STOP CASSINI Newsletter #24 -- July 24th, 1997

Copyright (c) 1997

STOP CASSINI Newsletters Index

Subject: STOP CASSINI NEWSLETTER #24 - Announcements; A look at Space Debris


This issue presents announcements of interest to people concerned with the STOP CASSINI movement, including a new book, a planned National Call-in Day, and a discussion about low level radiation hazards. Also a look at the problem of Space Debris.

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

**** STOP CASSINI NEWSLETTER Volume #24, July 24th, 1997 ****
Today's subjects:

****** VOLUME #24, July 24th, 1997 ******

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

THE WRONG STUFF, Karl Grossman's new book, due out August 15th:

THE WRONG STUFF: The Space Program's Nuclear Threat to Our Planet by Karl Grossman.

I had the pleasure of reading THE WRONG STUFF in draft format a few months ago. It reads like a high-tech thriller but unfortunately there is no hero to save the day! The official publication date is August 15th. It is published by Common Courage Press who can be contacted for orders. Phone (800) 497-3207.

Cost: $22.95, Cloth bound, ISBN 1-56751-125-2, 225 pages


[We now also have a web page about the book.]

National Call-In day on Cassini

The Womens International League for Peace and Freedom (NY Metro Branch) is organizing a call-in day to Clinton. Telephone the White House at (202) 456-1414 to CANCEL CASSINI - on August 6, Hiroshima Day. For more information please contact:

Tina Bell (Coordinator)
WILPF (NY Metro)
339 Lafayette St
New York, NY 10012
(212) 533 2125

KABF in Little Rock

An interview with the Editor of this newsletter is scheduled to be broadcast at 2pm on Saturday, July 26th on KABF 88.3 in Little Rock, Arkansas. Mary Beth Murrill of NASA/JPL was also interviewed for the show (separately).

SPACE DEBRIS: A comparison of two reports

A research firm for a foreign news service called me asking about SPACE DEBRIS. I have written several letters to newspapers over the years as well as some Internet articles about the problem, so it was nice to hear of a revived interest in this under-reported subject.

I contacted Nicholas Johnson, Chief Scientist for Orbital Debris at NASA/JSC and requested a copy of the 1995 update to the 1989 Interagency Report on Orbital Debris, which I already had. I compared the two reports, and the results should be of interest to anyone wondering about NASA's numbers.

Report year: 1989 =-= 1995
10 cm or greater: 7000 =-= 8000
1 to 10 cm: 17,500 =-= 110,000
.01-1 cm: 3,524,500 =-= 35,117,000
Total kg: 3,000,000 =-= 2,000,000

Source: Table 2 of each report.

I asked Dr. Johnson about the differences. He emailed me back that: "Whereas many of the estimates in 1989 were based on analytical models, we now have real-world measurements to form the backbone of our current work."

Regarding the value for mass (kg), according to Dr. Johnson, the total mass of debris in low Earth orbit (below 2000 km) is now estimated at 2,200,000 kg, and the total mass in all Earth orbits is about 4,300,000 kg.

Even in 1989, despite the poor estimates of the true situation, it was obvious that a problem existed:

"Space activity is placing debris in orbit faster than the natural effects of drag removes it, with the result that the tracked population of orbital debris is increasing by about 300 objects per year during a time when launch rates are fairly constant. This rate of increase includes only debris having sizes of 10 cm or larger. The increase in the number of smaller objects may be much larger" (Page 11 of the 1989 report, Chapter 2).

Since the 1989 report, the U.S. has taken a number of steps in some areas to mitigate the creation of new debris. But none of these steps can fully address the problem, not only because of international failures, but because every use of space runs a risk. Also, the problem of removal of current debris has proven completely unsolvable, despite the fact that numerous old rockets in orbit right now contain hazardous waste including plutonium or uranium, and/or are in danger of exploding their left-over fuel if they malfunction or are hit by space debris themselves.

Every space flight runs a random risk of annihilation from space debris. If a collision occurs it can become more debris itself. The current problem is largely the result of less than 150 initiating events. Therefore, all "useless" uses of space should be banned and all marginal uses of space should be questioned. Alternatives technologies, such as land-based fiber-optic communications systems, should be encouraged. Earth Orbital Space must be a safely transversible zone to get to the rest of the solar system and to the stars.

Yet the problem continues to grow at an unsustainable rate. In fact, a greatly expanded space program is predicted, with 400, 600, even 1000 flights a year being planned right now! How fast will the problem grow then?

The most shocking thing in the 1995 report are the five recommendations at the end. None of them actually accomplish anything, except perhaps the last one, and that one is peppered with phrases such as: "will strive to minimize or reduce accumulation of space debris consistent with mission requirements and cost effectiveness" which doesn't really say a thing!

