Russell D. Hoffman
Carlsbad, California USA
Mars Exploration Rover-2003 Project (NEPA scoping comments)
April 6th, 2001
Dear Mr. Lavery:
I am opposed to NASA's continued use of extraordinary quantities of plutonium for any purposes in its outer space programs.
MER-2003 may carry as much as 365 Curies of plutonium in the form of up to 11 Radioactive Heater Units (RHUs). However, everything MER-2003 is supposed to accomplish could easily be done using solar-powered alternatives.
The Cassini space probe was launched in 1997 despite strong international protests, and had over 400,000 Curies of plutonium on board. Within a year of its launch the lunacy of the dangerous acts NASA was committing was proven by the failure of a similar launch vehicle, a Titan IVA, in August, 1998.
Then a month after the extremely dangerous flyby of Earth by the Cassini space probe in 1999, NASA lost a Mars probe to a simple mathematical error. A similar error could just as easily have doomed Earth to a Cassini dispersal of its plutonium payload -- 72.3 pounds of plutonium dioxide, mostly Pu 238, approximately the same mix (ratio of Pu 238, Pu 239, Pu 240, etc.) as for the proposed MER-2003 mission. The error involved a failure to convert, or a failure to properly convert, the weight of the space probe from English to Metric units. Since Cassini was an international project involving both measurements throughout, the same sort of accident could surely have happened there too. NASA got lucky, but NASA has no right to rely on luck. Luck always runs out sooner or later. By definition, it's not reliable.
NASA had claimed the chance of a flyby failure was "one in one million". Empirical evidence proved otherwise just one month later with the aforementioned Mars orbital insertion failure, and a few months after that, NASA lost yet another probe on Mars, to unknown catastrophic causes.
Cassini's mission to Saturn, after all the risk we Earthlings took to get it there, could yet end in failure. Why must we humans on Earth risk all this plutonium, in the flimsy containers NASA promotes as strong, for missions which have such high failure rates? Or for any mission? The science return isn't a good reason because the same missions could be flown with non-nuclear solutions. Yes, even Cassini, which could have been two smaller, non-nuclear missions. Solar power can be used today as far out as Saturn (ESA (European Space Agency) is sending a solar-powered probe past Saturn. If they can do it, we can do it. Certainly it is adequate on Mars, not just for electricity, but for heating purposes as well.
Although MER-2003 would not have any Radioactive Thermoelectric Generators (RTGs), of which Cassini had three, the proposed mission to Mars would nevertheless include "up to eleven" Radioactive Heater Units (RHUs) with a total of about 365 Curies (1.35 X 10^13 Bq) of plutonium. (NASA Notice 01-028, published in the Federal Register, Vol. 66 No. 36, Thursday, February 22nd, 2001, page 11184). Cassini carried about 127 RHUs, each carrying the same amount of plutonium as the MER-2003 RHUs are expected to carry -- 2.7 grams.
This is A LOT of plutonium. And for what? Heat can easily be generated when needed by storing solar power in batteries and discharging it through a resister at the time and near the location where it's needed. During Martian daylight hours a focusing mirror or lens could be used to produce heat. Various chemicals can be mixed and burned as well. There are lots of ways to produce heat, so RHUs are not necessary for this or ANY NASA mission.
I believe NASA is just trying to think of ways to use plutonium so that the plutonium infrastructure at DOE can remain in place, because the military uses plutonium RTGs for military satellites and for ground-based and water-based powered remote listening devices.
It is believed by this writer (for reasons I've described previously and posted at my STOP CASSINI web site) that the Titan IVA which blew up was in fact carrying a plutonium payload -- at least one Radioactive Thermoelectric Generator (RTG). Winds were out to sea when the launch occurred and it cannot be proven if there was or was not a release of any sort from that launch. There might well have been. (It was a "secret" military launch with NASA's complete assistance.)
There's no scientific necessity here at all. Furthermore, this sham means that ALL NASA's research is suspect. NASA has used blatant lies to get a forgiving American public to accept Cassini. These lies ruin NASA's honor and destroy her respect. By being so dishonest,even the "good" scientists at NASA are having their reputations permanently and horribly stained.
Cassini had a secret NASA never mentioned in any press conference or press release I ever saw, and which no reporter that I know of knew to ask NASA about at a news conference at any time.
That "secret", revealed only through a careful analysis of thousands of pages of documentation, was this: In the event of a flyby reentry, all 127 RHUs would have been completely incinerated. This despite NASA's claims that they would shield all the plutonium they launch, a claim made after SNAP-9A's global dispersal of 17,000 Curies of plutonium in 1964, a dispersal which, according to sworn testimony by the late Dr. Karl Z. Morgan (known as the "Father of Health Physics", the study of radiation's effects on the human body), NASA had claimed had a "one in ten million" chance of failure. Dr. Morgan himself related this well-documented story to this writer in an interview in 1997, via telephone.
Because the failure rate was so low (according to NASA's absurd fiction), there was, they felt, no need to have a containment system for the 2.1 pounds of plutonium dioxide aboard SNAP-9A.
But fail it did, and NASA needed to recover its reputation due to international outcry and protest, so they invented a flimsy and largely ineffective containment system for the RTGs and RHUs. But this containment system is so ineffective that NASA's own 1995 Final Environmental Impact Statement for the Cassini mission EXPECTED a 33% to 66% release of plutonium fuel in a flyby reentry accident, mostly in vaporized form (the most dangerous form of the substance). In the Supplemental EIS NASA reduced the "EXPECTED" release amount to about 3%, having decided that the probe would, by some unknown clairvoyance, be tumbling "just so" in such a way as to release the least amount of fuel. And interesting fudging of the data, considering the decades of experience they have. I think it was nothing more than a political adjustment of the numbers. A 33% to 66% release, or even 100%, doesn't look nearly as innocuous as a 3% release. But all the numbers were fairy-tale numbers anyway. A 100% release was certainly possible. Every other guess was made of part prayer and the rest a rolling of the dice.
