Date: Mon, 26 Jul 2004 00:58:24 -0700
To: "Mrs. Cassini" <>
From: "Russell D. Hoffman" <>
Subject: NASA's continued launching of nuclear materials is statistically irresponsible -- the policy which led to Cassini is murder

LETTER TO "MRS. CASSINI" July 25th, 2004

Dear Mrs. Cassini,

Many of the problems you mention are very real, but so is the potential suffering and death from something like Cassini pile-driving itself back into the earth shortly after launch.  Such an explosion could have happened, or could happen next time, and the "root cause" might have nothing to do with the plutonium on Cassini, but such an accident would still condemn us all to breath that plutonium for the rest of our lives.

From a pure statistics standpoint (ignoring all the other reasons not to use nuclear materials, such as the potential for theft and subsequent use in a "dirty bomb", for which Pu 238 would be particularly useful), it is unacceptable to say "such-and-such has a one in a million chance of failure" when all prior experience suggests otherwise.  The Mars failure ALSO suggested that "one in one million" was UTTER FICTION. And then to claim that that "one in one million" accident would only kill 7 people, or 120 people (NASA's highest estimate, as I recall) is pure hype.  In fact it could kill twenty-five MILLION people just by, for example, crashing over the New York metropolitan area on a rainy night.  There is absolutely no concrete data to back up the assertion that the failure rate is one in a million and overwhelming data to suggest that it might be more like 1 in 10.  NASA similarly misrepresented SNAP-9A's failure possibility to Dr. Karl Z. Morgan four decades ago.  And they also misrepresented the chance of a Challenger-type accident before the Challenger accident.  And for all I know the Columbia accident came as a complete surprise to them, too.  I don't know what odds they were predicting prior to Columbia for shuttle accidents, but I'll bet there was no line item in any computer program specifically for foam insulation damaging a wing, then not being noticed or worried about for nearly two weeks.  So much for NASA fault trees.

In the face of NASA's enormous lack of knowledge, doesn't it make sense to chose readily available alternatives, or even develop safe new ones?  Of course it does.

I have interspersed additional responses to your incredibly arrogant letter [[[ in triple brackets ]]].  You are an agent for NASA -- unpaid, perhaps, but an agent nonetheless and as such, I demand that this conversation be continued in earnest and as if under oath, for you are trying very hard to sully my reputation with the way you write and your "offer" to let me publish your drivel, and I am deeply offended by your rudeness.  To learn that you are so closely connected to Cassini (and did not share that information with me in your first letter, either) disgusts me even further.  Anyone working for the US Government has a duty to treat me with the respect due any anonymous U.S. citizen they might meet on the street or in the ballbark, and you have not done so by any means.  You came in thrashing and trashing, and now, after just one response from me, you finalize the conversation by wishing me "good luck" in life, and asking me to now post your poison pen's remarks -- pretty clear indications you think your "work" is done here.  It isn't.


Russell Hoffman
Carlsbad, CA

Author, All About Pumps, Internet Glossary of Heart Terminology, Poison Fire USA, The Demon Hot Atom, Internet Glossary of Nuclear Power Plants. Co-Author, Statistics Explained, Internet Glossary of Statistical Terms, The Heart: The Engine of Life.  These animations are used throughout the world at thousands of universities.


At 12:56 PM 7/23/2004 -0600, wrote:
I'll be sure to send you the lists, Russell, just as soon as you collect the global tallies of a) all persons in any way harmed by "nuclear-powered" (RTGs, etc.) spacecraft, AND also --- to compare that side-by-side to---- the tallies of all impairing casualties and fatalities caused by b) inhalation of coal combustion by-products, c) skin cancer(melanomas, carcinomas, and sarcomas), d) biotoxins (botulism, salmonella, e-coli, etc.), e) malaria, and f) AIDS. 

[[[ If this is a contest of which of us can present the most facts, my PIOFU blows away your list of big words.What you're really saying here is you just like to complain but don't like to do the grunt work to find out the facts. -- rdh ]]]

Shoot, for that matter, count up the total of infant drownings in one year: The number is much higher (and sadly, more consistent and pervasive over decades) than any casualties from "radioactive technologies" such as RTGs, etc.

