous risk involved, and there are numerous fissionable byproducts left on Earth from extracting the Pu 238 from the nuclear garbage they reprocess to get it -- in Russia. Not to mention the spills, leaks and accidents that can, have, and will occur as the stuff is transported about the globe prior to launch. And you even claim to oppose transporting nuclear material!
What are you left with, Mr. Friedman? Because you feel so sure that Titan has better answers to the mystery of life than the Tonga Trench does, you support Cassini in the face of logic, reason, compassion, and science. Will you publish a link to us from your web site? How about, at least, to our SPACE DEBRIS article? Surely that contains facts you do not dispute! Since there is no good science there at all to offset the dangers, what do you think of that article? Here's the URL:
What follows is Mr. Friedman's email to me: *************************************************
Subject: RESPONSE to comments
Thank you for allowing me to respond to your comments. I will be very brief -- as befits e-mail correspondence.
For purposes of clarity my COMMENTS ARE IN CAPS BELOW (not for emphasis, just to set them off from the rest of the text).
****** VOLUME #17 June 16th, 1997 ******
By Russell D. Hoffman
Copyright (c) Russell D. Hoffman
A SMALL BUT VOCIFEROUS GROUP...
We received an email this morning from a pro-Cassini person. He asked us to consider both sides of the issue, and quoted a headline at the Planetary Society's web site. Here's the URL he gave us:
If you go to that web site, under the heading "You Can Defend Cassini" and the subheading "Anti-Nuclear Activists Threaten the Launch of the Cassini Mission to Saturn" is the following statement:
"Testifying to the power of the Internet, a small group of activists are having a big influence on the White House approval process for the scheduled launch of the Cassini/Huygens mission to Saturn and its large moon Titan this October. Rather than environmental or health issues, the activism is mostly motivated by an anti-nuclear agenda."
This is pretty amazing. I guess -- I hope -- they are talking about us. If we are indeed a small band of activists, so be it. No group ever started out large. No group ever decided that being small meant they were not right. But what is really amazing is the claim that we are not motivated by "environmental or health issues" but rather, are "mostly motivated by an anti-nuclear agenda".
Well gosh, what's the difference? Why ELSE would anyone be anti-nuclear if not for the environmental and health reasons?
THERE ARE MANY BROAD ENVIRONMENTAL AND HEALTH LOBBIES AND INTEREST GROUPS, THEY ARE LITTLE INVOLVED WITH THIS ISSUE. THE ONLY ORGANIZED OPPOSITION COMES FROM THOSE OPPOSED TO NUCLEAR POWER -- AS THEIR MAIN FOCUS.
IN FACT, SEVERAL OF THE ACTIVE OPPONENTS HAVE SAID THEY REALLY DON'T THINKTHIS PARTICULAR LAUNCH REPRESENTS MUCH RISK, IT IS JUST THAT THEY SEE THIS AS A SEGUE FOR MORE AND MORE NUCLEAR POWER IN SPACE.
The web page continues with a reprint of an article by Planetary Society Executive Director Louis Friedman. Here are some of his statements and our responses.
"A small but vociferous group of anti-nuclear activists are fighting against the launch of the international Cassini mission, destined for Saturn, because they fear a potential release of plutonium from the on-board power supply."
This, his first sentence, is correct. But from there on in, it gets
For example he writes this about Cassini:
"It's designed with a power system that has been employed on 23 planetary missions over the past three decades."
Unmentioned is the fact that Apollo 13 crashed with it's plutonium powerpack somewhere in the South Pacific, with unknown, untested, and unobserved consequences.
THAT MEANS NO DELETERIOUS EFFECTS HAVE BEEN NOTED. THIS IS IMPORTANT TO UNDERSTAND ABOUT "UNKNOWN, UNOBSERVERED"
IN FACT I THINK MORE WORRY SHOULD BE DONE ABOUT AIRCRAFT AND SHIP ACCIDENTS WITH NUCLEAR MATERIAL, THAN SPACECRAFT. MUCH MUCH MORE NUCLEAR MATERIAL HAS BEEN PUT IN THE OCEANS FROM THEM -- ALBEIT AGAIN WITH MAJOR DELETERIOUS HEALTH OR ENVIRONMENTAL CONSEQUENCES HAVING BEEN OBERVED.
