STOP CASSINI Newsletter #29 -- August 15th, 1997

Copyright (c) 1997

STOP CASSINI Newsletters Index

Subject: STOP CASSINI NEWSLETTER #29 - August 15th, 1997


This issue points you to several articles that discuss the solar alternatives to Cassini. Also, Louis Friedman, Executive Director of the Planetary Society, continues our debate. And a beginner asked what the fuss is about, so we produced a new-and-improved Beginner's Guide To Cassini.

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

**** STOP CASSINI NEWSLETTER Volume #29 August 15th, 1997 ****
Today's subjects:

****** VOLUME #29 August 15th, 1997 ******

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

Cassini correspondence

An Email to Us Asking About Solar Alternatives:
This letter arrived this morning asking about solar alternatives to Cassini.
I am [C], a high school debater from Cadillac, Michigan. This year we are debating, as a nation; renewable energy, and from my research online and from the Karl Grossman books I've read I decided to make my affirmative case to postpone cassini and change it to solar (which is the increase of renewable enengy) and I've used your links for about 70 percent of all my evidence. I thank you for putting so much quality information on your pages, and for being so active, because without it my debate season would be boring (debating the efficiency of tree's use of sun energy isn't my idea of fun :P) and i would feel duped come October 6 when the story finally makes news. Unfortunatly, I have hit a roadblock, I have enough "harm" evidence, i need more "solvency" evidence, more ppl saying solar power will solve for Cassini getting to Saturn. Do you have any specific links, or sources that i can look into for this solvency evidence? It would be greatly appreciated.

Thank you so much for your activeness and any help you can provide me,


We think Cassini should be debated in every school on the planet in the next few weeks and hope that every school that is debating it contacts other schools and tries to debate it with them and an inter-school and international effort. After all, most of the price if Cassini fails will fall on the youngest segment of today's population, both in terms of financial liability issues, and in terms of possible health effects. So they might as well know what's going on and get in on the debate.

We have just recently posted a very important article by Michio Kaku which includes information about the solar alternatives. Also we have posted a response to a pro-nuclear Cassini web page which discusses the solar alternative (concluding, of course, that it wouldn't work) was written by Dr. Ross McCluney. Dr. McCluney's comments also include a separate paper on the issue. First some information about Dr. Kaku, then Dr. McCluney:

Dr. Michio Kaku:

Here is the URL of the Kaku article:

The article is titled "A Scientific Critique of the Accident Risks from the Cassini Space Mission" and is possibly the single most important document in the opposition movement to Cassini written so far.

Here is a short biography of Dr. Kaku:

Dr. Michio Kaku is the Henry Semat professor of theoretical physics at the Graduate Center of the City Univ. of New York. He is one of the world's leading authorities on Einstein's Unified Field Theory. He is the co-founder of string field theory. His textbooks on quantum field theory, superstring theory, quantum gravity, and conformal field theory are used by Ph.D. students in leading institutions around the world. He has lectured to the Soviet Academy of Sciences in Moscow, at Oxford Univ., Cambridge Univ., Univ. of Rome, the Univ. of Tokyo, and CERN in Geneva, Switzerland.

He received his B.A. in physics from Harvard in 1968. He graduated summa cum laude (with highest honors), Phi Beta Kappa, and number one in his physics class.

He received his Ph.D. at the Radiation Laboratory at the Univ. of Calif. at Berkeley in 1972. He was a research associate at Princeton University in 1973, and has been a professor at CUNY for the past 25 years. He has been a visiting professor at Cal Tech, the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, and New York University.

He has published 9 books and 70 articles in the scientific literature (including Nuclear Physics, Physical Review, Physics Letters, Physical Review Letters).

He is a Fellow of the American Physical Society, and honor held by the top 10% of physicists in the U.S.

Dr. Ross McCluney
Dr. Ross McCluney, is a Ph.D. and Principal Research Scientist, Florida Solar Energy Center. He was a research scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center from 1973 to 1976. For a couple of months he has been studying the possible use of solar energy as an alternative to nuclear energy power for interplanetary space probes such as the Cassini mission scheduled to launch from Cape Canaveral this October.

Dr. McCluney has prepared an answer to a pro-nuclear Cassini web page which was designed and posted by George Herbert. Here is the URL of the original web page which Dr. McCluney's web page answers. But more importantly Dr. McCluney's web page includes a complete, separate discussion of the solar alternatives for Cassini.

(Note: The views expressed by Dr. McCluney are his personal views and not necessarily those of the University of Central Florida or the Florida Solar Energy Center. Dr. McCluney's affiliation with the Florida Solar Energy Center and the University of Central Florida is for identification purposes only.)

