More of NASA's Tomfoolery: A Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS)

Preface by Russell D. Hoffman

On March 4th, 1997 NASA announced that it intends to prepare a supplement to the Cassini mission Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS). One would think this is good news. I suppose it is not bad news. But why is NASA doing this?

NASA has a history of listening to its critics -- and then doing nothing. We do not know if anything we have said at this web site has had any effect on NASA. But we do know what this SEIS is most likely to accomplish: Next to nothing. (The announcement indicates (in the second-to-last paragraph, below) that the reason for the SEIS is that continuing NASA tests have produced some new information that should be considered.)

(Note: As of early April, 1997 NASA made copies of the Draft of the supplement this article refers to, available to interested parties. Click here for our response.)

It is a common trick of NASA and the entire nuclear industry to respond to complaints that things are dangerous by tightening up the rules and regulations a bit, but that does not solve the problem. Inherently dangerous activities are not made safe by reducing the risk a little. They are made safe by not doing them, and this NASA will not do without extreme pressure from the citizenry.

Example #1:

We can expect that if NASA has become afraid of the dangers of the Earth Flyby (or rather, has become bothered by our complaints about this dangerous maneuver) they will do the following: Raise the distance from Earth that the flyby will take place. Right now the flyby is to occur at just over 300 miles above Earth's surface. Perhaps NASA will raise this to 350 miles above Earth's surface -- or even to 500 miles. Then they will loudly claim that they have made the flyby safe! And this will be malarky of the highest grade! Untracked space debris will still be able to impact the spacecraft and perhaps if this happens at 500 miles rather than 300 miles it will take the mess that is created an extra 10 or even 100 years to fall to Earth -- but fall to Earth it still most certainly will do.

Example #2:

Perhaps NASA will consider our opinion that the Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generators (RTGs) are not properly shielded and can possibly be incinerated in the upper atmosphere if a shallow re-entry occurs (which is the most likely type of re-entry if the fly-by fails). Such an incineration would have deadly consequences around the world as the plutonium settles to Earth over the next few decades and it's microscopic particles are breathed in by humans and other living things, becoming lodged in the lungs and causing leukemia and other illnesses.

If NASA recognizes that the world is rightfully worried about this scenario, NASA will then claim to have solved the problem by adding an additional layer of shielding around the RTGs. NASA will then claim that they have now protected the RTGs to such an extent that they will surely survive a fall to Earth and not be incinerated. While it is true that better shielding will reduce the risk, even NASA admits that it cannot even analyze all the pressures that the spacecraft might experience in a tumbling fall to Earth after an impact with a random piece of space debris, or for any other reason. So that leaves them guessing whether their shielding will be good enough.

NASA actually admits this but isn't bothered by it.

NASA expects that in the case of an inadvertent re-entry somewhere between 10% and 60% (or more) of the plutonium is likely to be incinerated -- that's at least several pounds and probably a lot more! Several pounds of the most deadly substance known to man. And distributed in just about the most hazardous method possible. Somehow, taking this risk is "A-OK" with NASA. Yet when we (people opposed to CASSINI) point out these risks, NASA supporters turn around and say that we are using "scare tactics" to tell people what NASA themselves have made possible! So who is really using scare tactics? The person that talks about it, or the person that puts humanity in harm's way in the first place?

What is NASA really trying to do?

NASA is trying to placate us. NASA does not care one way or the other what it does, as long as they can quiet the opposition, or rather, keep the press fooled so that the press will report to the public that NASA has worried about the concerns of "the environmentalists".

Here's the proof:

Originally (in the 1960's) NASA purposely designed it's radioactive powerpacks so that they would be incinerated in the upper atmosphere if re-entry occurred! That was the design goal! Indeed, at least one nuclear powerpack (known as a SNAP-9A) was incinerated in this way. Dr. John Gofman, a highly credentialled doctor and nuclear physicist, has done a lot of very difficult statistical analysis on the actual effects of this event and concluded that indeed, 10's of thousands of lung cancer and leukemia deaths world-wide can be traced to that single upper atmosphere incineration of a nuclear powerpack. Because of public outcry, NASA does not intentionally use the atmospheric incineration method anymore. But they continue to use the nuclear option and they continue to risk atmospheric incineration!