Unmentioned by setting the timeframe at three decades instead of 33 years, is the intentional incineration of a SNAP-9A powerpack in the upper atmosphere. Unmentioned are the missions that failed for unknown reasons. Unmentioned are nuclear payloads now in useless orbit around the Earth, their mission's goals having been completed, which are destined to fall back to Earth eventually perhaps after a random collision with space debris and which no effort is being made to collect them.
AGAIN -- NO DELETERIOUS EFFECTS HAVE BEEN OBSERVED. COMPARED TO SERIOUS ENVIRONOMENTAL PROBLEMS LIKE GREENHOUSE WARMING, OZONE DEPLETION, POLLUTION OF THE LAND, RAIN FOREST DAMAGE, ETC. WHERE, I WOULD SAY, SERIOUS EFFECTS HAVE BEEN OBSERVED.
The nuclear option has been hazardous from the start, and less than a few dozen "successes" does not prove this is a reasonable technology. It isn't.
NOR DOES IT PROVE IT IS UNREASONABLE. (IN FACT SUCCESS, LIKE WITH THE GALILEO PROJECT TENDS TO MAKE US LEAN TOWARD REASONABLENESS, RATHER THAN AWAY FROM IT). AREN'T WE GLAD GALILEO LAUNCHED -- LOOK AT ITS REMARKABLE SUCCESSES.
Continuing, Friedman writes:
"To protect against an accident, the plutonium is encased in special containers that can withstand high impact and temperatures."
As long-time readers of this newsletter know, these special containers will, according to NASA's own estimates, suffer a significant partial incineration in the event of an Earth flyby reentry accident. Here is a URL where we discuss NASA's own documentation on this issue:
The plutonium in encased in special containers that might contain most of the plutonium, but certainly won't contain all of it in the event of a flyby reentry accident. The containers have NOT been tested to withstand the high temperatures anticipated in a flyby reentry. The containers have NOT been shown to survive the impacts that might occur if they land on a solid surface such as rock, pavement, or rocket scientists' heads. The containers have NOT been shown to survive ANY impact if they come down in a steep reentry path.
(NOTE: Shallow reentry paths are probably much more likely, which will result in a greater percentage of the plutonium being incinerated in the upper atmosphere.)
THIS IS TRUE -- A CANNISTER BREAK UP ON RE-ENTRY IS POSSIBLE, AND I SPECIFICALLY CITED THAT IN THE ARTICLE, WITH PROBABILITY NUMBERS. IT IS NOT ZERO RISK. I TRIED TO BE HONEST. BUT, THE PROBABLE NUMBER OF HEALTH HAZARDS, EVEN IF IT OCCURS IS VERY SMALL.
Friedman again, on the Huygens probe's investigation of Titan:
"Titan, the largest body, boasts organic chemistry that may hold clues to how life formed on Earth."
It simply amazes me that we think we might find the clues to how life formed on Earth by going hundreds of millions of miles from Earth, (where asteroid impacts on Earth over the last few billion years might have placed some Earth-cultured lifeforms anyway) while NASA considers the Tonga trench, the deepest ocean area in the world, to be a safe dumping ground for plutonium packed rockets that fall back to Earth. I say we should be investigating Earth and all the amazing places life on Earth can exist, if we want to learn more about the origins of life.
I WILL HAVE TO REFER TO PUBLISHED LITERATURE ABOUT TITAN'S ORGANIC-LADEN ATMOSPHERE, AND ITS IMPORTANCE TO UNDERSTANDING ATMOSPHERIC CHEMISTRY.
BUT WHO WOULD HAVE SUSPECTED A EUROPA OCEAN WOULD ALSO PERHAPS OFFER CLUES ABOUT LIFE AND PLANETARY EVOLUTION. THAT IS WHAT THE SEARCH FOR KNOWLEDGE IS ABOUT. YOU MUST HAVE COMPARISONS, AND LOTS OF LABORATORIES FOR PLANETARY STUDIES -- THAT IS WHAT TITAN (AND OTHER MOONS OF SATURN) OFFER.
This is a cheap excuse for the mission but it's there to convince the unsuspecting public that there's a lot of good science going on. There's some, but not this.
DO YOU REALLY NEED TO ATTACK THE SCIENCE OF CASSINI -- ENDORSED BY THE NATIONAL ACADEMY OF SCIENCES AND LOTS OF PUBLISHED LITERATURE?
"Six years of work and two billion dollars have been invested by the United States and our European partners, and now a small band of activists are trying to derail the project by promoting fear and exaggerating the risk of an accident."