[[[ SNAP-9A loosed 17,000 Curies of plutonium upon the world.  How many deaths has that one accident caused so far?  Inhalable particles of plutonium, in the sizes created by that accident, are the most dangerous form of the element because they take the longest to fall out of the atmosphere and stay the longest in the human lung.  Perhaps a million people have died because of NASA's mistakes?  Perhaps "only" a thousand, scattered around the world?  No one knows for sure, because it is an unmeasurable (undetectable by statistical or other methods) assault on humanity, but a vicious one nonetheless.  And the killing hasn't stopped:  How many people will that one accident in 1964 kill in 2004, 40 years later, now that only about half of the first half-life of the Pu 238 has gone by?  How many people are estimated to have died or will die -- are already condemned to a gruesome death -- because of nuclear power?   In 2003, a British team of scientists, doctors, statisticians, etc. led by Dr. Chris Busby estimated that: "Pollution from nuclear energy and weapons programmes up to 1989 will account for 65 million deaths."  (In an addendum I have included in a separate email, you'll find some other estimates and related information.) NASA is probably not responsible for nearly as many deaths as the U.S. Army is from nuclear devices, but it's not zero or anything near zero. -- rdh ]]]

You'll save MANY more lives worldwide by encouraging more folks to use a condom or by encouraging 3rd-world governments to treat malaria (instead of spending the money from other nations to pad their personal wealth) than stopping any space science programs. 

[[[ Me?  I encourage folks to use condoms whenever necessary.  I despise despots.  Where's your web site on these issues, where's your POIFU-equivalent presentation for me to look at, if these issues are so important to you? -- rdh ]]]

Care to tally up how many lives worldwide were painful and cut short over the past 200 years by by-products of the burning of fossil-based fuels, coal and petroleum ? 

[[[ Or by boredom reading a litany of completely off-topic issues? -- rdh ]]]

By the way, the Cassini folks weren't in any way silent or still after the Mars failures: They worked their tails off to make sure everything would run flawlessly, which it did. 

[[[ Are you swearing under oath that they didn't find anything that might have compromised the mission, or are you swearing under oath that every little weight calculation turned out to have been done right in the first place, bar none, or what?  And anyway, it sure sounds to me like Cassini's "folks" were suddenly worried that their original procedures for being sure they had the right values for their various calculations were inadequate -- which was what I had warned of BEFORE the flyby!  Right now, NASA is VERY CAREFUL -- and I challenge your husband to swear this isn't so -- never to mention to reporters that Cassini is powered by PLUTONIUM.  There is simply no discussion of the plutonium anymore.  It was actually mentioned in the first new news reports about Cassini a few months ago, but then dropped like a hot potato.  I suspect a "memo" went out at NASA/JPL telling everyone not to mention it anymore. -- rdh ]]]

(I know for a fact this because my husband is the chief attitude and guidance software designer for Cassini, and my neighbor/friend is the deputy chief scientist for the mission.) 

[[[ And you, then, are their chief assistant badger?  And you are PUBLICLY LIBELING me to them, aren't you?  Where did you hear of me? How many people have you complained about my web site to, like you have directly to me -- that is, without mentioning that you are the wife of a lead software engineer at JPL, a man who makes his living directly from Cassini?  That's not very up front of you!  Now that you've revealed that, will you help me to interview your husband and his teammates? I have lots of questions for them.   I've already had questions for you, but you just respond with silly off-topic questions about AIDS and so on.  Instead, let's talk about the potential for a terrorist attack during those first precious seconds of the launch of Cassini.   Don't bother saying it couldn't have been done, because not only could it have been done by a terrorist with a guided missile, it can be done by a terrorist with lasers, using software available everywhere. -- rdh ]]]

By the way, the recent Mars failures were disappointments but were somewhat expected: The "smaller, faster cheaper" program sent multiple small, frequent, realtively-cheap Mars missions up with the anticipation (and all calculations of the probabilities and cost/benefit are public record) that one or more was likely to fail.  The probabilities and cost-benefit analyses worked out better than sending one large mission on an all-or-nothing flight.  AND in toto, the Mars missions have produced more high-value scientific data than was even anticipated in the planning, since the data-gathering and operations systems have all fa
 r exceeded the planned life-span. (JPL is excellent at planning and costing for worst-case/shortest-life scenarios for their projects, overbuilding the failsafes and systems, so that the probability of them exceeding expectations and thus having even better cost/benefit ratios is very high.  And no, this is not the same way the Shuttle and other manned space projects operate.)