Furthermore, if the RTGs successfully fall to Earth there is no proof that that is not also extremely harmful. The packs could be broken open upon impact or, even worse, could be partially incinerated and come down in a meteoric shower of radioactive particles. Truly -- without doubt -- an area the size of Manhattan, or Manhattan itself, could be rendered uninhabitable for thousands of years in an instant. So what does NASA do? They claim that since the world is 70% covered with water, if the RTGs do survive re-entry, they will "probably" be "safely" deposited in the sea!

It's a circular argument.

If you tell them that upper atmosphere incineration is too likely and too dangerous, they will tell you they have designed the RTGs to survive re-entry. If you tell them that having the RTGs land on population centers is too dangerous, they will tell you that 70% of Earth is covered in water so it's not likely to land on people. And if you tell them that even a water landing can get the plutonium into the food chain (in numerous ways) they will go back to square one, and simply tell you that an accident isn't all that likely anyway. Each answer that NASA gives merely shifts the argument to a different topic, so that NASA never has to answer the real question.

And the real question is...

Why is NASA doing this in the first place? They could eliminate all our arguments, knock the wind out of all our sails, if they would just do the right thing and not use nuclear at all! SOLAR WILL WORK. NASA's own documents, obtained by Karl Grossman through the Freedom of Information Act, make that clear. And even if NASA's current stand on the issue were right and solar would not work, that is no reason not to figure out a way to make solar work!

Making solar work would have direct benefits in nearly everything we do here on Earth. Making solar work would provide the trickle-down of technology that was part of NASA's original charter. Not using nuclear is the correct answer, but NASA will come up with one, then another, then another excuse to use the deadly, dangerous, useless nuclear option.

Why is NASA doing this?

Because NASA wants to be part of the military space weapons program! NASA wants to help the U.S. military build orbiting reactors in space which will power the laser weapons, particle beams, and other high-tech weaponry that were originially part of the STAR WARS defense initiative, now renamed but not defeated. That is why NASA won't give up the nuclear option -- because it wants orbiting nuclear reactors in space! Chernobyls in the sky! No, the RTGs aren't capable of being exploded like a nuclear bomb. And no, they aren't capable of a meltdown. But NASA and Russia both want to put up nuclear reactors (called TOPAZ) that are capable of a meltdown, and which will in any case eventually fall to Earth. This is the hidden agenda and this is why NASA will fight tooth and nail to keep the nuclear option.

But we signed a treaty...

In the 60's the U.S.A. was a signator of an international treaty that space would be used only for peaceful purposes and that nukes would never be placed in space. It is a crime of the highest order to abandon that treaty. Why did we sign it? When did we decide that we didn't need to abide by it? It is a far worse crime than to never have signed it at all! But sign it we did! Perhaps in an unusual fit of clarity and reason, or perhaps to keep others from doing it by making them think we wouldn't do it, but one way or another, we signed it. WE SIGNED A TREATY NOT TO DO WHAT WE ARE NOW DOING.

We -- the U.S.A. -- are right now waging war against humanity from space by sending up nuclear-equipped spacecraft and nuclear payloads, and the worst is yet to come. NASA is experimenting with using the nuclear option not just as a electrical powerpack, but as an actual rocket fuel. To place such a rocket into space would entail risks to humanity (and other living things) that would make Chernobyl seem like a Sunday barbeque.


We, humanity, must pull the teeth out of the NASA bulldog. NASA must be made to answer our allegations, and not be allowed to continue the circular arguments and excuses by which they have gotten this far. With two of our three major news services owned by General Electric and Westinghouse, the two main producers of nuclear technology, it will not be an easy struggle. But if we don't succeed, that doesn't mean NASA will win. NASA cannot win, because the use of the nuclear option is not a stated goal of NASA! Only the "peaceful exploration of space" is the stated goal of NASA! Yet instead, NASA, in cooperation with the military-industrial complex, is waging war against the citizens of the United States and of the world. They are using the most deadly weapons mankind has ever devised, and they are doing this for virtually no reason!

There MUST be a reason...

