STOP CASSINI Newsletter #61 -- November 3rd, 1997

Copyright (c) 1997

STOP CASSINI Newsletters Index

Subject: STOP CASSINI NEWSLETTER #61 - November 3rd, 1997


Kai Petzke wishes to have his email messages to me distributed to my readers. Here is the first of at least three newsletters which will appear over the next few weeks devoted almost entirely to his comments. Also, eating some crow. And a notification: Effective immediately we are regretfully but without outside pressure, dropping Nation-Talk and Democracy Now from our subscription list. We feel we should have done this a long time ago, but Kai's letter sort of points to the problem -- namely, those are debate forums, not publication venues. Posting one or two is one thing -- but 60? What was I thinking? My apologies for probably outstaying my welcome. Anyone on those listservs who wishes to continue receiving this newsletter is encouraged to join our (confidential, free, electronic) subscription list, or wait for each issue to be published at the STOP CASSINI web site. THANKS TO EVERYONE on these two forums for letting us speak.

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

*** STOP CASSINI NEWSLETTER Volume #61, November 3rd, 1997 ***

Today's subjects:

****** VOLUME #61, November 3rd, 1997 ******

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

*** Kai Petzke's complaint: A response:


To: Kai Petzke
From: Russell Hoffman
cc: Nation-Talk, the world
Date: November 3rd, 1997


Kai, I am surprised by the attitude you express in your statement to me published on Nation-Talk, and shown below.

First of all, I wish I COULD turn the newsletter into a mailing list. It would be a lot less work. I often wish I had not stated that I would keep the circulation list private, because of just this kind of thing. But those were the "rules" I started with and the advantage is probably that I have received many emails I would not otherwise see, and engaged in many debates with people who know I will not divulge their names... It is a two-bladed sword, to be sure, but I did my best in deciding which route to go and absolutely will stick with my decision. I believe in an individual's right to privacy. The list WILL NOT be made public, under any circumstances, as it clearly states at the bottom of each newsletter. However I can certainly encourage people to correspond with you directly if you like.

Second, while it is true that I have not answered all of your most recent letters, I emailed you personally and told you I was working on them. It's only been a few weeks. And it's not even three weeks since the launch. I have been working on both of the two topics you are probably complaining about -- your space debris views regarding its hazards to Cassini, and the Depleted Uranium (D.U.) issues. Neither of these -- or anything else at the moment -- are urgent issues that, in the weeks immediately after launch, are time-sensitive. I am working on BOTH letters and in fact even purchased a book about D.U. which I'm about half-way through, in order to converse on the subject properly with you. I am, as usual, reading the "experts", including yourself, and formulating my own opinion of what is what.

You are welcome to publish your statements against me anywhere you wish, of course, and I am happy to try to publish your comments within my newsletter, as I thought you knew. But I do not feel the same "rush to publish" that accompanied the first 57 issues of the newsletter, before the launch, when everything seemed so time-sensitive. No way. I was working about 100 hours a week for the past three months or so, virtually exclusively on Cassini. Now, Cassini will be "lucky" (that's debatable, of course) to get 10 to 20 hours a week of my time, which will still be thousands of hours before the flyby, and that's assuming that I don't devote more time to it as we get closer to the flyby. But 100 hours a week? No way. I don't get paid for this and need to do something for which I will (or might) get paid. Life's like that.

As to publishing your comments without rebuttal from me, you are certainly free to do that on your own as well, you know. You have a web site. I would certainly endeavor to tell my readers about it if you posted your rebuttals to my commentaries. But in my newsletter, I am going to publish what I choose, with rebuttals if I choose to include one. And I will do it as time and space permits. This is NOT "time-sensitive" material! Your stuff certainly should be published and I told you I would. But I am not working 100 hours a week on Cassini any more, and it will have to wait until I can give it the attention your comments deserve.

You should have more patience with me, Kai, because I value your debate and your opinions. You have not been ignored or forgotten. There are 4 or five who probably feel as you do -- that I am not publishing enough stuff fast enough -- mostly pro-nuke Cassini people arguing about low-level radiation effects -- and I'm trying to get to them as well. That's not many and I'm proud to have kept up as well as I did. But I have only so many hours in a day, I have just come off the worst/hardest/most difficult/whatever 10 months of my life fighting Cassini tooth and nail -- I'm tired! I've worked hard and I think I've earned a day or two of rest -- and besides that, I'm not resting much anyway: I have many projects that were put on the back burner during the Cassini battle.

