STOP CASSINI Newsletter #22 -- July 11th, 1997

Copyright (c) 1997

STOP CASSINI Newsletters Index

Subject: STOP CASSINI NEWSLETTER #22 - Correspondence with James Spellman Jr.


Jim Spellman describes himself as "a non-paid volunteer (at present) with the National Space Society". He was also recently honored with the "Space Pioneer Award" from NSS as activist of the year. He is also President - California Space Development Council and Executive Director - NSS/Western Spaceport Chapter. Mr. Spellman disagrees with us about Cassini, and we have published his comments in this newsletter before. Here's some new angles on the issues, as related in our continued correspondence. The first one starts up in the middle of someone else's correspondence (which I have not seen), but the flow picks up soon enough. It refers to Karl Grossman's excellent appearance on the Art Bell late night talk show July 9-10, 1997.

Sincerely, Russell D. Hoffman, Editor, STOP CASSINI NEWSLETTER

**** STOP CASSINI NEWSLETTER Volume #22 July 11th, 1997 ****
Today's subject:

* Emails with Jim Spellman

****** VOLUME #22 July 11th, 1997 ******

By Jim Spellman and Russell D. Hoffman

Jim Spellman's email which was "cc"'d to me by him:

Date: Thu, 10 Jul 1997 17:16:02 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: Sorry, no real "nuke conection" here


In a message dated 97-07-10 10:14:58 EDT, Wes write:

<< Art (Bell) is not the "source." Karl Grossman was his guest.>>

Same difference. You've got a guy using the medium that trys to give UFOs, alien abductions, the Roswell "incident", Hoagland's "Face on Mars", Area 51/Dreamland, Crop "images" and other pseudo-science/X-Files stuff the same credibility to gullible late-night listeners.

<< So what nuke supplier do you work for?>>

Sorry to disappoint you. I'm a non-paid volunteer (at present) with the National Space Society.

NSS is an educational nonprofit 501(c)3 membership organization with more than 28,000 members and 80 chapters in the U.S., U.K., Australia, Canada, Mexico and other foreign countries. NSS's "statement of vision" is people living and working in thriving communities beyond the Earth.

NSS's mission is to promote change in social, technical, economic and political conditions to advance the day when people will live and work in space.

Want an application?

See or

As far as my "day job" is concerned:

I was a liberal arts major (B.A., M.A. Communication Arts - Film & Television Production at Loyola Marymount University -- I was second cousin to a well-known, highly regarded Cardinal who spoke out against Vietnam and Nuclear Weapons while Military Vicar to the Catholic faith of all branches of service).

I served nearly eight years as an Air Force officer (2nd Lieutenant to Captain with Top Secret/OPSEC/COMMSEC clearances) as a writer/producer/director.

I produced media release clips, educational documentaries (one of which refuted an NBC News allegation -- causing them to issue a retraction to the story) and training videos -- all in support of space launch operations at Vandenberg AFB (with the exception of that time down in Panama where I shot General Noreiga's capture and surrender to DEA agents that was seen around the world).

BTW -- I never could get excited about Minuteman and Peacekeeper FOT&Es (Follow-On Test & Evaluations of weapon launch systems) even if the reentry vehicles hitting the Kwaj were not carrying nukes. . .Waste of a perfectly good vehicle that could be carrying High School/University student experiments instead (which is finally happening now on obsoleted Minuteman IIs)

On the other hand. . .Orbital operations for weather/communication/research satellites and general/deep space exploration items that benefit humanity's knowledge (via Scout, Atlas, Delta, Pegasus, Taurus, Ariane, Long March, Cyclone, Zenit, Soyuz, Energia, Shuttle and now refurbed Minuteman II and Titan II SLVs in addition to Titan IV-class of launch vehicles) is a different story. . .