But regardless of how much NASA could fudge the RTG ablation and destruction numbers, for the RHUs on board, their was nothing they could do. They were still all goners. They would completely vaporize in any foreseeable reentry accident. There was no roll of the dice for them. No mathematical shenanigans could account for those little boxes surviving a flyby reentry.
So NASA lied! NASA never admitted this fact voluntarily in any press release or news conference, instead always claiming the plutonium was shielded and would be contained! And no reporter I saw had the sense, the guts, or the knowledge to ask. NASA did NOT build a proper containment system after SNAP-9A for the RHUs at all, and the containment/power system known as an RTG is at best improperly tested, and at worst not worth a damn.
NASA even admits, buried in the 1995 FEIS for the Cassini mission, that they don't know what the long-term capabilities of their containment system is. Yet still they proceed as if they are experts.
The Mars probe would not be doing a flyby of Earth, presumably, but it nevertheless could become uncontrollable while flying out to Mars, then return to Earth at a later date, when the containment system might have become brittle and useless (see page 4-104 of the 1995 FEIS for the Cassini Mission). And it might be coming back at a speed equal to -- or faster than -- Cassini's flyby.
NASA's foolishness is fine when it's NASA's own volunteer astronauts who first take part in the foolishness, and then if it comes to pass, pay the ultimate price. If they want to climb into NASA's rickety rockets and risk cancer and leukemia that's their business (a disproportionate number of astronauts seem to get these diseases, presumably from the radiation they receive in outer space). If they want to risk, for the sake and thrill of exploration, all the various hazards of space on board one of the most corrupt agency's contraptions, may God be with them as they go.
But to risk a global dispersal of large quantities of plutonium, 365 Curies for MER-2003, and 400,000+ Curies for Cassini, and millions more Curies in the past (some of which has been dispersed into our environment) and in the future too if NASA's 35-year plan as described in recent DOE documents comes to fruition, is NOT right. The people who will die from the dispersals of plutonium will not be able to prove NASA is the culprit -- lucky for NASA. Actually, not entirely luck. Premeditated. NASA's "containment system" practically guarantees not that there will be no release, but that the release will occur at high altitude if/when it occurs.
This saves no one, but it saves NASA from culpability by spreading the poison out globally. In the case of SNAP-9A, for instance, about 75% of the plutonium was spread into the Southern Hemisphere, and 25% was spread into the Northern Hemisphere.
One last point: If NASA is going to engage is such a deadly game of numbers, as to try to pretend it has "one in one million" failure rates, or that 72.3 pounds of plutonium can be rendered harmless by spreading it out extremely thinly throughout our environment, then NASA at least ought to play its game using standard conventions.
In the Federal Register notice to which this letter responds (NASA Notice 01-028), the amount of plutonium is described as "13.5 X 10^12 Bq". Normally, as I did above, this would be described as "1.35 X 10^13 Bq". It is this sort of sloppiness which makes many people not trust NASA's numbers.
Today's corrupt NASA should under no circumstances be allowed to launch plutonium in space. If any launching of plutonium is permitted ever, because no alternatives can be found, the limit should be not more than about .001 Curies, perhaps much less, and certainly not 365 Curies as for MER-2003, or 400,000 Curies as for Cassini. NASA must absolutely be forbidden from doing this!
Plutonium causes cancer, leukemia, and birth defects. These effects are not reduced by spreading the plutonium out -- it's not like you get a cold instead of cancer. Rather, all that happens is the RATE of these effects within a population is reduced as the dose goes down. But NASA would infect 6 billion people (today) with nuclear waste in the event of an accident -- a lot of people would each get a small dose, and some of those would get 10 or 20 times what other people might get. There is no such thing as a perfectly even dispersal.
Standard texts on plutonium indicate that inhaling quantities on the order of a millionth of a gram are sufficient to cause lung cancer in all cases. So one RHU contains about 2.7 MILLION lethal doses of plutonium, if spread out in particles of a millionth of a gram and given to each of 2.7 million people, all would die. Then 2.7 more could take their place, and 2.7 million more after that, for plutonium can keep on killing and killing and killing. The human population's dose from a NASA failure would average far less than a millionth of a gram, but it would be in everybody, and it certainly would kill many, many people, silently and stealthily. NASA "cooks" these numbers too, as it does the accident rates as previously discussed. By doing so, even after dispersing its plutonium throughout the environment, say, over New York City, Cassini would kill, in NASA's final analysis, only about 120 people worldwide. In other words, the hundreds of billions of lethal doses which would be spread throughout our environment for thousands of years would only kill 120 people, according to NASA. That's a cooked number, derived from averaging thousands of accident scenarios. Real scientists have suggested numbers in the millions or even tens of millions.
The half-life of Pu 238 is about 88 years. The half-life of Pu 239 is about 24,100 years.
Please keep me informed of all decisions regarding NASA's use of plutonium in space, and also I would appreciate acknowledgement of receipt of this letter, sent via email. Also, I would appreciate the names and titles of all NASA employees who read this letter and the dates they did so, and I would like to know all their communicated responses to other NASA employees or to the public or to any elected officials regarding this letter.
Thank you in advance for your time. Hopefully through this process we can uncover the truth about why NASA backs nukes and why reasonable scientists (dozens of whom I've interviewed) are being ignored on the issues I've written about.
Webmaster, STOP CASSINI web site:
Founder and Editor of the Stop Cassini newsletter:
The above web site and newsletters document chronologically and unequivocally the lies NASA told about Cassini. Will NASA repeat that performance for MER-2003?