My understanding is that it's more like 8 years and $3.5 Billion dollars, but anyway, accusing us of "promoting fear and exaggerating the risk of an accident" is pretty shallow. After all, we didn't try to launch this thing! The ones promoting fear are the bull-headed pro-nuclear administrators at NASA and DOE and ESA who would not accept a far more benign and safe solar solution.
THERE IS NO SOLAR SOLUTION. THE INVERSE SQUARE LAW WORKS AGAINST IT.
AND, YOU CAN'T AVOID THE FACT THAT SCRUBBING THE CASSINI LAUNCH IS A WASTE OF BILLIONS (1,2, OR 3 -- DOESN'T MATTER) OF DOLLARS.
As for exaggerating the risk of an accident, NASA has made a very concerted effort to understate the risks, and we feel we are setting the record straight. Here is an article, called I.Q. Test for Space Cadets, about how NASA understates the risks. I hope Louis Friedman will read it some day:
"To be sure, plutonium is radioactive and toxic."
Talk about misrepresentation! Plutonium 238 is extremely "hot" and a respirable particle can mean the localized area where it ends up in your lung will receive 1000's of REM. It is not just "toxic", it is considered by many to be "the most toxic substance on Earth" and it is considered by all to be an extremely toxic substance, especially when inhaled.
IT IS TOXIC, I SAID SO -- AGAIN, I TRIED TO BE HONEST. I SPECIFICALLY CONCEDED THE POINT ABOUT TOXICITY, ALTHOUGH IN REALITY THERE IS VERY LITTLE SUPPORTING DATA ABOUT PEOPLE SUFFERING TOXIC EFFECTS OF PLUTONIUM (THANKFULLY THERE HAVE BEEN FEW OBSERVABLES).
IT IS VERY HARD TO IMAGINE THE ACCIDENT THAT IS GOING TO TARGET A LOT OF LITTLE PARTICLES INTO A LOT (OR ANY) LUNGS. THE CLAIMS ABOUT LARGE POPULATIONS BREATHING THIS STUFF, COMES FROM UNIMAGINABLE LOW PROBABILITY ACCIDENTS WHICH CAREFULLY TARGET INDIVIDUALS' LUNGS.
"NASA has already spent millions of dollars to file and publicize environmental impact statements on the Cassini mission and to take extra safety precautions -- including a multi-layered, multi-shelled canister to house the plutonium and prevent any escape."
This is typical NASA-speak, even if it's not coming directly from NASA. The so-called multi-layered, multi-shelled canisters are (as discussed endlessly at the web site and above in this newsletter) an ineffective protection which even NASA admits are expected to fail significantly.
THESE ARE NOT "EXPECTED" TO FAIL SIGNIFICANTLY. THERE IS A CHANCE OF FAILURE, NOT AN EXPECTATION OF IT.
(According to NASA, a flyby reentry accident is expected to release from 32% to 34% of the fuel in the upper atmosphere and 20% to 66% of that is expected to be in respirable particles -- with 66% the far more likely number ([shallow] reentry scenario). This means even NASA admits that a flyby accident can spread from [5 to 20] POUNDS of plutonium in the upper atmosphere, plus any impact releases, plus some variance which NASA never gives us.
I ADDRESSED THIS ABOVE. THERE COULD BE A RELEASE -- BUT THE RISK IS VERY SMALL, AND THE PROBABILITIES VERY LOW. IF YOU WANT ZERO RISK, THE ONLY SOLUTION IS TO DO NOTHING.
"It's worth noting that mainstream or significant environmental groups have not opposed the launch."
This is also not correct. Numerous Green parties and other environmental organizations -- mainstream ones -- oppose the Cassini folly. With some 70,000 nuclear warheads, several hundred operating nuclear powerplants and still others being planned, and with numerous other environmental degradations going on all around the world as we speak, not every organization can fight every battle. Some organizations which take an interest in particular issues as we have with this one -- small but vociferous organizations being the best, of course -- must carry a particular torch. Cassini is opposed by all right-thinking environmentalists. Here is a web page with "friends of the STOP CASSINI web site. You'll notice that many of these are important, large environmental groups:
WE TRIED TO INVITE MANY OF THE MAINSTREAM GROUPS TO A MEETING ON THIS, AND WERE TOLD THAT THE SUBJECT WAS NOT ON THEIR AGENDA. EVEN LOOKING AT YOUR LIST IT IS HARD TO CONCLUDE THIS IS A MAINSTREAM ENVIRONMENTAL AGENDA ITEM. I AM FAIRLY ACTIVE AND AWARE OF ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES AND ORGANIZATIONS, BELONG OR GET LITERATURE FROM A NUMBER OF GROUPS, ATTEND CONFERENCES OF SUCH GROUPS -- AND NEVER FIND DEEP SPACE EXPLORATION, OR THE LAUNCH OF RTGS BROUGHT UP AS AN ISSUE.