I'm currently a parttime freelance ENG photographer/editor with an ABC affiliate in California -- and I'm negotiating an agreement with Celestis, Inc. of Houston, TX to be their west coast representative. Celestis recently launched a symbolic portion of the cremains of Gene Roddenberry, Timothy Leary and 22 others (including my late father) on the "Founders Flight" Earthview Commemorative Memorial spaceflight.

Additionally, NSS HQ is interested in paying for my services (quarter-time) as a consultant/field coordinator for the chapters (after having recently been honored with the "Space Pioneer Award" as activist of the year).

What's *your* background and expertise?


Jim Spellman

P.S. -- With all the success and interest in the Mars Pathfinder mission -- where's all the outrage and public moral indignation about "Sojourner" carrying a plutonium-238 power source from the 3rd Rock to the 4th Rock? (or did you folks miss that very public coverage in the L.A. Times, USA Today and other media outlets?)

Where were the tens of "Million Man" anti-RTG demonstrators at the Cape last December protesting Pathfinder's launch? After all, a similar Delta II launch vehicle blew up in 1986 after "Challenger" (and another one a couple of months later).

Since Delta IIs "only" have a 96.8% launch success rate, I guess we should'nt have launched to Mars because it's "too dangerous" and not reliable enough.

My Answer to Jim Spellman's comments:

To: Jim Spellman, NSS
CC: original set of "cc's", Karl Grossman, a few other interested parties...
Date: July 10th, 1997


Thanks for including me in the "cc" for your email [shown above].

I'd like to answer it. First of all, Art Bell put Karl Grossman on for 2 hours. It was the first time I had heard his show, having only heard OF HIM the week before. I mention this because the next question is, where ELSE could Karl get 2 hours of nationwide airtime on the "#1 listened-to late night talk show in the nation" or some such title they gave themselves.

In listening, I thought Art Bell's questions were pretty darned good, but he kept referring to "Plutonium Oxide" instead of "Plutonium Dioxide" as described in NASA's documents. Whatever.

Then later, after Karl was off, Art Bell had on the various types of callers you talk about below. Kind of a letdown! But I don't see how you can blame Karl, or the cause, for appearing on the Art Bell show. Has anyone from NSS ever appeared on any show that has also done episodes about many of the things you mentioned? Of course they have!

As to the missing protests to the Mars Pathfinder mission, would someone first please tell me exactly how much Pu was flown? I heard three RHUs, and of course there was no Earth flyby. Is that amount incorrect? My excuse, anyway, is that I was not watching NASA closely one way or the other when Pathfinder was launched. I thought that the question of "nukes in space" was solved with the Outer Space Treaty of 1967. I had no idea of what NASA had been doing. Shame on me. Shame on anyone who wasn't aware.

On a personal note, I also thought the question of nuclear power as a domestic energy source had been answered, albeit by the financial side (these things aren't worth building anyway) since no new nukes have been commissioned since Three Mile Island. Ha! I was wrong again! GE and Westinghouse are active and growing, they are selling nuke after nuke to countries so desperate for solutions they will do just about anything that banks will fund, including multi-billion-dollar nuclear power plants, while their own citizens are starving in the streets. And GE and Westinghouse both expect a return to building nukes in the U.S. some day soon. Do you want to see that happen? It WILL happen, unless the protests continue on many nuclear fronts: Cassini is just one of them. It's too bad that our paths had to cross on this item, actually, since I always thought I was a supporter of the peaceful uses of space. (I strongly protest the won ton and haphazard creation of space debris in Near Earth Orbit, but again, th at doesn't mean I oppose space technology. After all, why would I want to preserve Near Earth Orbit if not for using it in a way I think is proper?)

Cassini will carry 72.3 pounds of Plutonium in the three RTGs and another .7 pounds or so in the 100+ RHUs. That's a lot of plutonium. And accidents DO happen.

Since you've been around the space industry as long as you have, surely you are aware of all the failures that accompanied the launch of the space industry. And as time went on, failures continued to dog the field.

