STOP CASSINI Newsletter #23 -- July 20th, 1997

Copyright (c) 1997

STOP CASSINI Newsletters Index

Subject: STOP CASSINI NEWSLETTER #23 - Three pro-nuclear Cassini letters answered.


Here three pro-nuclear Cassini letters are answered. We also have several longer answers to other pro-nuclear Cassini emails we've received, which we will publish as soon as possible. But these were just too good to hold back! I know these pro-nuclear Cassini folks want to have their say, and it would be a shame to deny them the opportunity. Also, we have published the comments of Shelley Thomson, publisher of **Biased Journalism** regarding our letter to Clinton which we presented a few issues back.

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

**** STOP CASSINI NEWSLETTER Volume #23 July 20th, 1997 ****
Today's subjects:

* An email from someone who finds our position amusing.
* An email from someone who will probably be hard to convince (part 1).
* An email from someone who will probably be hard to convince (part 2).
* Reality Check on the message to Clinton published in an earlier newsletter.

****** VOLUME #23 July 20th, 1997 ******

By Russell D. Hoffman
Copyright (c) Russell D. Hoffman

An email from someone who finds our position amusing:

At 12:29 AM 7/20/97 -0700, DG wrote:
Mr. Hoffman,

Stop the Sun!

Did you know there is a 880 thousand mile wide nuclear fireball spewing copious amounts of deadly radiation throughought the solar system? Whats more, it bombards the Earth with deadly cosmic rays! This huge thermonuclear hydrogen bomb makes Cassini look like an insignificant grain of sand in the middle of the Sahara Desert. Given your fear of the nuclear "boogie man", why mess with Cassini when you have a bigger fish to fry?



Thanks for your email! It's very funny. Of course, I hope you do realize that if you remove the OZONE LAYER (as we are indeed doing, as a matter of fact) you will indeed need to either "stop the sun" or wear sunscreen (all 6 billion or so of us, even in the poorest equatorial zones) or stay in the shade all the time. SPF 2000 here we come! So you are absolutely right, it turns out -- there is good reason to consider the dangers of that atomic reactor way the heck out in space.

Also, of course, particles of 'sun' aren't lodged in your lungs, like Cassini's 270 billion or so lethal doses of plutonium 238 (406,000 Curies) can do.

Thank you, again, for your laughable comments. It really puts things in perspective. I'll have to include it in my next newsletter! (Without your name and email address, of course, unless you prefer they be included.)

Russell Hoffman

[Note: for DG's response, see below]

An email to someone who will probably be hard to convince (Part 1):


Thank you for your letter, but unfortunately you are a bit misinformed about a number of things, including both facts about the dangers, and what my opinions are. I'll add comments directly into your email:

At 10:51 PM 7/19/97 -0700, C.O. wrote (C.O.'s portion is in italics):

[May] I remind you that NASA has NEVER, let me say this again, NEVER had a nuclear accident that resulted in millions of people dying from cancer. In fact, many other nuclear spacecraft have been lauched with their never being a problem.

This is at best only partially true. NASA lost a SNAP-9A RTG in the 1960's with several pounds of plutonium on board which were INTENTIONALLY INCINERATED upon ACCIDENTAL REENTRY. It contained about 17,000 Curies of plutonium on board.

Health effects from that accident can only be estimated, they cannot be proven one way or the other, because of the nature of high-altitude plutonium incineration and the way it spreads out the deaths all over the world to the point that they cannot be identified, and also because of the history of plutonium inhalation tests on humans -- namely, we don't test that, because we are somewhat more civilized than, say, the NAZIs, who probably would have if plutonium had been around then, or the Japanese during WWII.

Although many soldiers breathed radioactive air during atomic bomb testing, records were not only poorly kept, but what records were kept were kept in two separate sets, one of which, the real one, has never been fully made public! (Well, at least we're a little more civilized than the NAZIs, but we don't keep as good records!)

As to many other nuclear spacecraft having been launched without a problem, there are also several Russian failures (which might have been caused by SPACE DEBRIS which is just as likely to hit ours as to hit theirs) and there are also several nuclear payloads in space right now that are not being used and are liable to return to Earth before the radiation levels have subsided to insignificant levels.