Give me a staff, give me 100 hours in a day, and give me funds to finance a big operation, and you'll see more output from me. But without those things (in some combination) I can only do the best I can and you and everyone else unsatisfied with my quantity of output will just have to be patient. And I cannot and will not release the distribution list of the newsletter. It would violate a trust which each subscriber has every right to expect me to keep.

Russell Hoffman

P.S. 1 person 1 vote is really just fine with me, but still, we should respect our elders and encourage voting...

At 04:03 PM 10/31/97 Kai Petzke wrote:


I am CC-ing this reply to Russell's anti-Cassini newsletter to and the US vice president, as I am starting to disagree more and more with Russell. I have sent him several messages, but did not get any reply so far.

Therefore I urge Russell to turn his newsletter into a mailing list, where anybody can send messages to. If the mailing list is moderated, the moderator should only check, if the messages agree to certain content guidelines (no flaming, etc.), but not filter on if anybody is pro or against something.

I am against missions like Cassini, because the danger does not outweigh the science, that we get back.

But nonetheless, it doesn't make sense, that the anti-Cassini movement over-exagerates the dangers, while NASA puts them down. There should be at least one side in that battle, that sticks to the facts. If no one does, the one with the better paid and better trained "public representants" will win. We all know, who that is.

On Thu, 30 Oct 1997, Russell D. Hoffman wrote:

"The Cassini craft will be powered by three radioisotope thermoelectric generators which depend on the decay of plutonium dioxide for their energy. Plutonium dioxide is not a weapons grade material.

This statement is a big change over previous versions of similar statements which NASA used to make. For one thing they took out the word "natural" which used to be included before the word "decay". Since plutonium is virtually NEVER found in nature and all working quantities of it are man-made, the word "natural" which you will find in all earlier NASA documents, was and will remain inappropriate. So it's nice to not see it at last.

Well, fighting about words. I include the space as a whole into what I call "nature". In the fireball of a supernova explosion, you'll find a lot of plutonium and other dangerous radionuclides. Many of the material on earth, namely all the elements heavier than iron, have been formed during such supernova explosions. We don't find any plutonium on earth, but not because it does not exist in space. Rather, it just disappeared due to natural decay, before man stepped on earth.

That doesn't mean, that we should produce the stuff again and that we should launch it to space. But once we have made the artificial element, all decay that we see is "natural".

Also, I see they have reworded the last sentence from previous versions which stressed that Pu 238, the main form of plutonium on board Cassini, is not "weapons grade plutonium". About 15% of the plutonium is Pu 239, which was the main form of the plutonium released in atmospheric weapons testing. Pu 238 is far more dangerous when inhaled than Pu 239 because it has a far faster radioactive decay rate -- about 280 times faster, with a correspondingly shorter half-life. This distinction is ignored here (in NASA's statement).

What NASA has decided to stress instead, is that the dioxide form of the plutonium makes it difficult and expensive to turn into "weapons grade plutonium" but I do not know just how expensive, or how difficult, or if indeed, it is absolutely impossible.

To turn plutonium dioxide into plutonium metal is a simple chemical reaction. However, to turn a mixture of plutonium 238 and plutonium 239 into weapons grade pure plutonium 239 requires isotope seperation, which is expensive and hard to achieve. We can assume, that NASA knows that.

The quote, which stated, that "Plutonium dioxide is not weapons grade material" is a quote of a quote of a quote though. Did you check, that there wasn't any wrong transcription?

However, the bottom line is that Pu 238, the main form used on Cassini, is a far, far greater health hazard than Pu 239, the main form used in nuclear weapons. So yeah, maybe it's not weapons-grade. It's worse...

Yes, that is true.

We're getting back to the point, that NASA says, that RTG's are not a "nuclear reactor". But in reality, that's not a feature. Rather, it is the problem. The R part of the RTG is made up of a material, that one can only describe as: "pure condensed nuclear waste". After a couple years of cooling down, used fuel elements from commercial reactors show much lower radioactivity than the plutonium 238.

Note: Page 2-52 of the NASA's June 1995 EIS for the Cassini mission, section, states:

"The environmental advantage of using a nuclear reactor is that it can be launched in a nonoperating mode when the inventory of radioactive fission byproducts is very small. A nuclear reactor of a size and operating lifetime suitable for Cassini, however does not exist nor is it being developed in the United States (JPL 1994a). A number of technical problems remain to be solved even though nuclear reactors have been launched and operated in space since 1965. Some of the challenges to reactor development and implementation for deep space, long-duration missions, such as Cassini, involve control complexity and excessive mass required for shielding. Therefore, a nuclear reactor is not a feasible power source for the Cassini mission."