In 1995, with the number of objects still climbing at between 200 and 300 new objects per year (for objects large enough to track) here are the five recommendations (1995 report, pages 56-57):

1) Continue and Enhance Debris Measurement, Modeling and Monitoring Capabilities.

2) Conduct a Focused Study on Debris and Emerging LEO Systems.

3) Develop Government/Industry Design Guidelines on Orbital Debris.

4) Develop a Strategy for International Discussions.

5) Review and Update U.S. Government Policy on Debris.

Perhaps this sentence, which immediately proceeds the recommendations, tells all: "The unilateral application of debris mitigation measures could put U.S. satellite and launch vehicle industries at a competitive disadvantage."

How many more breakups will occur before Cassini does its flyby of Earth in 1999, which can put us at greater risk from space debris than NASA originally estimated? How accurate is NASA's estimate of the interstellar space debris environment, considering how different the numbers are that the Interagency Group presented for Earth orbital debris in 1989 and 1995?

More email correspondence with Louis Friedman, Executive Director of the Planetary Society

At 07:27 AM 7/21/97, Louis Friedman wrote:
Mr. Hoffman

As you know I am following your electronic newsletter with interest. I admire your willingness for dialogue (albeit I think it is incorrect to copy the white house with every little pro and con point and repeated messages).

But your statement As to whether millions have already died from previous NASA experiments, first of all, you cannot prove that they haven't is really beyond the pale, and destroys any hope that you could be taken credibly. It is the typical statement of "pseudo-science" . It is also true that you can't prove that we are all aliens from another universe put here on Earth five minutes ago with our memories implanted. It is an arguement which is useless.

You must know that millions haven't died from NASA experiments. Does it help you to make the case against Cassini to assert such a thing? If it does, your arguments must be pretty weak.

The Planetary Society

Response sent to Mr. Friedman:


I am pleased to hear that you continue to follow the newsletters. I think in this instance you have misread what I wrote because, of course, I must have been unclear. So let me try to clarify what I meant, and then I'll print the clarification in the next newsletter.

Here's my clarification of the point about the SNAP-9A and Apollo 13 (and other nuclear payloads currently in orbit):

I did NOT "assert" that millions had already died from NASA experiments, only that they might have, and that medical science has strong indications that what NASA did (incinerate Pu 238 in the upper atmosphere) could have killed millions, and that even if it indeed has already had that drastic an effect, it would still be nearly impossible to identify the victims or prove that it had happened.

The difference between my "assertion" (that millions may have died) and the worry you mention about aliens implanting thoughts in our brains is a crucial one, Mr. Friedman. Medical science -- and the field of health physics, in particular -- has several well thought-out theories that would lead from a Pu 238 incineration at high altitude to a lung cancer. Certainly all of medical science agrees that an amount of plutonium which is minute -- invisibly small -- is a deadly dose. That's not the same as supposing that aliens have landed -- there is NO good scientific basis for THAT assertion! To assert that plutonium vaporization in the upper atmosphere is very dangerous to the population that lives beneath it is just not on the same level of hard-to-fathomness as the idea that aliens have, in the last five minutes, implanted memories in our brains. (Although personally, I HAVE always wondered if the bolts on the sides of my neck were actually good for anything, and also I wonder why I can't remember where I put the TV remote, less than five minutes ago.)

A spectrum of sizes would result from an incineration: Billions of particles. While some, or perhaps most, might be so small as to cause an INSIGNIFICANT amount of cancers, I believe it is reasonable to assume that there is no such thing as a particle so small that it absolutely cannot cause a "health effect".

One can certainly say that after 50 years of playing with the atom, this theory of radiation's effects on human health has not been disproved. Although the average dose that a particle might deposit on a person from a high-altitude plutonium incineration accident might be several orders of magnitude smaller than any generally acknowledged lethal dose, nevertheless this effect should be considered in light of the fact that many billions of people receive that dose or, more specifically, receive a spectrum of doses. Some will receive double, triple, and even 10 times the average dose simply because it will not spread out evenly throughout the ecosystem.

Also, people with extra-healthy, larger lung capacities breath a greater volume of air. Babies, on the other hand, appear to be far more susceptible to the effects of plutonium than adults, but they breath far smaller volumes of air. Smokers often have as much as 30% of their cilia gone from their lungs; these people may not be able to expel the plutonium from their lungs as well. (Tests have not been done, as far as I know.) All in all, plutonium 238 vaporized in the upper atmosphere will spread finely (but not evenly) throughout the ecosystem.