As to whether millions have already died from previous NASA experiments, first of all, you cannot prove that they haven't, and you cannot prove that they CAN'T have happened, but as I have just stated, they have certainly risked it UNNECESSARILY. Solar solutions work and work better and better all the time. So WHY RISK IT? A risk is only worth taking at all, no matter how small the risk, if a reasonable alternative does not exist. There is no way Cassini's RTGs falls clearly into that category, as I have discussed many times and as have many others.

Regarding deaths, Dr. Sternglass would probably estimate that millions died from the SNAP-9A alone, while Dr. Gofman would probably estimate it at considerably less. These are deaths from one NASA failure. Whether Apollo 13's nuclear payload should also be considered a release is also debatable. But there is certainly, without question, a chance that some of its nuclear payload was released into the upper atmosphere as well.

So what if, during Cassini's fly-by with Earth, the probe somehow hits the Earth? May I remind you that we have an atmosphere? Yes, say it with me - A-T-M-O-S-P-H-E-R-E. This atmosphere thing will burn up any probe that would try to fall back to Earth - and

You have this right that there will be a big fire in the sky if Cassini comes back to Earth. But actually, NASA tries to build the plutonium container assemblies in such a way that they will SURVIVE THE REENTRY THROUGH EARTH'S ATMOSPHERE (say it with me --...) but even NASA's latest figures admit that 3/4ths of the time about 1.7 GPHS's will release their GISs which will then incinerate in the upper atmosphere. The 60+ pounds of plutonium in the three RTGs is in 54 rectangular GPHSs, by the way.

if the atmosphere can stop deadly gamma rays, a little plutonium wouldn't stand a chance.

Right, except the plutonium falls to Earth where it can AND WILL be INHALED. I don't have NASA's exact numbers in front of me, but basically, NASA's own estimates are that it will take an average of several years to descend to the troposphere, with probably 95% of the plutonium reaching Earth within a few decades.

And yes, their have been numerous probes that have fallen back to Earth over the years, most recently the Russian Mars '96 probe - did we all die from cancer? I don't think so.

Why does EVERYONE have to die for you to worry? Won't a fraction of a percentage be of any concern to you? A tenth of one percent of the world's population RIGHT NOW is nearly 6 million people -- as many as were gassed in the NAZI death camps. We don't all need to die for there to be a problem.

Cancers often take 20 years to develop. That means people's lives are shortened, but one wouldn't expect Russia's Mars '96 probe to have had significant noticeable effects yet. Also, as mentioned above, the cancers will be spread out throughout the world (mostly in Bolivia and Chili, probably though) and it will be very hard to distinguish the cause of one cancer from the cause of another.

But it's ridiculous to therefore ASSUME that there were no cancers. That's how cartoons work (what you don't see can't hurt you) but real life is somewhat different.

The simple fact is, you are opposed to the Cassini project for one reason: you are against space exploration because it costs money, and you would rather that money be spent on liberal social programs like welfare and AFDC.

Where did you read that? I am not opposed to the space program, have NEVER gone on record as opposing the space program, and wonder why you would make up such accusations in the first place if you thought you had any really GOOD arguments against my position? I don't think I've written an opinion on either welfare or AFDC, but I surely think that America's youth deserve more money for education and I've stated THAT many times. America's schools need to be wired for the Internet and I was saying that in published essays, long before Clinton was elected the first time.

I don't care if NASA made Cassini run on harmless solar wind, you would find some reason to attack the project.

How do you figure that? I oppose useless Earth orbiting missions like the planned space station because they run the risk of creating significant amounts of space debris or being hit by same, and especially I oppose the use of the Geosynchronous Orbit for that reason. Earth-bound HIGH TECH FIBER OPTIC MULTI BILLION DOLLAR COMMUNICATION SYSTEMS is a much better solution than YOUR big-brother silliness with 500 channels of crap. Better an Internet with 500,000 channels of crap. And I would actually LIKE Cassini because I think exploration of the solar system (and beyond) is a good thing, if done with a reasonable amount of risk, as opposed to an unreasonable amount of risk.

Why don't you just tell the world the truth about yourself?

I do. Obviously you haven't been listening.

Why don't you just admit that you don't care about Cassini or an accident or anything else except having more money to spend on your Big brother government give-away programs.

Are you sure you meant to send this letter to me or have you got me mixed up with someone else?

You are the one that likes Big brother government give-away programs, giving hundreds of millions of dollars to a nuclear industry that has put you and everyone else's lives at stake for nothing.

When Cassini is launched into space this October without incident - I will email you to assure you that we are not all going to die and that NASA was right.