I believe most members of most major environmental organizations are opposed to nuclear power, nuclear weaponry, and nuclear proliferation, and I believe opposition to Cassini is strong among those who have studied what Cassini's potential for a nuclear accident is.
PERHAPS YOU ARE CONFUSING CONCERNS ABOUT NUCLEAR REACTORS WITH THE LESSER CONCERN ABOUT THE PASSIVE RTGS.
Lastly, Louis Friedman states that people like us:
"...are using the Cassini mission as a means to pursue other agendas, including a ban on all nuclear material and anti-space weapons."
This is correct. Cassini is one of many nuclear launches which MUST be opposed if we are to have a clean and healthy environment for all current and future astronaut/inhabitants on "spaceship Earth".
AND I, WHO OPPOSE SPACE WEAPONS, AND HAVE SYMPATHY WITH OTHER ENVIRONMENTAL AGENDAS, OBJECT TO HAVING THAT BE THE REASON FOR FIGHTING THE SAFE, AND VALUABLE CASSINI LAUNCH.
AGAIN, THANK YOU FOR THE OPPORTUNITY TO REPLY.
Louis Friedman TPS.LDF@MARS.PLANETARY.ORG
The Planetary Society
...[Mr. Friedman's additional comments, shown below, did not appear in the original version of this newsletter]...
Please forgive the long delay in replying; I thank you for your posting and your reply. The Planetary Society is engaged this next week in a very large public event "Planetfest '97" in conjunction with the Mars Pathfinder landing on July 4, and we are totally preoccupied with preperations for it -- a three day convention center festival of celebration of planetary exploration. We hope many thousands will join us to witness the Mars landing and images from Mars on July 4-6 at the Pasadena Convention Center.
I have read much, albeit not all, of your "36 point" article. The issue of low-level radiation as I understand it is quite open and not determined. There are data suggesting bad effects, and other data suggesting none. I am not convinced by the many "could be" arguements. Saying that something that is unproven "could cause" A or B, is disingenuous in my opinion. I totally do reject arguements like "unobserved" consequences CAN exist" -- of course they can; but that does not mean they do. One can always cite "worst case" scenarios -- the military loves to do that; but you can hardly plan public policy that way. (Imagine planning and financing earthquake preparations, or asteroid impact preperations on "worst case", "could be" scenarios).
Similarly, you are right when you say below, "You cannot prove that 5 billion people getting an additional low dose of radiation is safe." One of the truisms of science is that you usually cannot prove a negative. (I can't prove to you that we won't all die tommorow from an asteroid impact either). We must work with liklihoods and "models." I do disagree that I have not read NASA's own estimates, or that the failure rates are unprovable. Statistics may be capable of manipulation or require great care in their application -- but they are not black magic. They should be carefully used, but used.
NASA's lie about shuttle safety in the 1980s does not mean they are lieing now. An error of the past does not imply an error of the future just as, a success of the past (like no one dying of radiation from a space accident) does not mean success in the future. We must be careful in our citations of past individual cases. There are two points about your "accidents of the past" argument:
1. If we accept that accidents of the past imply accidents of the future, none of us would ever drive on a freeway again (where the statistics are really bad);
2. The accidents of the past have, for the most part, supported the idea that we have little to fear from RTGs -- certainly deleterious effects to life and/or the environment from space nuclear accidents pale into insignificance compared to real problems of the environment. This is not an arguement in favor of carelessness in the future, just putting it in a proper perspective.
We will disagree; but I hope dialog is helpful. After our PLANETFEST '97 I will address the issue more, and the issues of our web posting, publications, open discussions,etc.
(This letter is to you, although I have no objection if you want to "post" or share it)
Louis Friedman TPS.LDF@MARS.PLANETARY.ORG
The Planetary Society
.....[the above email did not appear in the original version of this newsletter]... **************************************
AND IN CONCLUSION...
Please feel free to post these newsletters anywhere you feel it's appropriate! THANKS!!!
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Thanks for reading,
Russell D. Hoffman
STOP CASSINI webmaster.
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