CCNET essay by Michael Paine (reviewed by Russell Hoffman)

From: Russell D. Hoffman
To: Michael Paine
cc: President Clinton, others
Date: September 25th, 2000

Dear Sir,

In your CCNet essay (shown below) you wrote of the proposed Pluto-Kupier Express (PKE), "Sadly the proposed launch in 2004 has been cancelled and it could be 20 years before Jupiter is once again available for a gravity sling-shot."

Canceled? I had only heard it was put on hold, pending authorization of additional funding (see Reuters below your CCNet essay). But in fact, it SHOULD be canceled, but not because of the cost: Because of over 16 pounds of plutonium planned for the power source, mostly Pu 238.

Fuel cells could provide a way to get enough energy for plenty of scientific data collecting and signal return. Maybe not for as long, and maybe a little lighter of a mission, but possibly a cheaper mission and certainly a whole lot safer one.

This is probably the real reason PKE might be given the ax -- not because of the not-unusual cost increases (from about $350 million to a little over $500 million (so far)), but because NASA probably doesn't want to face the heat they got -- and rightfully so -- over Cassini again so soon. And they will get it, you can be sure.

It is interesting that Alan Stern, director of the Department of Space Studies at the Southwest Research Institute's Boulder, Colorado location, writing in defense of PKE in Space News in today's issue (September 25th, 2000, page 19-20), states that Jupiter will next be available for gravity assist in 2012, not the 20 years you state we would have to wait. He states the mission is only under consideration "for cancelation or indefinite deferment". (Perhaps things have changed for the better in the past few days since that printed newspaper went out.)

In any event, if PKE can't be launched with clean energy sources (and I'm sure it can be), it shouldn't be launched at all. Astronomers should rally *against* PKE because of its nuclear power source, lest they be thought of as ignorant by the better part of humanity, and lose respect overall for their various endeavors. And if astronomers choose to continue to endorse nuclear missions, they should be prepared to justify that endorsement by proving they have a full medical understanding of radiation's dangers, instead of not mentioning the problem at all, as most (including yourself) tend to do.


Russell Hoffman
Concerned Citizen
Carlsbad, California

Four (4) attachments:

*** (1) Your own CCNet essay titled "Small Is Beautiful"
*** (2) An activist's email about PKE and DOE, plus a Reuters news report
*** (3) A sample of my own comments about DOE's nuclear plutonium production for PKE and other missions
*** (4) Suggested URLs and contact information for myself

*** (1) Your CCNet essay titled "Small Is Beautiful":

At 01:04 PM 9/25/00 -0400, Dr. Benny J. Peiser wrote:

CCNet ESSAY, 25 September 2000


Michael Paine explains why the International Astronomical Union should adopt a less confusing nomenclatura which is in line with the new discoveries about our Solar System.

By Michael Paine

25 September 2000

Although I am not a scientist and have not been a party to IAU discussions I would like to propose some name changes to improve the PR image of research into asteroids and comets. My experience is that reporters tend to lose interest when they hear scientists talk about 'minor' planets and especially 'objects' - Near Earth Objects, Potentially Hazardous Objects (this could, of course, include a kitchen knife but the play on the word 'foe' is useful), Kupier Belt Objects and Trans-Neptune Objects. It seems that the term 'object' gets used when researchers can't distinguish between asteroids and comets. Something that sounds more exciting is needed.

I suggest the IAU takes a lesson from a very successful businessmen and promotes the idea that small is beautiful. That certain businessman incorporated the prefix 'micro' in the company name. My suggestion therefore, is that the collective name for asteroids, comets and other small bodies that orbit the sun should be 'microplanet'. Before you start typing a hasty note to Benny, please consider some of my reasoning.

The term 'planet' probably has some meaning to non-scientists. Most school children are taught (and some actually remember) that planets orbit the Sun. Remarkably, my enlightened Geddes and Grosset dictionary defines 'planet' as a celestial body that orbits the sun or other star.

To scientists and engineers the term 'micro' has a strict scientific meaning but this has become blurred in recent years and my dictionary just defines it as a prefix meaning 'small'. So 'microplanet' means a small celestial body that orbits a star - that seems promising. 'Celestial body' is intended to exclude artificial objects but that might need a specific mention.