That would be way too soon. Some of Cassini's failure modes might occur during the flyby, and others can occur even later than that which could put Cassini on an Earth-impact trajectory. So skip the self-congrats in October if you get that far with your hare-brained scheme.

And when the probe gets a gravity assisit from Earth before going to Saturn, I will email you again to assure you that we are safe.

How sweet of you.

And when Cassini gets to Saturn - you are going to look foolish.

That depends on what the public has learned about the hazards of respirable particles of plutonium vapors and whether they still feel Cassini's gain was worth the risk. By the time Cassini gets to Saturn there will be, without question, solar solutions that could have supplied the mission had it started then, if indeed there are not such solutions now, which there probably are. So you will look foolish, not me, even if you succeed with Cassini. Not to mention that any other nuclear space failures between now and then will weaken your position. In fact, non-nuclear space failures will also weaken your position since you expect an unreasonable level of safety from NASA operations such as their Titan and Centaur rockets.

-- CO

P.S - At least we are using this plutonium for a peaceful purpose like space exploration instead of building nuclear bombs - after all, I am surprised that you enviro-liberals aren't cheering at the fact that we are getting this stuff off the planet to begin with.

Some less educated environmentalists do think that perhaps it's just as well to rocket the stuff to the sun. Most are far wiser than that. And where did you get that term for me anyway -- "enviro-liberal"? Again your assumptions are certainly not based on facts you've read. Why make stuff up? Your arguments are weak enough without fantasy.

Whats the next disaster you will dream up - we can't cross the street because their is a one in a million shot we will be killed?

That's your decision that you make for yourself. In the case of Cassini NASA is deciding for the entire world population that its little scientific gain is worth the risk to everyone. You don't think globally, do you?

I hope you will be more factual if you choose to write back. I will publish these comments, since I don't think you are alone in your fallacies, but without your name and email address as is our policy.

Thank you, again, for writing.

Russell Hoffman

An email to someone who will probably be hard to convince (Part 2):


At 03:48 PM 7/20/97 -0400, C.O. wrote:
In your response you stated that "As to whether millions have already died from previous NASA experiments, first of all, you cannot prove that they haven't, and you cannot prove that they CAN'T have happened, but as I have just stated, they have certainly risked it UNNECESSARILY."

Are you asking me to prove something to you? You are the one saying that NASA may have killed millions of people - therefore it is your responsibility to prove that they did. NASA, nor myself, do not have to prove anything - the burden of proof lies with those making the claims.

No it doesn't, not when viable alternative solutions exist or are nearly capable, not when the consequences of failure on your part ARE millions of deaths while the consequences of my being wrong are just a delayed (NOT canceled) mission. The burden of proof lies with those risking the lives. Get that straight.

I read NASA's FAQ about the Cassini mission in which they state that the possibilty of the plutonium being released on Earth is about 1 in 1500. Compare that with the numbers on open heart surgery in which 1 in 33 people die. If NASA is telling the truth, the chances are very slim that plutonium would be released.

That 1 in 1500 figure is a great oversimplification of the true dangers. A 1 in 1500 chance of ANY release -- what has that to do with the chances of a SIGNIFICANT release? And if NASA fails more than ONE PERSON will die. If an open-heart surgery fails, ONE person dies, unless the doctor has a heart attack during surgery, and cannot complete the operation. Then two might die. And of course, the other people in the operating room might see this and be so shocked as to die too! Then, when the spouse of the heart patient hears what happened, he or she (usually a she) might die as well! But seriously, only one patient dies when one heart operation fails. When one NASA operation fails, thousands, hundreds of thousands, or even millions might die, since Cassini carries so incredibly much plutonium on board.

During the Earth swing-by in 1999, NASA has changed the altitude of the craft from 312 miles above the surace to 500 - to suit you!

They don't state that as their reason. They say this for why they raised the swingby height and delayed the bias trajectory correction before the Earth swingby: "Both of these changes work to keep the chances of an inadvertent Earth swingby reentry below one in one million." (Final SEIS, page 2-4, June 1997.) That indicates that something else increased the risk when they calculated it the last time, and so to compensate for this danger and keep the calculated risks below "one in one million" they had to raise the height and delay the bias correction! They didn't do it for me at all! They did it because something else in their calculations got worse. I wonder what?