[[[ Cassini could have been two non-nuclear missions, which would have fit with your Mars explanation and would be that much more likely to succeed.  So why are you against that, and instead supporting the awful nuclear choice?  After all, it's not the mission's science objectives I object to -- or the pretty pictures at about a billion dollars each -- it's the manner in which it is being achieved. -- rdh ]]]

Another useful statistic to look up: 
Total number of people (including infants and children)in US (1980 - 1990) to die from food poisoning versus total number of people to be made ill or die from consumption of low-level irradiated foods.

[[[ You have to add in the deleterious health consequences of lots of things before you can do a fair comparison.  Things like the health effects on uranium miners, processing plant employees, and so on in the entire nuclear fuel cycle which had to exist to create the irradiation equipment, UNLESS it's done with laser-based irradiation devices, which eliminate virtually all the dangers from food irradiation systems due to terrorism, fires, tornados, ASTEROIDS (for you space cadets), and so on.  Then, you have to include the potential health consequences -- including mutagenic consequences -- of the millions of organic compounds created by the food irradiation process.  Yeah, some government agencies say it's safe.  But it's not that simple.  Only a fool (or another government agency -- or is that the same thing?) would let it go at that!   Proper food handling works.  You don't need irradiation.   Most cooks on the Food Network channel are criminally unsanitary -- have you noticed?  Most American diets are atrocious, but I suppose that's not news to you, somehow. You were probably about to tell me to study it.  It's funny, here you are, and I (theoretically) finally have a chance to actually connect with someone high up in the Cassini squad, but instead you just insult my work, tell me to study 20 completely unrelated things, and next, clearly, from your letter, you'll just disconnect the conversation, and I won't be allowed to quiz your husband, your neighbor, or the rest of the JPL staff about what they actually know about radiation dangers, especially low level radiation dangers.  I've never been able to find any person at NASA -- or anywhere else -- who is qualified to explain all three corners of the "permission triangle" to me.  The three corners are:  "It's statistically unlikely to fail.  It's structurally too strong to fail.  Low Level Radiation isn't dangerous anyway." That is the "law" by which Cassini and the rest of the nuclear folly is permitted.  After years of looking, it's obvious to me that there IS no pro-nuker "expert" who understands all three legs -- who does not, at some point, throw up his arms and say: "But it's statistically unlikely to fail" if he's a doctor or an engineer, or he'll say: "But it's built strong enough not to fail" if he's a statistician or a doctor, or he'll say: "But low level radiation is harmless" if he's a statistician or an engineer.   Statisticians will not stake their reputation on those silly numbers NASA presents -- "one in one million" -- and that was BEFORE the Mars failure, remember -- the failure that could have been Cassini.  Engineers will not stake their reputations on NASA's flimsy carbon-carbon coverings for the RTGs and the RHUs.  No qualified engineer from outside NASA has been invited to independently test the containment, especially as it might work after 20 or 30 -- or 300 -- years in space (NASA admits it does not know what will happen over time).  And sure, you can find "health physicists" who think plutonium in small quantities is good for you, but not many doctors buy that in the real world.  It's assumed to be deadly in vanishingly small quantities, and any doctor and most health physicists who back Cassini will, if you get them to talk about it, end up saying something like: "But the chance of an accident is very small" (thus relying on the statistician to make Cassini safe, NOT his own professional knowledge) or he'll say: "But they engineered a containment system so it won't get released" (thus relying on some fictitious engineer who has independently approved the design). The truth is, there is NO reason to use the plutonium at all, it's way too dangerous and NASA has had way too many accidents already.  One thing I learned while doing POIFU is that about 70 of our 1000 or so nuclear tests had "accidental" releases of radioactivity either onsite at the Nevada test site (occasionally) or (more frequently) offsite, sometimes as far away as New York, Idaho, and various places in Canada, too.  Now, to me, a 7% failure rate in over 1000 events cannot be described as "accidental" anymore, as in, "gosh, what a surprise."  It's just a PLANNED RELEASE which is INTERMITTENT.  If NASA does not stop launching nuclear space probes, they will have additional, repeated "accidents".  The containment system mainly prevents the plutonium from being released near the ground in some accident scenarios, but all that really does is let people like your husband get away with murder, because neither the courts nor anybody else can say for certainty why any particular cancer started.  A high release just guarantees anonymity for the killers -- for NASA /JPL. -- rdh ]]]