When does a planet become a microplanet?

A review of the postings on CCNet concerning the planetary status of Pluto (starting early 1999) gives a fascinating insight into this highly sensitive issue.

It does not seems wise to define these objects by their composition. Don Yeomans is reported as saying 'the distinction between asteroids and comets is now hopelessly blurring'. Others have pointed out that Pluto is icy whereas the other planets are rocky or gaseous. Some postings even suggested that the issue would have to wait for the Pluto-Kupier Express space mission reached Pluto. Sadly the proposed launch in 2004 has been cancelled and it could be 20 years before Jupiter is once again available for a gravity sling-shot.

On several occasions size has been considered as the distinguishing feature. One CCNet report (8 Feb 1999) indicates a suggestion by Michael A'Hearn that objects with a diameter of at least 1000km be regarded as 'major' planets was rejected by an IAU committee as being too arbitrary. However, many conventions in society are arbitrary. It turns out that 1000km might be quite a handy threshold. Pluto is 2274km in diameter and its partner Charon is 1172km. Ceres, the largest asteroid, is 933km across.

If a microplanet is defined as a celestial body with a diameter (better still, semi-major axis) less than 1000km that orbits a star then most circumstances seem to be covered. But what about Pluto and Charon? Is Charon a moon of Pluto? My suggestion is that the pair be regarded as a binary planet. One possible way to distinguish between a binary planet and a planet/moon system is the location of the barycentre, or common centre of mass. If the barycentre is contained within the larger object then the smaller object could be regarded as a moon. Thus our Moon remains a moon (barycentre below the Earth's surface) but Charon and Pluto form a binary planet (barycentre, I understand, about 1500km above Pluto's surface).

Incidentally, under this proposal Clyde Tombaugh becomes the first person to discover a binary planet.

There are other reasons for fixing on a simple, objective definition of 'major' planets. There may well be objects larger than 1000km orbiting the Sun beyond Pluto and it would be nice if astronomers knew straight away whether their discovery would be regarded as a 'major' planet.

Is it appropriate for 'microplanet' to cover all sub-1000km objects? I think so but if there are strong objections then perhaps 'miniplanet' would be appropriate for objects between, say, 200km and 1000km. 'Microplanet' would then apply to those under 200km. I hestitate at 'nanoplanet' instead of meteoroid for those under 10 metres.

Some advantages of the name microplanet:

* The intended meaning should be evident to non-scientists

* It sounds more exciting and is more concise than than minor planet, planetesimal, planetoid, interplanetary small body, small body of the solar system, minor demizens of the solar system...

* The Minor Planet Centre could become the Microplanet Centre and its initials could remain MPC.

* Near Earth Objects would become Near Earth Microplanets or NEMPs - which, appropriately, sounds a little like an impish character from a Tolkien novel.

Some possible problems are:

* Uncertainty about the actual size of small, distant objects. Apparently the size of Pluto and Charon was determined during a fortunate alignment with the Earth that produced eclipses.

* Dealing with unusal objects such as comets captured by Jupiter ('captured microplanets'?) or interstellar visitors.

* A US software company already has the name Microplanet Inc but maybe they would welcome the term becoming (hopefully) a household name.

CCNet ESSAY is part of the Cambridge Conference Network. It includes interesting and thought-provoking essays about our place in space and the prospects of a planetary civilisation that is in control of our terrestrial and extraterrestrial environment. Contributions to this ongoing debate are welcome. To subscribe or unsubscribe from CCNet, please contact Benny J Peiser at . The fully indexed archive of the CCNet, from February 1997 on, can be found at


*** (2) An activist's email about PKE and DOE, plus a Reuters report:


From: "Bill Smirnow" To: "Jay M Gould" , "Mark Elsis" ,
"Dr Rosalie Bertell" ,
"Dr Helen Caldicott" ,
"Dr Michio Kaku" , "Hans Karow" ,
"Russell Hoffman" Subject: NASA-PEIS & PU-238 Cut Back
Date: Sat, 23 Sep 2000 23:17:31 -0400

----- Original Message -----
From: Bill Smirnow
To: Bill Smirnow
Sent: Saturday, September 23, 2000 6:14 AM Subject: NASA-PEIS & PU-238 Cut Back