NASA claims that the reason they want to go to Saturn is for the "exploration of the solar system, the goal of which is to understand the system's birth and evolution." This is certainly a worthy goal, after all, we all want to learn everything we can about the history of our solar system and its evolution. But at what price? They would risk killing us by the millions just to find out why we're here?

NASA also claims: "The scientific information gathered by the Cassini mission could help provide clues to the evolution of the solar system and the origin of life on Earth." Let me get this straight: NASA is going billions of miles away from Earth to perhaps discover the mystery of life on Earth? Methinks we are being bamboozled! Flimflammed. Taken for fools. Perhaps because we are fools!

We don't need to spend 3.4 billion dollars, and go billions of miles from Earth, to study the origin of life. I would think a much better place to study the origins of life might be, for example, the Tonga Trench in the South Pacific Ocean, which is the deepest spot on Earth. Perhaps some much better clues could be found there! But instead, NASA considers the Tonga Trench to be a dumping ground for its failed nuclear rockets! For example, the lunar lander from the failed Apollo 13 mission was "successfully targeted" there, with its 8.3 pounds of plutonium onboard.

I wish I was making all this up.

Unfortunately, it is NASA that makes things up. They make up statistical analysis "proving" that they have reduced the dangers to virtually nothing when in reality, they can do nothing to prevent a collision with a random piece of space debris during the flyby, and no amount of carefully done statistical analysis can change that fact.

NASA makes up phoney reasons to execute the mission (such as seeking the answers to the mystery of life on Earth) while secretly what they are trying to do is help our military build an orbiting nuclear capability.

NASA claims to answer the oppositions' arguments and they claim to listen, but all the while they are merely figuring out how to divert the arguments in their circular dance of deadly excuses. This Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement will prove nothing. Perhaps NASA will make an allowance here and there towards our complaints, but they won't do the obvious thing -- namely, to forget about using nukes in space.

Even if it's harder to accomplish, the solar option and other non-nuclear options are better. Why won't NASA use them?

The above was written March 25th, 1997 by Russell D. Hoffman.

Here is the NASA announcement in it's entirety:


National Environmental Policy Act; Cassini Mission
AGENCY: National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
ACTION: Notice of intent to prepare a supplemental environmental impact statement (SEIS) for implementation of the Cassini mission to Saturn and its moons.

SUMMARY: Pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA), as amended (42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.), the Council on Environmental Quality Regulations for Implementing the Procedural Provisions of NEPA (40 CFR Parts 1500 - 1508), and NASA's policy and procedures (14 CFR Part 1216 Subpart 1216.3), NASA intends to prepare a supplement to the Cassini mission Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS). The SEIS will focus on updated information pertinent to the consequence and risk analyses of potential accidents during the launch and cruise phases of the mission. Such accidents could result in a release of plutonium dioxide from the three Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generators (RTGs) and the potential 157 Radioisotope Heater Units (RHU's) onboard the Cassini spacecraft. The currently planned mission involves the launch of the Cassini spacecraft from Cape Canaveral Air Station (CCAS), Florida, during the primary launch opportunity in October 1997.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Mr. Mark R. Dahl, NASA Headquarters, Code SD, Washington, DC 20546-0001; 202-358-0306.

SUPPLEMENTAL INFORMATION: The planned Cassini mission is an international cooperative effort of NASA, the European Space Agency, and the Italian Space Agency, to explore the planet Saturn and its environment. Saturn is the second-largest and second-most massive planet in the solar system and has the largest, most visible dynamic ring structure of all the planets. The planned mission is an important part of NASA's program for exploration of the solar system, the goal of which is to undertand the system's birth and evolution. The Cassini mission would involve a 4-year scientific exploration of Saturn, its atmosphere, moons, rings, and magnetosphere. The Cassini spacecraft consists of the Cassini Orbiter and the detachable Huygens Probe.