But you know what? We keep on funding it! This is as it should be, at least insofar as, who could possibly expect perfection from our rocket scientists, their coworkers, the lowest-bidder subcontractors, and on and on. Hundreds of thousands of people. Management hierarchies. Special Interests. Internal squabbles. Lazy laborers. Impossible deadlines. These things exist in any large organization. The goal should not be perfection, but to do something useful while minimizing risk, when doing something dangerous. Has NASA done this?

Here's some of the reasons why I think not: Because NASA chooses math and science assumptions that do not take into account all the relevant factors. For example they refuse to report on what the effect would be of a complete plutonium vaporization. This could happen from a Full Stack Intact Impact, though granted that even then, according to NASA, a complete incineration of all the plutonium is still unlikely. But it could happen. It could also happen that a command sequence will aim the entire probe towards Earth during the flyby. And, it could also happen that the RTGs and GPHSs and GISs and so forth are NOT sufficient to contain the plutonium, and they all will incinerate in the upper atmosphere and the plutonium will be incinerated into respirable particles. One possible scenario that I have not seen described in NASA documentation is that if the probe suffers a malfunction that causes an Earth-intersect several decades from now (which NASA does acknowledge can happen), what if, in that case, the plutonium or natural space-background radiation has made the RTGs or the GPHSs brittle and easily broken? Then surely the entire plutonium payload, somewhat weakened by the passage of time (half life 87.75 years for most, but ~10% is Pu 239) would be completely incinerated in the upper atmosphere.

To pretend that absolutely nothing can cause a "worst case" scenario of total incineration smacks of hiding something. And what if every science experiment -- or even every $3.4 Billion dollar science experiment -- carried a similar risk? How many science failures could we (human life forms) tolerate? (To put the money in perspective, recent reports say America wastes about 90 Billion dollars by throwing out good food each year.)

And what about that small quantity of plutonium that might be released? Exactly how small is a fatal dose of Plutonium? Many of the documents that the "Pro-Nuclear Cassini" people send me to, talk about the hazards of Plutonium 239. Plutonium 238 is about 280 times MORE dangerous, especially in the first 50 years which NASA studies cover.

I think both sides agree that 28 millionths of a gram of plutonium 239 is a fatal dose. So, I think both sides probably agree that 1/280th of 28 millionths of a gram, that is, .1 millionths of a gram of plutonium 238, is a fatal dose. In other words, there are 10 million potentially lethal doses in each GRAM of plutonium 238.

Continuing the math, since there are 28.35 grams in an ounce, and 16 ounces in a pound, there are 453.6 grams in a pound, which is:

453.6 * 10,000,000 = 4,536,000,000 lethal doses in a pound of plutonium 238. There are some 60 pounds of this stuff on board Cassini, so that's about 270 billion lethal doses. The science return must be awfully valuable to risk that!

But what? But many of those doses won't possibly be delivered? Of course not! Lots and lots of them will fall through, settle out of the atmosphere, out of the earth, out of the water column, never be readmitted to the atmosphere through forest fires, water evaporation, etc. etc. But how many will sooner or later be inhaled? 10% of the plutonium is Plutonium 239, which, while not nearly as "hot" (radioactive) when measuring alpha particles emitted over a given amount of time, nonetheless will remain radioactive for many millennia.

Or perhaps you object to my logic because in reality the doses people will inhale will be far smaller still, on average, than .1 microgram. Perhaps on the order of 1/100th of that. But there, the math gets really mushy, and it gets really hard to be sure of what is what. My understanding of Dr. Sternglass's and Dr. Gould's arguments are that the same .1 microgram, if spread out to 100 or 1000 people, will be MORE dangerous -- result in MORE THAN one probable death. Dr. Gofman, on the other hand would say that if you spread .1 microgram among 100 people or 1000 people, on average, still "just" one will die. And those are both people who are opposed to Cassini!