The Principles on the Use of Nuclear Power Sources (NPS) in Outer Space adopted by the UN in 1992 emphasise "the use of NPS shall be restricted to those space missions which cannot be operated by non-nuclear energy sources in a reasonable way". In the case of Cassini/Huygens, NASA concluded that it would be difficult to rely on other energy sources because of the duration and distance of the mission and the need for the spacecraft to be light enough to be launched and reach Saturn"

First of all "difficult" and "impossible" are two different things. We never said it would be easy to get to Saturn. But evidently "difficult" means "impossible" to NASA.

I don't know, what you mean here. I believe, that you have to blame the UN rule, that allows several interpretations, and not NASA. As designed, Cassini could not be operated by solar power in a reasonable way. To make it solar, it would probably have to be split in two halfs. Or we would have to bring the satellite and its solar panels into space seperately. They are first parked in low earth orbit, assembled by a space shuttle team and then hooked to an upper stage of some rocket, which finally sends it on course.

So we should change the UN rule to clearly state, that NPS must not be used on missions, that can be redesigned for non-nuclear.

Second, Cassini is no "light" mission! It is a gargantuan, bloated pork barrel of a mission, with far more major and minor experiments that necessary.

Well, you're getting a bit off here. The question, if we need space missions to the outer solar system at all is a political one. After all, the science there is very unlikely to bring back anything, that helps directly with life on earth. Of course, in the design process of Cassini, some new technology was invented. But we could have gotten that same technology cheaper, if we directly searched for it.

But back to outer space missions: Cassini is the first time, that NASA sends something to Saturn, that will stay there for more than a couple hours. They hardly know yet, what they are going to find there. So they packed Cassini with any possible instrument, because they just cannot go back and pick it up in case, that they forgot something.

This is against NASA's new philosophy "lighter, smaller, cheaper, faster". The new idea would be to send three missions, where the first one finds out, what the second should bring. NASA admits that themselves.

It is "heavy" not "light". A slightly smaller mission could easily have been designed around a solar alternative, or perhaps a hybrid (solar and fuel cell) design.

A "slightly smaller" mission is still too heavy for solar. Remember, that over half of Cassini's weight is fuel. Half of that fuel is crucial, because we need it to break into orbit. The other half is needed to cruise around once in orbit. The more of that fuel is left at home, the less scientific results we will get.

Also, a lot of Cassini's weight is the main frame, computer, antenna, etc. We cannot compromise on that at all. Some of the weight goes into redundant devices (a third reaction whell, a second main engine). We could dumb those, but recuce on the reliability.

So any pound, that goes into solar cells, cuts heavily on the scientific output. Either, we leave experiments at home (which even currently make up only for a small part of the total weight), or we leave cruise-around fuel at home.

I am sure, NASA has considered that. NASA often shows the inmobility, that public departments tend to get after some time. And together with DoE and/or DoD, they choose an energy source, that a lot of people consider inadequate. But that doesn't mean, that they are all dumb there. Going solar is more than making the thing "slightly smaller".

It is clear that NASA considers its dishonest behavior to be in compliance somehow with the Principles on the Use of Nuclear Power Sources (NPS) in Outer Space adopted by the UN in 1992. First of all, it is clear that the wording of the Principals must therefore be inadequate, since there is no way Cassini with it's 72.3 pounds of mostly plutonium 238 dioxide had to be flown at all. But exactly how much plutonium is too much? I think a moratorium on ANY plutonium in space would be reasonable, until we have had proper hearings and studies about it's effects -- and some attempt should be made to find out if the world wants this, at all! But at least, a number telling us how much is too much.

Yes, that would be a good thing to do. Actually, we shouldn't have a weight limit - we should have an activity limit. A limit of 1 Curie would rule out the use of radioactive heaters, but still allow applications like the AXP spectrometer of Sojourner. 1 Curie would also allow to launch a small to mid-sized nuclear reactor, if it is cold at launch.

The UN Principles missed the point by not naming a number.


But we are discussing Cassini, and 72.3 pounds of plutonium dioxide, consisting of about 50 pounds of plutonium 238 and 12 pounds of other plutonium isotopes, and of course, the balance is oxygen. That's lots of really deadly stuff which NASA has gotten away with and now relaxes in glee, figuring there is no way we can stop the flyby... We shall see.