I realize that its very difficult for most post-modern Americans to see the benefits in their own lives of basic science being done  somewhere far away or years ago: It takes much time and sweat and creativity before the knowledge gained from any basic science (in space, under the sea, in volcanos, in labs) reaches our everyday world. 
But it does.  Eventually. 
Nonetheless, we humans prefer our causes to be simplistic, same-time and black-&-white:
All "Nukes" are bad.  Non-nukes are good.  Period.  How easy !
Its always more pleasant to fight for a cause from behind a desk,
 and in a battle where there are few actual casualties, only potential  casualties.  The theoretical world is always very safe.

[[[ I do not live in a "theoretical" world, Mrs. Clark.  My older brother died at age 39 from complications following leukemia, and I have every right to suspect nuclear pollution as the cause.  I have lost many other relatives to cancer and I wouldn't be the least bit surprised to hear you have lost relatives too -- most people have.  I've noticed that many of my friends whose fathers served on nuclear submarines have lost those men.  It's "skuttlebutt" in the whole nuclear navy, actually (probably in Russia's, too).  Don't pretend we aren't trying to solve real issues here, at my web site, and in this email, because we are.  Bloody important ones.  You should try harder.  You should be on a search for truth, as I am, instead of on a crusade to prove me wrong, which, by the way you have not done, and from everything I have learned in 30+ years of studying nuclear issues, nor will you ever do (unfortunately). -- rdh ]]]

The "unspeakable" is already happening, Russell !
---- Millions of people are suffering and dying annually from preventable causes !
They just aren't the technologies you've so demonized. 

[[[ I believe all cars should be required to be equipped with side-impact air bags.  Why do you keep acting like you know me so well, that you know that all I ever think about is nuclear power, and, that you have at some point in your letter actually told me something new? -- rdh ]]]

When you're feeling braver,
PLEASE try putting your substantial energy and talents to work saving real lives from real dangers in real time. 
Its less "safe"--- emotionally, physically, financially and politically (I know from experience)--- BUT in the end you'll find it saves more lives (human and other) and will help the world far more.

I wish you good luck in your quest to do good in this life.          And please feel free to send this, also, to your "family and freinds" list.

[[[ Send what?  Your libel?   As if I needed your permission to publish such trash!

Russell D. Hoffman
Concerned Citizen
Carlsbad, CA
-- rdh ]]]


Original Message:
>From: "Russell D. Hoffman" <>
>Subject: Re: Cassini -- a folly is a folly is a folly -- and forgetting the past doesn't mean it didn't happen!
>Date: Wed, 21 Jul 2004 22:52:33 -0700