NASA also said that if they calculated their orbits incorrectly or if some malfunctiion changed the spacecrafts movement so that it was heading towards Earth, that they would simply fire the rockets to change its course and send it harmlessly by the planet. These swing-bys have occured many times before - all without incident.

They have occurred a few times, but hardly "many".

But lets say that once the craft is in space on the way back from Venus there is some horrible accident and Cassini is heading for Earth and the craft is not responding to commands so that we cannot change its course. We are in trouble right? Not so fast - the U.S and Russia have nuclear-tipped ABM's capable of hitting a target hundreds of miles up and moving twenty or thirty thousand miles per hour. We just launch these missiles and our problems are over.

Wow! Do trains run on time where you come from, too? We couldn't even hit a SCUD missile with more than about a 20% accuracy during the Gulf war, if that, although we claimed at the time more like 80% or 90% accuracy. Same with our "smart" bombs. Cassini will be traveling many times faster than anything we ever tried to hit before. It will be undetectable except by it's signal until probably just days or maybe hours before it would impact Earth. Plus, exploding a nuclear missile in Near Earth Orbit is banned for good reason by international treaty and common sense. I don't think anyone at NASA is planning for such a solution, which means even if it were possible, it probably wouldn't be done!

And Russia can't even dock two ships at nearly zero miles per hour, in case you weren't watching the news lately.

As for me, I am looking foward to those panaramic images from Titan. I might even go watch the launch to witness history, but you will be buried in your bunker praying about things that aren't going to happen - so I am sorry that you won't be there.

I would go too, but I haven't been invited. ;) If we both end up going, let's get together afterwards and have a drink--on me if it crashes (if we can find an open bar) and on you if it succeeds, okay?


P.S - Talk to you again in October - unless we are all glowing from plutonium contamination or something:)

Thanks again for your emails. Between now and the launch date, I hope you'll read up on the facts...

Russell Hoffman

Reality Check on the message to Clinton published in an earlier newsletter:

At 06:30 PM 7/17/97 -0700, Shelley Thomson wrote:
I don't know if you are aware of this, but the White House does not read email from citizens. I don't believe they even count it. Last year I found and interviewed the programmer who wrote the screen program for email opposing the CDA. The White House destroyed that mail without reading it. I am confident that this is standard procedure.

When I published the story I thought there would be a public outcry, but nothing happened. Nevertheless it is true.

If you want your readers to have an effect, I suggest that you ask them to telephone their representatives in Washington and tie up some staff time. Email won't have any effect.
Shelley Thomson

publisher, **Biased Journalism** : a community newspaper of cyberspace


Thanks for the reality check. ...[snip]... Let not my arguments convince you or anyone of anything; go and find out for yourself! (i.e. read Dr. John Gofman's published books on the hazards of low level radiation.)

Unfortunately, I do not doubt your story about what the White House does with most of their email. Maybe things about Cassini. I did send Clinton and Gore (and Goldin and a few others) a complete copy of the web site, the last time was way back in April I think, though. I guess it's time to do it again... ...[snip]...

Russell D. Hoffman

Note: To find out more about Shelley Thomson's **Biased Journalism** cyber newsletter, contact her at:

"shelley thomson"

[The next item is a followup to the first letter published above from "DG". It did not appear in the original version of this newsletter.]

Thank you for your reply,

I see you received my message as the good natured satire it was intended to be.

I agree that the depletion of the ozone layer is a cause for concern among us all, and I have concerns about how nuclear power is used. (I live very near the San Onofre nuclear facility.) I however, feel that the attention you are giving to the Cassini project is misdirected. It seems more like a ploy to grab some headlines by attacking a very visible target, when the risk of being kicked to death by an emu in downtown Manhattan is much greater than anyone being harmed by the Cassini mission to Saturn.

If it were not for RTG units, we would not have the bountiful data we have received from the Pioneer, Voyager, and Galileo missions (to name a few). Even the tiny Sojourner rover on Mars employs radioisotopes to keep it's internal electronics at a safe operating temperature.

I look forward to the pictures and data from Saturn and its moons that Cassini will enrich us all with. And if the Titan 4B launch vehicle should explode at liftoff, the only casualties will be the mission scientists who commit suicide after watching decades of work and planning go up in smoke.

Feel free to use my name if you decide to print any of my ramblings in your newsletter, but I would thank you not to include my e-mail address, as I already get more mail than I have time for.


Dennis Gregorio


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Thanks for reading,
Russell D. Hoffman
STOP CASSINI webmaster.


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