The flyby can easily be stopped by bringing Cassini off track on either one of the first two Venus flyby's. But it would mean a 100% loss of the mission.

There is nothing move valuable than time to each and every one of us, and to society as a whole. The elders know more than the youngsters. I think votes should count equal to your age in dog years or maybe rat years. The older you get, the more valuable your vote becomes, up to several times the value of a young person's vote.

Some people grow wise, than they become old. Others get Altzheimer's desease and become stupid.

In general, old people tend to not adopt new ideas. That is why a big portion of the scientific work is done by students, not by professors. The later decide about the general direction of research, but not about all the details.

One very good example of an old-grown idea are RTG's. At the time of the cold war, people did not care much about plutonium in the atmosphere. They cared more about plutonium explosions. That was the time, that NASA invented the RTG's and started to (correctly) claim over and over again, that they are not bombs. NASA liked the RTG's, because they were almost failsafe power sources - failsafe in a sense, that it is almost impossible, that for some error inside the RTG it suddenly stops producing electricity. But RTG's aren't safe with respect to outside failures - like a reentry due to navigation error. NASA learned that early - SNAP-9A - and added some protection, but never looked for an alternative for deep space.

I would deduct value from your vote every time you fail to vote in an election.

Hey, don't we have a democracy? Just because one fails to make a decision upon a candidate for president one time, one should be ruled out from further elections? Maybe, both candidates were equally good. Or equally bad. Or ...


Kai Petzke, Inst. fuer Theor. Physik,
TU Berlin, Sekr. PN 7-1,
Hardenbergstr. 36
10623 Berlin
If you don't like formulas, then this web page is made specifically for you!


*** The Dutch Masters: A clarification:

In issue #60 we headlined an item...

*** Hurray for the Dutch President!

...implying that Holland has a president. The article referred to the president of the Dutch Medical Association for Peace Research (Dutch affiliate of IPPNW). Holland is of course a constitutional monarchy, and has a parliamentary system of government with a prime minister and a proportional system of representation for its (approximately 15 million) citizens. The current prime minister is Wim Kok (pronounced approximately "cook") who is nearing the end of his first 4-year term in office. The hereditary monarch and Head of State, Queen Beatrix, is highly regarded at home and abroad, and is considered well-informed in many subjects. She is widely appreciated by the Dutch people.

Dutch transportation runs on time. 40% of Dutch adults smoke but fortunately smoking is not permitted on public transportation vehicles in Holland. The Dutch Masters refers to great painters, not cigars as many Americans might think. Coffee shops in Holland sell more than just coffee, especially The Bulldog in Amsterdam. Treatment centers dispense more than aspirin. They say you can get virtually anything you want in the "red light district" of Amsterdam, and it's all legal and regulated.

The crime rate is very low in Holland. The people are friendly and generally well educated, and they virtually all speak English, which is taught in school. The Dutch people have been balancing man's needs against nature's demands for centuries, since a large portion of Holland would be underwater were in not for an extensive system of dikes, pumping stations, levees and canals.

They teach the history of the United States of America in high school in Holland.

Source: Our Dutch friends and relatives, and our personal experiences in Holland.

*** Agent Provocateurs: A correction:

In the last issue (#60) we stated:

"There is no room for compromise with people who ask for permission to risk global catastrophe of Cassini's potential magnitude, who lie to you about what the risks are, who refuse to look at the alternatives, who send agent provocateurs to disrupt your efforts, and then -- this is the ultimate gall -- expect you, the taxpayer and citizen, to pay for it all, not only when they build it, but whenever it fails. You will pay, and NASA will go on doing whatever you let them get away with."

We just wanted to clarify one thing: The comment about "agent provocateurs" was, OF COURSE "idle speculation". We don't KNOW this, because if we did, then someone would have to KILL us, right? So, we don't know. We haven't got a clue. We don't even know who reads any of this trash, or who cares one way or the other. Others would argue that we know even less than we're admitting to. We do know that the annual CIA budget is about $26 Billion ($26,000,000,000.00) and it had to get spent on something...

Let's round up the usual suspects, just in case... And then let's swab pepper-spray around their eyes, like the Humbolt County Sheriff's Deputies did to passive, nonviolent Save the Redwood Forest protesters last week who were occupying the office of Rep. Frank Riggs, R-Windsor, California.

One of my other "pet" environmental causes is saving the California Redwoods, and here's the URL of an article about those big old trees:


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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