From: Steve Hopkins - Snake River Alliance To: Alliance for Nuclear Accountability ; Date: Friday, September 22, 2000 12:24 PM Subject: a major blow to DOE's pu-238 plan

For those of you following the Nuclear Infrastructure PEIS, this news represents a major blow to DOE's "mission" to produce plutonium-238 for NASA. The Pluto-Kuiper Express is the major NASA probe DOE is using to justify the near term need for Pu-238. This mission was to require 16.3 pounds and represents 70% of the "plutonium requirement" outlined in the PEIS. Other cancellations may follow due to cost constraints. There are only three outlined in the PEIS and this one is by far the biggest.

We have begun to follow it closely here in Idaho because our building '666' would potentially be used to extract the pu-238 from the targets using our reprocessing facility. The otherwise lukewarm nonproliferation assessment on the use our reprocesser for this mission did raise significant nonproliferation concerns due to this operation previously being a part of the weapons production infrastructure and the presence of navy spent fuel right next door containing a high amount of HEU. Our DOE people have also recently begun to say that we stand a good chance of "winning" the irradiation mission in our Advanced Test Reactor even though said production would likely prevent it from being able to produce the medical and industrial isotopes it is currently producing. Let's see, the major reason to embark on this civilian nuclear "expansion" is due to a perceived need for more of these isotopes, however using the ATR at INEEL to accomplish the pu-238 mission would strip it of the medical and industrial production work thereby diminishing the civilian nuclear infrastructure. Steve

Friday September 22 2:08 PM ET
NASA Stops Work on Mission to Mysterious Pluto

By Deborah Zabarenko

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Poor Pluto. NASA (news - web sites) has stopped work on a robotic mission to this distant, mysterious planet, the only one in the solar system not yet explored by earthly spacecraft.

If work does not resume by the end of this year, planetary astronomers said on Friday they fear the mission will lose its place on NASA's space launch schedule in 2004.

That could delay the craft's expected arrival at Pluto and its moon Charon by seven years, and by that time, the distant little planet's tenuous atmosphere could have started to freeze as Pluto moves into a winter lasting more than 100 years.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration stressed that the so-called Pluto-Kuiper Express mission being put together by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, was being ``rethought and replanned,'' not scrapped.

``The mission will be deferred until they can replan it for what's affordable,'' NASA spokesman Don Savage said in a telephone interview.

Originally budgeted at $350 million a year ago, the mission as currently envisioned would now cost more than $500 million to complete, Savage said, ``and that's just not affordable.''

NASA's chief of space science, Ed Weiler, ``would like to see some way for them to do the mission by 2020 when the atmosphere will still be there, not frozen out yet,'' Savage said. Pluto, the most distant planet from the Sun, was only discovered in 1930 and takes 248 years to make one solar orbit, so scientists have never observed its winter and do not know exactly what to expect, said Ellis Miner, a spokesman for the American Astronomical Society.

Get There Before Atmosphere Freezes

The society's planetary scientists expressed ``major concerns'' over stopping work on the Pluto mission, and Miner said that any substantial delay might mean astronomers would not be able to observe the planet's atmosphere.

Pluto came closest to the Sun in 1989 and has been moving away ever since. Even at its closest, it is still vastly distant: 30 times Earth's distance from the Sun, or about 2.8 billion miles.

``As Pluto moves out (away from the Sun), the amount of sunlight that it gets is decreasing rapidly,'' Miner said by telephone. ``At some point the temperature will be cold enough that the atmosphere will basically snow out onto the surface and all that will be left is a very tenuous trace atmosphere and it may be difficult to detect.''

A planet's atmosphere is often the key to finding out how it formed, and with an eccentric planet like Pluto, this could be important. Astronomers have inspected the atmospheres of every other planet except Pluto.

Pluto has always been a bit of an oddball among planets.

It is small and craggy where the other planets in the outer solar system are big and gassy; it is less than half the size of any other planet; its orbit tilts up from the solar system plane and is the only one to cross the orbit of another planet -- Neptune; and its moon, Charon, is larger in proportion to it than any other planet's moon.

There was a move afoot last year to reclassify it as a minor planet, instead of a major one, but it kept its major planet standing.