Additionally, who really knows exactly how many such assaults the human body can take from plutonium when it is combined with all the other environmental degradations that are right now occurring? There is a safe limit on all 70,000 or so chemicals the EPA watches. What if one of them were exceeded by double or triple or 1000 times the allowable limit? What if 20 of them are over the limit right now? (I bet in many parts of the world that's true!) Can a significantly smaller increase in the so-called "background radiation level" really be withstood? Why hasn't medical science been able to increase life expectancy much, if at all, in the last few decades? Could it be because of a mixture of environmental degradations, none of which are known to be enough to kill a person, but together, they cause great numbers of us to die at an early age?

How capable is alpha radiation of being a catalyst for other environmental degradations, such as around Bophal, India? These are not the far-fetched speculations of a techno-phobe, Mr. Friedman, these are the questions I read that many, many scientists are asking. Why are the frogs dying? Why are the Beluga whales dying? Why are so many of us dying of cancer, anyway? What if SPF 2000 really does prevent many cancers, or what if a healthy diet does? Some people will chose to try to lower their own personal risk. For those people, whose death rates from cancer are nowhere near the national or worldwide averages, vaporized plutonium might represent a far greater danger as a percentage of cancer dangers they face. Maybe they LIKE living into their 80's or 90's, unlike the rest of us who are satisfied to smoke, eat fatty things, watch T.V. and gain weight, and suntan ourselves to death at an average age of just over 70. I would think that the billions of people whose cancer death rates are well below average should not be content to hear NASA say that death rates would not be increased noticeably above average.

That fine particles of plutonium are quite capable of causing cancer is irrefutable. The questions left to be answered are: 1) How many of the particles that are created in an upper atmosphere incineration are then lodged in a human lung? 2) What are the rates of carcinogenic and other health effects from those particles? 3) What synergies with other pollutants is radiation capable of having?

Finding out the answers to these questions is a global experiment that we need not and should not risk simply because NASA cannot wait for a solar solution or perhaps even, will not acknowledge that a solar solution exists! Cassini will be a risk taken solely for the purpose of haste. Furthermore if NASA were told they must not use RTG's, I am confident they could find an alternative.

Regarding your comment about "cc'ing" the White House, I have not had any notification from the White House that any of my opinions are being heard. I am quite within my rights to try to keep President Clinton and our "environmentalist" Vice President abreast of my arguments regarding this controversy, especially when I hear of others who are refuting my points yet not contacting me to give me a chance to refute those refutations (unlike you, whose correspondence I respect and treasure). I like to believe that some staff person at the White House is following the debate closely, since I believe it is a matter of great national and international interest. And certainly, since I do wish to advise the President of my feelings about the danger, I certainly have no more practical way to reach him. Besides, aren't you right now asking your organization's 18,000 [Correction: Actual number is about 100,000] members to send in letters to the White House as well? I happen to believe in high-tech methodologies! And lastly, I think my readers who agree with me should know that the President and Vice-President have already heard from me, in case they want to tell them they agree with what I write! And your compatriots might as well know too, so they can write and say how they disagree. And in the end, if anything does go wrong with Cassini, I do not want the President to have the option of being able to say no one tried to inform him about the debate...

Thanks for continuing the correspondence. I appreciate and value your input.

Russell Hoffman

At 09:40 PM 7/21/97, Louis Friedman wrote:

Please cite the reference in medical science or health physics literature that backs up your statement "that millions may have died". Or your statement: As to whether millions have already died from previous NASA experiments, first of all, you cannot prove that they haven't

Louis Friedman

Response sent to Mr. Friedman:


As you know, I am not a scientist. You can contact Dr. John W. Gofman, Dr. Ernest J. Sternglass, Dr. Jay Gould, Dr. Karl Z. Morgan (who is credited with inventing the field of health physics, by the way), or Dr. Helen Caldicott, just as well as I can. All of them -- and many others -- have published scientific literature which backs up such statements. You can also visit a web site where much of Dr. Gofman's published works are now online, here's a URL to get started:


At 07:15 AM 7/22/97, Louis Friedman wrote:

-- Mr. Hoffman --

I checked out this site as you suggested. None of these are publications from the scientific literature in either of the fields of health physics or medical science. They are all opinion pieces.

His C.V. offered on that home page, does not list any scientific papers, except two from 1969 and 1971 (26 years ago!)

No other scientific publications (that is work published in the scientific literature, reviewed and accepted by a professional journal) are listed -- by him or any of the authors you cited. Nor is the statement about "millions may have died from NASA experiments" in any of the documents I have looked at.

I know you say you are not a scientist. But you must get your information from somewhere, or you must be careful what you quote. Where is this information about "millions may have died."?