For several months, prior to its arrival at Saturn in June 2004, the spacecraft would perform scientific observations of the planet. The planned arrival date at Saturn provides a unique opportunity to have a distant flyby of Saturn's outer satellite Phoebe. About 3 weeks before its first flyby of Titan, Saturn's largest moon, the Huygens Probe would be released for a 2.5 hour parachute descent into Titan's atmosphere. The probe would sample and determine the composition of Titan's atmosphere during its descent, and gather data on the moon's landscape. The Cassini Orbiter would then continue its Saturn orbital tour, providing opportunities for ring imaging, magnetospheric coverage, and radio (Earth), solar, and stellar occulations of Saturn, Titan, and the ring system. A total of 35 close Titan flybys have also been planned for the 4-year tour, along with 4 close flybys of selected icy satellites, and 29 more distant satellite encounters. The scientific information gathered by the Cassini mission could help provide clues to the evolution of the solar system and the origin of life on Earth.

The Cassini spacecraft would carry three RTGs that use the heat of decay of plutonium dioxide to generate electric power for the spacecraft and its intruments. The spacecraft would also use up to 157 RHU's each containing a small amount of plutonium dioxide, to generate heat for controlling the thermal environment of the spacecraft and several of its instruments.

The Cassini FEIS was made available to Federal, state, and local agencies, the public, and other interested parties on July 21st, 1995. In addition to the No-Action alternative, the FEIS addressed in detail three alternatives for completing preparations for, and operating the Cassini mission to Saturn and its moons. On October 20, 1995 utilizing the analyses in the FEIS along with other important consideration such as programmatic, technical, economic international relations, and other factors, the Record of Decision selecting the Proposed Action was rendered.

The Proposed Action consists of completing preparations for and implementing the Cassini mission to Saturn and its moons, with a launch of the Cassini spacecraft onboard a Titan IV(SRMU)/Centaur. The launch would take place at CCAS during the primary launch opportunity in October 1997. A secondary launch opportunity occurs in December 1997, with a backup opportunity in March 1999, both using the Titan IV/(SRMU)/Centaur. The primary launch opportunity would employ a Venus-Venus-Earth-Jupiter-Gravity-Assist trajectory to Saturn; the secondary and backup opportunities would both employ a Venus-Earth-Earth-Gravity-Assist (VEEGA) trajectory. The Proposed Action would allow the Cassini spacecraft to gather the full science return desired to accomplish mission objectives.

Along with the No-Action alternative (ceasing preparations and not implementing the Cassini mission), the FEIS evaluated in detail two other mission alternatives. The March 1999 alternative would have used two Shuttle flights with on-orbit integration of the spacecraft and upper stage, followed by injection of the spacecraft into a VEEGA trajectory to Saturn. Due to the long lead-time in developing and certifying the new upper stage that would be needed to implement it, this alternative is no longer considered reasonable. Also, this alternative considered in the FEIS was the 2001 alternative, which would use a Titan IV(SRMU)/Centaur to launch the spacecraft from CCAS in March 2001 on a Venus-Venus-Venus-Gravity-Assist trajectory. A backup opportunity in May 2002 would use a VEEGA trajectory. The 2001 alternative would require completing development and testing of a new high-performance rhenium engine for the spacecraft, as well as adding about 20 percent more propellant to the spacecraft. Science returns from this alternative would meet the minium acceptable level for the mission.

The FEIS analyses demonstrated that completing preparations for and implementing a normal Cassini mission would not significantly impact the human environment. The principal concern associated with all mission alternatives (except No-Action) was with accidents during launch and operation of the mission that have the potential to result in a release of plutonium dioxide from the RTGs and/or RHU's onboard the spacecraft. In response, NASA and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), using the best information available at that time, developed an array of representative accident scenarios that could potentially result in a release of plutonium dioxide from the RTGs. NASA and DOE analyzed the representative accident scenarios with respect to the consequences and risks. The results of those analyses were presented in the Cassini FEIS.

Updated results from the continuing tests and analysis have recently become available for NASA review. This updated data indicates that there is new information relevant to environmental concerns and bearing on the impacts of the Proposed Action. NASA has determined that the purposes of NEPA will be furthered by preparation and issuance of an SEIS.

The SEIS will address NASA's consideration of the updated data resulting from the ongoing analysis. The SEIS will compare the updated data with those in the FEIS and will focus on the areas where the largest differences in risk are estimated. The SEIS will address the Proposed Action, the No-Action alternative, and the 2001 mission alternative which is still available to NASA.

Benita A. Cooper
March 4 1997
Associate Administrator for
Management Systems and Facilities

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