*** (3) A sample of my own comments about DOE's nuclear plutonium production for PKE and other missions:


Colette E. Brown at al,
U.S. Department of Energy, NE-50,
19901 Germantown Road, Germantown, MD 20874-1290; by fax (toll-free) at 1-877/562-4592; by phone (toll-free) at 1-877/562-4593; or by electronic mail to:

Re: DoE PLANS FOR EXPANDED PRODUCTION OF PLU-238 FOR FUTURE SPACE MISSIONS, specifically, solicited comments based on the DRAFT Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement for Accomplishing Expanded Civilian Nuclear Energy Research and Development and Isotope Production Missions in the United States, Including the Role of the Fast Flux Test Facility, DOE/EIS-0310D, July, 2000

Russell Hoffman
Concerned Citizen
Carlsbad, California


September 9th, 2000

Dear Ms Brown et al,

One hardly has to read the approximately 1200 pages of fiction to recognize a great lie is being perpetrated by DOE.

DOE wants radioactive material for its nuclear weapons and nuclear-powered weapons systems. The American military is the most powerful political organization in the world, yet its organizational methods are utterly unobservable. It is also the least-regulated pseudo-corporation in the galaxy, and the single most polluting entity of all times in the universe. It gets much of its nuclear material from DOE.

Now, in this Draft PEIS, the DOE wants to be given millions of dollars in order to procure and process millions of Curies of plutonium and other radioactive substances, supposedly for civilian purposes, but in reality, for new war toys including military satellites powered by Plutonium 238 -- satellites which could just as easily be powered by solar technologies or which should not be placed in orbit at all until or unless appropriate alternative energy technologies exist.

DOE wants to do much of the work at already-existing nuclear waste Superfund impossible-to-clean-up sites, namely, Hanford, Washington, Oak Ridge, Tennessee, Los Alamos, New Mexico, and so forth.

The DOE creates this apparent civilian "need" for plutonium RTGs (Radioactive Thermoelectric Generators), and other tools of the trade, by endorsing and arranging the funding of NASA projects which are civilian in appearance, and perhaps leading-edge in some of their other technologies, but which are positively 20th-Century (i.e. old) in their use of nuclear energy solutions, relying on dangerous and closed-market technologies of no use to the average citizen, which furthermore, are utterly wasteful of the very resource they use, since the plutonium is not recoverable after the mission, and which are old technology when compared to what is available even now on the open market -- clean solar energy systems would work perfectly well for most of the proposed missions, and in other cases, smaller missions could fulfill all the science data requirements of all the proposed civilian space missions. There is no need for the nuclear components at all. Not one watt of energy or degree of heat needs to be generated by the use of nuclear components for any vital interest, civilian or military, of any country, including the United States.

And yet NASA/DOE continues to demand more nuclear components. Why?

Because DOE loves plutonium. So does the military. They cannot conceive of the millions of scattered deaths their poisons create, literally in their wake.

A few months before Cassini was launched, in 1997, DOE announced that future missions would use a five-times better thermoelectric generator, known as an RPS, instead of the RTGs used on Cassini. Five times better isn't nearly good enough, but nonetheless, had DOE merely implemented this new unit for Cassini's launch, that would have given them about 50 pounds of "free" plutonium -- several year's worth at the proposed rates of use by NASA!

So clearly, DOE is not properly respectful of plutonium even simply as a precious resource, one which is deadly if improperly handled at any step. This policy fact is clearly demonstrated in the physical form of the RTGs themselves. NASA's flimsy containment system isn't even designed to be100% secure, and NASA's expected release rates from accidents, as published for example in the Cassini space probe's EIS, prove that the RTGs are carefully designed to release their contents in a reentry accident of some sort, as a fine powder at a high altitude.

The perfect spectrum of sizes for lodging in a person's lungs, to be exact.

And the perfect spectrum of sizes to be widely dispersed by the winds before reaching the ground, so that whoever dies does not die in a herd, but by themselves, from one little speck that found its way into that person's lungs.

Cancer, leukemia, and birth defects. These are the things DOE wishes a permit to create. And the reason is for military power supplies for "Cold War" spy satellites. As far as this writer can tell, NASA''s recent Cassini probe was part of a cover operation for the military.