Louis Friedman

And my response?


As stated at the time the value was presented that "millions may have died" figure is an estimate. Besides the word "may" gives it away as such. It is based on comments made by a variety of doctors regarding plutonium incineration. Dr. Ernest Sternglass has been quoted as estimating that from 10 million to perhaps as many as 20 million deaths from lung cancer (plus possibly as many other deaths) might occur if Cassini crashes. Cassini carries 72+ pounds of Pu 238. The SNAP-9A had 2.1 pounds and Apollo 13 (with UNKNOWN RESULTS!) had over 8 pounds of Pu 238. That is about 1/7th of Cassini's plutonium payload, so clearly Dr. Sternglass is one source for the "millions may have died" figure. I'm sure plutonium was just as deadly in the 60's as it is today.

But personally, I prefer to read what Dr. Gofman writes about the hazards of plutonium, and indeed, Dr. Gofman has serious concerns about Dr. Sternglass's theories and has publicly said as much. Dr. Gofman's estimates are based on the concept that a given quantity of plutonium, if divided among 1, 2, or any number of people, will have (statistically speaking, of course) approximately the same effect, that is, that on average one person will die from a "lethal dose" of plutonium, whether that plutonium is all given to one person or divided out among many people. His scientific reasons for feeling that way are, of course, throughout his published works and his teachings.

Your research into Dr. Gofman's credentials stopped early. As presented in an affidavit Dr. Gofman provided in 1978 -- nearly 20 years ago -- for a court case where he was an expert witness, he had at that time had approximately 150 scientific papers published, in the following topics:

(1) Lipoproteins, atherosclerosis, and coronary heart disease.
(2) Ultracentrifugal discovery and analysis of the serum lipoproteins.
(3) Characterization of familial lipoprotein disorders.
(4) The determination of trace elements by X-ray spectrochemical analysis.
(5) The relationship of human chromosomes to cancer.
(6) The biological and medical effects of ionizing radiation, with particular reference to cancer, leukemia, and genetic diseases.
(7) The lung-cancer hazard of plutonium.
(8) Problems associated with nuclear power production.

His honors and awards include the Gold-headed Cane Award as a graduating senior from UC Med. School in 1946, the Modern Medicine Award in 1954 for outstanding contributions to heart disease research, the Lyman Duff Lectureship Award of the American Heart Association in 1965 for research in atherosclerosis and coronary heart disease, the Stouffer Prize (shared) in 1972 for outstanding contributions to research in arteriosclerosis, and in 1974, the American College of Cardiology selection as one of 25 leading researchers in cardiology of the previous quarter century.

He also was Associate Director of Lawrence Livermore Laboratory from 1963 to 1969 and holds three patents. One is on the slow and fast neutron fissionability of Uranium-233, one is on the sodium uranyl acetate process for separation of plutonium from uranium and fission products from irradiated fuel, and one is on the columbium oxide process for the separation of plutonium from uranium and fission products from irradiated fuel.

What does Dr. Gofman say about numbers of deaths from SNAP-9A, Apollo 13, or the potential from Cassini, or the deaths from the atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons? Here is what he wrote about the weapons testing:

"I am prepared to defend, before any scientific body, and under oath in full public view, my estimate that ONE MILLION people (perhaps only 500,000 or as many as two million) in the Northern Hemisphere have been irreversibly condemned to die of lung cancer from those 5 tons of plutonium. Indeed, were it not for the fact that by far MOST of the plutonium fell either upon the oceans or uninhabitable land, the figure of one million would be enormously larger." ("Irrevy" by J.W. Gofman, 1979, page 39.)

Dr. Gofman is 79. Perhaps it is time to take him up on his offer, Mr. Friedman. His articles have been peer-reviewed. His theories have survived scientific scrutiny. The lay person cannot trust every scientist he hears; they have conflicting views. I trust this one.

Upper atmospheric winds are strong and unpredictable. NASA's numbers are often off by orders of magnitude (or several orders of magnitude). It is perfectly reasonable to say that "millions may have died" from previous NASA experiments. Cassini, of course, can come down ANYWHERE in a flyby reentry accident, while all the atmospheric testing was done in remote areas. Curies are a measure of amount of radioactivity, in these cases alpha emissions. Cassini will carry about 406,000 Curies of plutonium (mostly Pu 238). All the weapons testing together released about the same number of Curies of plutonium (mostly Pu 239). SNAP-9A and Apollo 13 together carried about 61,500 Curies of Pu 238.

Millions may have died.


Please feel free to post these newsletters anywhere you feel it's appropriate! THANKS!!!

Welcome new subscribers!

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


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