Here is the URL of the McCluney report:

Correspondence with Louis Friedman: Call for hearings
As most readers of this newsletter know, Louis Friedman is the Executive Director of the Planetary Society. We have debated Mr. Friedman often with these electrons and here is the lastest.


I see you are "looking" for me -- at least in this newsletter [#28]. I do not know what question or comment I didn't respond to in a previous newsletter, as I am unable to read each one your (long and rather chatty) newsletters.

You say:
>>Dr. Gofman is ready, willing, and able (despite his advancing years) to take
>>up that challenge for us, and answer to any radiation expert Mr. Friedman
>>cares to present or to Mr. Friedman himself, or both, in public, in court,
>>in the open. But Mr. Friedman has dropped the ball. He has not accepted
>>the challenge he himself proposed.

What am I supposed to do? Does Dr. Gofman have some paper documenting that "millions may have died" (whatever "may have" means in a scientific sense) from NASA? If so, I'll be glad to read it and comment on it.

As I think you know (from previous e-mails) the "Jefferson Report" is off-base. There is zero probability that a launch accident will "fill the skies" with Plutonium. It is this kind of doomsday talk that makes much (not all) of the Stop-Cassini movement non-credible.

Louis Friedman


MY RESPONSE (8/14/97) Hi!

Thank you for your answer, shown above, to my newsletter #28 of yesterday.

Regarding the Jefferson Report item, of course I think the Jefferson's Report's statement is a gross oversimplification, but I would not characterize it as being capable of making "most" of the anti-nuclear Cassini movement suddenly appear non-credible.

As to Gofman's response to your challenge, you are the Executive Director of an organization with what, 18,000 space-people (including, for over 10 years, my younger brother)? You could help me call for a Congressional hearing on "the #1 issue" in the Cassini debate. Or, if we cannot get that, then we could at least have a panel discussion with qualified scientists from both sides of the issue. You bring the best you can get and I'll bring the best I can get. Your members surely want the truth too, seeing as you are asking them to voice their support for Cassini to President Clinton! Is it blind support without knowledge of the dangers, as yours appears to be?

After all, what really has the dangers of low-level radiation got to do with The Planetary Society? Everything, if NASA continues to insist on using the Plutonium fuel, and nothing, of course, if NASA would switch to solar. But they haven't and it's a valid area of discussion. The world wants this debate. You and I should endeavor to bring it about. It should be a Congressional hearing, or perhaps a court battle, but barring those, you wished to see the scientific evidence that would suggest that my statement that "millions MAY have died" is reasonable and I am offering to present it to you. You could, of course, read Dr. Gofman's books such as RADIATION AND HUMAN HEALTH and you can contact him directly at the Committee for Nuclear Responsibility in San Francisco, CA, if you still wonder about the hazards of your plutonium. Why not start there?

By the way, I get mail from people who think they are qualified scientists, saying that 72+ pounds of plutonium dioxide will cause ZERO deaths even if it is TOTALLY dispersed in the upper atmosphere. Some of these people dis me pretty mercilessly in various newsgroups. Then, "REAL" qualified PRO-NUCLEAR Cassini scientists tell me these people are "idiots".

Separating the truth from the exaggerations and the fiction is a tough job. I don't see you doing it: Please read Gofman. Don't be afraid to learn about the hazards of low-level plutonium radiation, Mr. Friedman. Nanotechnology will never make a more viscious killing machine than a particle of plutonium 238. If it gets into your body those microscopic particles start tearing apart everything around them, bombarding surrounding cells with "heavy" alpha particles (each has 2 protons; much heavier than beta particles). Sometimes they tear and damage chromosomes. Ripping yourself apart from the inside, even on a small, microscopic scale, is NOT a good thing! You can read about just how bad it is, Mr. Friedman. And you can help call for a national debate on the issue.

Thanks again for your continued correspondence.

Russell Hoffman

Actually, not quite the end. I added this comment as well in a followup letter:



I should add that I spoke to Dr. Gofman a few weeks ago and read to him over the phone what I was going to publish (shown below) regarding his C.V. and health effects estimates, including how they could be converted to Cassini and NASA's previous plutonium experiments.

He is just as willing now as he was in 1979 to defend his estimates. He has had two books published on radiation effects in the 1990's, both by the Sierra Club, and is still quite active despite his years. He is a national treasure.

This is an opportunity, Mr. Friedman, for you and the Planetary Society's members to prove that you/they want to know the full story of all sides of the issue. If you read my newsletter #26 you know that I am not anti-space. But health effects need to be considered honestly, openly, and accurately.