>July 21st, 2004
>Dear Kate Clark,
>Thank you for writing. But...
>At 03:38 PM 7/21/2004 -0600, wrote (clip, full
>email shown below):
>>Even had Cassini crashed, its contaminants would have been a proverbial
>>"drop in a bucket", compared to what we already are exposed to in No.
>>America regularly.
>This is incorrect.  403,000 Curies of Pu 238 -- an especially virulent form
>because of its short (87.75 year) half-life -- is way too much to be
>launching for a goal so meager as Cassini's, which was fully replaceable
>with non-nuclear power sources so what was the big deal?  Why go
>nuclear?  Not for the science -- that could be had other ways.  So why?
>Here's a history of all major US nuclear activities, which I created recently:
>There are nearly 30 nuclear space launches shown.  Three of them failed,
>and at least one -- and probably two -- dispersed plutonium.
>And have you forgotten the Mars failure a month after Cassini's flyby of
>Earth?  Pro-Cassini voices sure went silent for a while after THAT!  But now,
>with Cassini's arrival around Saturn, it's all ignored and so we will be
>condemned to launching another and another and another nuclear mission
>until the unspeakable happens.
>Besides the nearly 30 nuclear space launches shown on "Poison Fire USA",
>which of the other 1500 or so events do you consider trivial?  Not shown
>are the thousands of plutonium-powered "listening devices left in our
>oceans by the nearly 200 nuclear submarines we've launched (which are
>shown).  Not shown are food irradiation plants, spent fuel pools, dry
>storage casks, missile silos, offshore nuke dumps, human experimentation
>locations, and much, much more.  As soon as you give me the exact start
>dates (and stop dates, if applicable) for those missing items, I'll add
>them.  Are you up to the task, or are you too busy looking are pretty
>pictures from Saturn?
>I won't hold my breath waiting for your cooperation.  But in any event,
>thank you for your kind words about my animations.  Another new animation I
>created recently which you might enjoy (actually, written for the U.S.
>government, on request) is available here:
>Russell Hoffman
>Carlsbad, CA
>P.S. And by the way, it wasn't a nuclear power plant inside Cassini.  It
>was three thermoelectric generators (RTGs) and about 130 smaller heaters
>(RHUs).  One would assume you don't really know that much about the probe,
>the RTGs, the RHUs, or, for that matter, the exact risks to, say, human
>infants from inhaled plutonium particles.
>Date: Wed, 21 Jul 2004 15:38:43 -0600
>Subject: Cassini
>From: "Kate Clark" <>
>To: <>
>Aren't you a bit embarrassed now by that silly "Stop Cassini" diatribe and
>website ?
>Cassini has now arrived safely at Saturn (using the only feasible power---
>solar can't work that far from the sun), and its already returning to Earth
>valuable data to enlighten us as to the nature of our planets (including
>Earth, our Universe, and future possibilities.
>No crash. No accidents, no radioactivity contaminating our planet from
>Cassini's power plant.  Nothing.
>The sky did not fall, Henny-Penney.
>Meanwhile, during the 7 years Cassini was SAFELY traveling our solar
>system, thousands of people voluntarily and knowingly exposed themselves to
>high levels of dangerous UV radiation daily in the foolish pursuit of a
>"healthy-looking tan", at tanning salons worldwide.
>Hundreds, if not thousands, of people will sicken and die in the years to
>come from the cumulative effects of such "safe", "cosmetic" radiation
>In addition, thousands more will develop cancers and other disorders from
>radiation exposure via
>1) natural sun exposure,
>2) extra-intense UV and gamma exposure in high-altitude jet-liner flights,
>3)X-rays used (and mis-used) for medical and dental diagnostic work
>(including exposure to employees),
>4) residing on or near natural radium deposits (see geologic data for Utah,
>Navada, Wyoming, Sonora, and other Western regions of No. America),
>5) exposure to improperly handled radioactive waste from radiology cancer
>treatment centers, etc., etc.
>We won't even discuss here the old USSR nuclear submarines with active
>reactors still onboard at the bottom of several seas.
>Even had Cassini crashed, its contaminants would have been a proverbial
>"drop in a bucket", compared to what we already are exposed to in No.
>America regularly.
>A space probe with a nuclear powerplant is an easy target, but not a very
>meaningful or accurate one.
>Please direct your excellent animations and apparent energy to protest
>something that's actually a high risk to the human race and other species,
>such as sex without condoms and air pollution.
>Better luck next time.
>** Russell D. Hoffman, Owner and Chief Programmer
>Carlsbad CA
>** Visit the world's most eclectic web site:
> .
>Please be sure that "Unsubscribe-me-please" appears in the subject line.