Cassini is right now on its way towards Jupiter and Saturn. But just because the flyby of Earth and the launch have both occurred doesn't mean we are safe from that awful bird -- far from it. And does DOE recall NASA's failure to calculate an orbital insertion -- a very similar maneuver to a flyby -- just one month after Cassini flew by Earth?

Right now, Cassini should be re-aimed, so that if anything goes wrong, it would be more likely to impact Jupiter rather than fly by it. And Cassini should be left in that orbital pattern.

Cassini could become a lost probe, going dead any time between now, September 9th, 2000, and when it is supposed to fall into Saturn or one of its moons about a decade from now, after all its illustrious science data is returned and it is nothing more than a flying chunk of radioactive waste (Pu 238's half life is about 87 years, Pu 239, 24,400 years). No trajectory is exact, and unmeasurable (with current technologies) gravitational combinations of forces, plus the forces from micrometeor impacts, all together mean that soon we would have no idea where Cassini might actually be. Cassini could possibly loop around one of the outer planets and be driven back towards Earth, having by the time it gets to us (unseen), possibly have experienced a decade or even a hundred years in space, during which time the containment system will probably have become brittle and useless. Cassini could be thrown back at us by the outer planets, just as Earth and Venus were used as sling-shots to get Cassini out towards Saturn in the first place.

All this risk, for what? Not to please the public! The public expressed widespread disgust with NASA for launching Cassini in the face of reason, and NASA had to put on a major publicity campaign to counteract the bad publicity it rightfully received. (Using what official or unofficial budget to counteract the actions of this and other activists, I do not know.)

All this mess, and trouble, for what? To cover-up what are probably dozens of military nuclear launches.

All the "civilian" missions are part of a military regime; they are cover-ups. The military thinks they need nuclear powered electrical energy generators (RTGs), and undoubtedly they think they need nuclear heaters as well (RHUs, Radioactive Heater Units, which each contain tens of millions of fatal doses worth of plutonium 238 and 239 (2.7 grams) and which each absolutely will incinerate in virtually any reentry accident (there are about 130 RHUs on board Cassini).

All of the civilian nuclear-powered and equipped probes which are right now being designed and built, could either just as easily be solar-probes or could be switched for missions which do not go quite so far out as to study Pluto, for example, this decade instead of next, or which carry a few less instruments so that the energy drain is reduced somewhat. However, NASA/DOE's goal in choosing specific missions is in fact, to reach just beyond the practical limit, not as a show of can-do or bravado (for what bravery is required to risk other people's lives?), but simply to force the use of nuclear, so that the system is in place for the military uses to go on unnoticed.

Putting one too many experiments on board the probe so that solar becomes difficult is one of DOE's goals when deciding which missions to fund!

Replacing missions with solar variants has been studied conclusively, even years ago, for Galileo -- and by JPL's own scientists. Specifically in the D. E. Rockey et al report of 1980, extracted from NASA by Karl Grossman, using the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). There has been more than 20 years of solar development since then -- surely we could get to the next planet out past Jupiter by now (little of the solar development that has occurred in the last 20 years has been thanks to our DOE, who, having banked on nuclear power, are now making the nation morally and financially bankrupt for having let them do so).

Our DOE leaders continue choosing shortsighted nuclear "solutions". Why? There's nothing civil about it. NASA space probes are improperly insured, too -- by the Price-Anderson act, as corrupt an act as any Americans have ever revolted against or been revolted by. And note that P-A was designed to "insure" Stationary Objects -- nuclear power plants -- NOT space probes! NASA is protected by use of the Price-Anderson act from financial loss caused by Cassini or by NASA's other uses of plutonium and other radioactive substances -- protected, that is, from legal justice by the victims of NASA policy. Protected by an illegal act which NASA has no right to operate under the shield of, even if the act were legal for those stationary nuclear power plants it was originally designed to hold harmless from the financial consequences of their own actions.

I say the entire Draft PEIS is a lie. It's basic premises are lies. NASA doesn't need nuclear power for civilian probes, and the military needs to be reigned in -- they don't need nuclear power either, for probes, subs, ships, or on the tips of missiles. Humanity demands that the U.S. Military, and all militaries all around the world, be subservient to an even higher goal than winning wars against people. Humanity demands that these wars be planned for, and even be executed if need be, while conforming to the same environmental laws the rest of society lives (and dies) under.