Cassini, aside from any other scientific gains, is an opportunity for the world to learn about plutonium and it's effects if it is vaporized in the upper atmosphere. We should learn this BEFORE it launches, not AFTER. When you told your 100,000 members to write to Clinton and support Cassini, what did you tell them about the potential health effects? What did you know about the potential health effects? What do you know now?

Please don't fail to do the right thing. From what I have seen of your knowledge of plutonium, you are flying blind. Since you are Executive Director of The Planetary Society and promoting Cassini to your members, that is not a good thing. I may be only a "concerned citizen" but at least I AM concerned. I am concerned because I have found many eminent and respected scientists who are saying essentially the same thing. I happen to prefer to read Gofman, but there are others. Gofman is a scientist with all the peer-reviewed reports you could ask for. I don't simply mimick what he says, of course, but I do respect it and so should you. The logic of his arguments makes sense to me.

Russell Hoffman

A Space Probe Called Cassini: A NEW Beginner's Guide:

At 11:27 PM 8/10/97 O.B. wrote:
>I didnt realy understood. what is the problem with the N.A.S.A Cassini


Thank you for your email. I cannot tell from your email what you know so far, so I don't know where to begin. Please forgive me if you know much of this; but I'll try to start at the beginning.

In less than two months, in one of several launch windows starting October 6th, 1997, NASA will launch a Titan IV rocket, with a Centaur Booster. Titan IVs have less than a 95% success rate (19 launches, one spectacular failure) The Centaur fuel tanks to be used on Cassini were tested for the first time recently and were found to be leaking in two places. It's a typical seal problem, we are told, but seals (O-rings) DID bring down the Challenger...

On top of this rickety rocket will be placed a space probe called Cassini, bound for Saturn. It has an electrical power source, which is made from more than 72 pounds of the most deadly substance known to man (okay, perhaps only "one of the most deadly", but certainly the most "carcinogenic"). If an accident occurs and some quantity of the deadly substance gets out, it could have widespread health effects.

The substance is known as Plutonium Dioxide and is made of different types of plutonium (including Pu 236, Pu 239, Pu 240, Pu 241, and Pu 242, but mostly Pu 238) mixed with oxygen. By weight the plutonium dioxide ceramic used on Cassini is about 85.8% plutonium, 11.8% oxygen, and 2.4% "other" (see page 2-18 of the June 1995 EIS).

How deadly is plutonium? First let's talk about Plutonium 239 since that is the most common form of plutonium. It is the one mainly used in nuclear weapons. Although it is not the dominant form of plutonium on board Cassini, it is still about 13% of the plutonium dioxide. 13% of 72+ pounds is probably enough, by the way, to make a nuclear bomb if it falls into the wrong hands. And NASA assures us that in the case of an accident, it WILL fall, intact, to Earth, and over a fairly limited area, at that. In 54 neat little packages, minus any that break apart. And it could do this anywhere.

The dominant form of plutonium on board Cassini is Plutonium 238, which we will talk about in a moment. For plutonium 239, I have heard estimates that 27 micrograms -- a microscopic quantity -- is a deadly dose. I have even heard 5 micrograms and 1 microgram. I have, on the other hand, also heard that 27 micrograms of plutonium 239 is NOT necessarily a lethal dose, but that it is nevertheless 125 times the allowable annual exposure and 12.5 times the detectible health effects limit (a subjective limit, based on the limited powers of perception and statistical analysis.)

Most of the plutonium that will be used on Cassini is plutonium 238, which is 280 times MORE DEADLY than plutonium 239! So instead of 27 micrograms being (perhaps) a lethal dose, it is more like .1 micrograms. Perhaps somewhat less. Perhaps somewhat more. That is 10 million lethal doses per gram, and there will be about 27,000 grams of plutonium on board Cassini. 10,000,000 times 27,000 equals 270,000,000,000 (two hundred seventy billion) potentially lethal doses.

An accident which releases just 1% of this plutonium would, therefore, release 2.7 BILLION lethal doses into the environment.

This doesn't worry the pro-nuclear Cassini people. Why not? Two reasons. One, they might argue that .1 micrograms of plutonium is NOT a lethal dose. However, it is more than two orders of magnitude above the permissible dose, and more than an order of magnitude above the amount which causes a detectible health effect. And two, they will argue that these "lethal doses" will be further broken down into particles too minute to be lethal doses except on very rare, random occasions.

The way plutonium harms people is that is shoots off something called an ALPHA PARTICLE when it decays. The half-life of plutonium 238 is 87.75 years. The half-life of plutonium 239 is about 24,400 years, or about 280 times longer than the half-life of plutonium 238. This means that pound for pound and second for second, plutonium 238 shoots out about 280 times MORE alpha particles than plutonium 239, for 280 times shorter a period of time, on average.