Clearly, the science has not been completed on the dangers of extremely low levels of plutonium poisoning.

270 Billion lethal doses for this one experiment is an awful, awful lot of "lethal doses" to deliver at random to a world full of about 6 billion people -- and other living things -- many of which, if not all, can be harmed by inhalation of plutonium. (Most toxicity estimates for plutonium, are, in fact, based on one set of studies with Beagles.)

Here's the thing: Exactly what damage WILL a unit measure of plutonium 238 do, if it is spread throughout the atmosphere in respirable particles? NASA won't state any specific numbers on this sort of obvious question. They first, before any other calculation has been done, make the assumption that only a small percentage of the payload will be incinerated. But it is absolutely possible, however unlikely, that the ENTIRE plutonium payload will be vaporized. So it behooves NASA to discuss the effects of such a thing. Then, NASA can explain all it wants to about how unlikely that event is, but it's a separate question and should be kept separate.

It especially should be kept separate considering that there is such incredible DISAGREEMENT about just how much damage 72.3+ pounds of plutonium can do! But I think the numbers I have used here are probably agreeable to both sides.

So what I see us left with is this: If NASA is right about how unlikely an accident is, and they are also right about how much plutonium will be released in an accident, and they are also right about how much of that which is released will be subsequently inhaled, and they are also right about how big a dose is a lethal dose, AND finally, if NASA is also right that the mission would be substantially crippled or impossible by insistence on solar, then, and only then, we should go ahead and let Cassini fly. But if NASA is wrong on ANY ONE OF THESE CALCULATIONS then Cassini should NOT fly. Or, if NASA does not have enough real data on ANY ONE OF THESE CALCULATIONS, then Cassini should in all probability, also not fly.

And that, Jim, in my opinion, is where your logic really falls apart. The number of studies that would tell us, really, just exactly how deadly low levels of plutonium are, have by and large simply not been done. Tens of thousands of workers in the nuclear industry -- have not been followed to see what their cancer rates are. Initial doses for soldiers involved in atomic testing were kept in two books -- one for the soldiers to see, and one with the real values. And we don't know those real values even now.

Is it fair to risk what NASA is thrusting upon us, when for perhaps a hundredth, or at least a 10th of the cost of Cassini, we might finally have some really GOOD SCIENTIFIC STUDIES of the toxicity and carcinogenic capabilities of plutonium? I for one have no doubt in my mind that NASA should not fly Cassini. I'm sorry if I let Pathfinder go up without a struggle if a struggle should have been waged. I'm sorry I thought that with the end of the Cold War, the 70,000 nukes the world maintains would be put away for good. I'm sorry, I'm sorry. But nukes are no good, and for Cassini, I doubt they are even necessary for most of the mission goals.

Russell D. Hoffman

Mr. Spellman replied:

At 11:36 AM 7/11/97 -0400, Jim Spellman wrote:

TO: Russell D. Hoffman
From: Jim Spellman

Don't want to keep you hanging, but you'll have to wait for a reply.

I'm offline for the next few weeks and without the benefit of a laptop (gotta get one) while I'm on the road:
...[snip of the actual schedule]...
In my absence, I've reposted your message to others in case they want to jump into the discussion/debate with their own perspectives.

I'm not dodging the issue or your comments, I'm just swamped (and offline by the time you get this).


And the final round (for now):


Thanks for the letknow regarding your schedule.

I don't mind waiting; in fact I was starting to compose a response to the fax you sent... I guess I can hold off on that, too?

Actually, it's brief, so let me do a rush job:

1) JPL FALSE/TRUE document I've answered, said answer is at the web site.

2) References list at end not legible. Technology fails again!

3) RTG Facts and Falsehoods I've answered countless versions of these lame documents. We're safe because "very little of the Earth is granite or steel" is not a compelling argument in light of the alternative uses of the money, alternative power supply capabilities (solar, which NASA never thinks is "quite" good enough) and so on.