Otherwise, we might win all the battles, but we will lose the planet, and along with it our health, our homelands, and everything else we cherish as citizens of a growing nation and as individual souls on a planet of billions of each-precious souls.

In Kosovo, Depleted Uranium bullets fired at, among other things, chemical industrial sites have turned the Blue Danube black with death. In Iraq, children die at the rate of 10,000 a month, because sewage systems and water irrigation systems were bombed, and because millions of shells of Depleted Uranium were used to win the Gulf War so quickly and "efficiently".

The use of Depleted Uranium should be banned, and the use of plutonium-powered listening devices for the military, whether undersea or in orbit in outer space (both uses are common today) should likewise be forbidden.

Further, the use of nuclear-powered ships and submarines must be stopped. Failures such as the Thresher and the Scorpion, two American nuclear subs which were lost for uncertain reasons, and more recently Russia's flagship nuclear sub, the Kursk (the Thresher was a flagship sub, in its time) remind us all too well that accidents can and will continue to happen. Each nuclear reactor which has already been lost or dumped at sea (the U.S. Navy dumped the research reactor Sea Wolf into the ocean some years back) needs to be pulled out and recovered, for a more proper nuclear waste disposal. But getting them out of the ocean is only one of the steps in what will be a long and nightmarish waste-guarding operation.

Who will do it? Who will pay for it? DOE must do it, AND DOE must pay for it. They should not be given yet more money for creating more nuclear waste and spreading it around the environment, using false pretenses and fictitious needs. They can't even clean up for their past mistakes. DOE is bankrupt.

And DOE must, as well, shut down all civilian nuclear power plants, each of which has a spent fuel pool next to it which is more deadly and dangerous than the plant itself. The clean energy solutions are Wind, Wave, Tide, Solar, Geothermal, Biomass, Hydroelectric, Ocean Thermal Gradient, and so on. They are NOT nuclear, coal, or oil solution's to America's constant and never-ending energy shortage. The solutions only come from a wide mix of available sources, not from the closed-minded, ingrown thinking which ignores the facts about nuclear waste disposal problems and dispersal problems, and all the other problems that have attended the use of nuclear energy and weapons since Day 1.

Please acknowledge receipt of these comments, and I request to know the name of any government official who actually reads even so much as this one document in opposition to the DOE nightmare proposed in the Draft PEIS, let alone, familiarizes themselves with the full details of what crimes are going on in the lofty name of science and space exploration, giving both a bad name, and polluting the planet, and the Near Earth Orbit area terribly. For I believe there is not one properly credentialed or elected official anywhere in the whole U.S. Government who can answer the charges I have brought forth here.


Russell Hoffman
Concerned Citizen / Activist
Carlsbad, California

Attachments (2)

Attachment 1):

Note to all readers:

Please send your own comments to DOE by September 11th, 2000. Request a confirmation of receipt. If you want to send DOE a copy of this letter, it is okay to add your name to this document if you like, but an additional comment by you would be most helpful to the cause. Please "cc" me a copy as well. Thank you in advance!

The official organization which opposes nuclear power in space censors this writer's opinions, but if you wish to contact them, their address is: GlobeNet Bruce Gagnon is their director. In this writer's opinion, Gagnon is an agent/infiltrator whose goal is to destroy the movement against nuclear power in space. He is, in effect, a black hole of information. Thanks to Jonathan Haber for reminding us of the upcoming deadline for comments on the Draft PEIS.

Attachment 2):

Related Internet URLs:

Peace Activist, Environmentalist, High Tech Guru:

Founder and Editor of the Stop Cassini newsletter:

Learn the madness of NASA's ongoing nuclear policies! Visit the Stop Cassini web site:

Learn about The Effects of Nuclear War here:

What is a half-life? (Compares Plutonium 238 to Plutonium 239)

What is the Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP)? Is nuclear war winnable?

Hug a tree! Read why it should matter to you what happens to the great Redwoods in California:

Why you need encryption: An interview with Phil Zimmerman:
(also available in Spanish)


*** (4) Contact information for Mr. Hoffman:

Petition against nuclear energy, for sustainable energy:



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