Alpha particles are big things, on an atomic scale. They contain two protons. It is because of this massive size that they can be stopped by a sheet of paper or by your skin (the outer layer of which is already dead.) But if a substance that gives off alpha particles gets INSIDE your body, there will be nothing to protect the surrounding cells. Alpha particles will bombard the nearby cells. Most will die from this attack, but some will suffer chromosomal damage which may turn into a cancer or genetic defect or other health effect.

Inhaled plutonium is by far it's most deadly state, being hundreds or even thousands of times more dangerous than ingested plutonium.

Even if a particle of plutonium does not kill you, it is still a brutal little microscopic nano-machine which tears you apart from the inside. There is absolutely no amount of plutonium which is good for you.

One of the pro-nuclear arguments against the above being anything to worry about is that in an accident, the plutonium will be spread so finely throughout the environment that no harm will be done. However, a consideration of Avogadro's number (6.023 X 10^23, which is the number or atoms in one mole or "gram molecular" of something) quickly reminds one that even if you dilute and dilute and dilute the plutonium, you will still be introducing a huge number of particles into the environment and into everyone's bodies. Micro-machete's. Smaller than that: Nano-machetes. That's what plutonium particles really are: a vicious nano-technology that is nothing more than a machine that slices, dices, chops, punctures, rips and grates on a microscopic scale. It is not very toxic (ie, it's chemical effects are relatively trivial) but as a source of radiation damage, plutonium 238 is dreadful.

Having examined what they are playing with, let us now consider the different ways NASA puts us at risk. There are launch accidents, late launch accidents, and of course, the potential for transportation accidents throughout the development process of the plutonium powerpacks.

But the most frightening type of accident is something called a flyby reentry accident. A Cassini flyby reentry accident can release many pounds of plutonium, possibly even the entire load. NASA denies this amount can be released but they are using guesswork and casino gambling techniques, not science, to make that assertion.

The Earth flyby is a maneuver in which Cassini, having traveled all the way to Venus already, returns very near Earth to "buzz" us at a height of just 496 miles above Earth (not above Earth's atmosphere, which goes out about 250 miles, but above sea level on Earth's surface). Previously NASA had planned to do the flyby at 312 miles -- just a few dozen miles above the upper atmosphere -- but apparently our protests have raised the bar a little. (Note: Solar events can cause our atmosphere to go out to over 600 miles sometimes.)

The purpose of the flyby is to gain speed. It is a maneuver which has been used by a number of NASA missions in the past, sometimes buzzing Earth, sometimes other planets. In Cassini's case the probe will do two flybys of Venus, then the Earth flyby (in 1999) and then do one of Jupiter before finally heading out towards Saturn.

During the Earth flyby, Cassini will be traveling at over 43,000 miles per hour relative to Earth. That is so fast that a collision with even a tiny particle of space debris can cause an explosion. I have even seen reports that it may be fast enough to produce a plasma burst which would fry the electronics even if the actual ballistic effect of the explosion was negligible! A collision could knock Cassini into a collision course with Earth, or cause a leak of some propellant causing a course alteration towards Earth, or simply disintegrate the space probe causes SOME of the probe's nuclear payload to end up in an Earth-impacting trajectory. The probe can even become uncontrollable and miss Earth entirely -- for a period of time, from years to decades or even centuries later. By then the outer shells which NASA relies on to protect the plutonium pellets from incinerating in the heat of reentry might have become brittle and ineffective.

Mathematical miscalculations, program errors, micrometeoroid impacts, and other events can all cause, however unlikely, an Earth flyby reentry. NASA claims that all such events added together are still below a one in one million likelihood. But NASA's numbers are highly suspect! How many orders of magnitude might NASA's numbers be off by? No one can be sure.

But there are alternatives. NASA does not need to take this risk AT ALL! For any significant scientific gain, there must always be a reason to spend the time or money or take the risk. In the case of Cassini, the question of "is it worth the risk" is unanswerable unless one also considers the alternatives. And it is becoming more and more clear that a solar alternative would work for most, if not all, of the mission objectives. We have just released a new report on the solar alternative written by Dr. Ross McCluney, and other comments by Dr. Michio Kaku at the web site.

With so much to risk and alternatives at hand, it makes no sense to launch Cassini as planned.

Unfortunately, there are less than two months left to convince NASA and the rest of the world that Cassini is a big, bad, ugly mistake.

Thank you for your inquiry. Please visit our web site for more information about Cassini, and/or to subscribe to our newsletter.

Russell Hoffman


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


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