Speaking of solar alternatives, your documents say that Jupiter gets 25% of the sunlight that Earth gets, hence solar was not an option for Ulysses. Now, I read that Saturn gets just 1% of the light that Earth gets, so solar again is "not quite ready yet". Well, I don't believe it. If solar is "not quite ready" for Cassini at 1%, then I doubt that 5 or 6 years ago when Ulysses was launched, solar was "not quite ready" for 25% of Earth's light. Did we progress that much to where we are nearly capable of providing power where only 1% of Earth's amount of light is available? Or are we so totally incapable of using solar that it's simply out of the question? WE ARE NOT. After all the array even NASA envisions is only about the size of two tennis courts. So Ulysses, if flown now, could use an array 1/25th of that size, no? Couldn't we have waited half a decade and flown a non-nuclear Ulysses? Sure sounds like it to me!

("Not quite ready yet" is not a NASA quote of course, it's an assumption based on NASA's descriptions of solar alternatives. Even though NASA uses outlandish solar arrangements, they still don't seem very unworkable to me. Two tennis court-sized arrays attached to an object that weighs more than a fully packed UHaul truck doesn't sound all that far from a workable arrangement to me.)

4) Your RTG Failures page:

It says the following about the SNAP-9A ("aka Transit mishap"): "Back then, RTGs were designed so they would burn up if they reentered, releasing its plutonium into the air. Although no radiation reached the ground from the Transit mishap, the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), which produced the RTGs decided to redesign the nuclear power systems so they would survive accidental reentry and contain their plutonium fuel"

Well, Jim, come on. You know this is malarkey. That part about "no radiation reached the ground" for example. Just where did they think that incinerated plutonium in the upper atmosphere went, then -- ALL into people's lungs? And the part about the AEC redesigning the RTGs so they would survive -- that's not what they say they do themselves, if you look at their numbers instead of their rhetoric. A certain percentage are expected to release their fuel at high altitude; actually, NASA expects about as much as the SNAP-9A released accidentally to be released at high altitude. That's NOT a near perfect success rate by any means. (For an EGA reentry, current NASA estimates are that 1.7 of 54 GPHSs, 3/4's of the time will release their fuel.)

5) And finally, the example presented about the Nimbus-B-1 weather satellite launch failure. I think both sides agree on two things: 1) Launch failures, while frequent, are not as common as successes. 2) Most launch failures will not result in a significant plutonium release.

But neither of these facts negates the opposite side of the issue, that is, that if NASA keeps playing with this stuff, sooner or later a "significant release" WILL OCCUR. When? Who knows? How bad? Who knows? What will people do about it? In many instances, people won't do a thing! After all, if it's a high-altitude incineration there won't be much anyone can do. If it's a low-level incineration then, while a small area might have to be evacuated permanently, (at a cost of perhaps a trillion dollars, if it's the wrong spot of land) there can be little doubt that outlying areas will NOT be evacuated because the plutonium pollution, although significantly elevated, will not be above EPA's limits. This will contribute to poor health in the area for centuries. Most people won't be able to move without Government assistance, and below the EPA limit, there surely will be no Government assistance in any way. But decades later, there will be clear, irrefutable evidence of increased cancers and other health effects. (Yes, yes, I'm arguing that the EPA limit is too high as it now stands. Of course, it's been lowered repeatedly over the past five decades. Just for the fun of it, ask yourself if you want to live in a world where the levels of every one of some 65,000 EPA-regulated toxins was pushed all the way to the EPA limit...)

All this worry over something that could probably be solved 100%, or at least 50% or 80%, with a solar option. Then if NASA failed catastrophically it wouldn't be any big deal. Is it even worth the argument, let alone the risk?

Have a good trip and I guess we'll continue our correspondence as time permits.

Thanks again for your email,

Russell Hoffman


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Russell D. Hoffman
STOP CASSINI webmaster.


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