STOP CASSINI Newsletter #44 -- September 17th, 1997

Copyright (c) 1997

STOP CASSINI Newsletters Index

Subject: STOP CASSINI NEWSLETTER #44 - September 17th, 1997


Massachusetts State House of Representatives passes an anti-Cassini resolution! Marcus Hammerschmitt and myself answer some pro-nuclear Cassini editorials, Horst Poehler comments on AF/NASA debate.

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

**** STOP CASSINI NEWSLETTER Volume #44 September 17th, 1997 ****
Today's subjects:

****** VOLUME #44 September 17th, 1997 ******

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

*** Massachusetts State House of Representatives passes Anti-Cassini resolution!

From Ellen Connett,
Waste Not:



September 16: "Word just in that the Massachusetts State House of Representatives has just passed a resolution calling for the cancellation of Cassini. In addition, the Newton, MA, City Council has passed a similar resolution.." From Bruce Gagnon, Florida Coalition for Peace and Justice.


September 12: Ron & Ron, the hosts of the popular morning talk show on 101.1 in Orlando, Florida, were fired. For a few days just before that, one of them went off about Cassini every morning. The station says they just weren't good enough.

*** STOP CASSINI Protest planned for San Francisco, September 28th, 1997

A protest against the Cassini launch is scheduled to take place on Sunday, September 28th, 1997 at 11:30 AM at the Justin Herman Plaza at Market and Embarcadero in San Francisco, California. (Embarcadero station on BART).

Please contact Elliot at (510) 527-4055 or Winston at (707) 772-5264 for questions, or just SHOW UP!!

All other protests which we know of are listed in newsletter #38:


The editorial was published by the "New York Post" in their online edition today (September 14, 1997). This is the same editorial Mr. Hoffman answered in newsletter #41. Marcus's wonderful answer appears below:

The original editorial is available at this URL:


Now I don't know what kind of a paper the "New York Post" is, but I thought, the following comments might be appropriate:


Ladies and gentlemen,

My name is Marcus Hammerschmitt, I'm a German writer. You are disinforming your readers and the public about Cassini. Your editorial of September 14, 1997 says for instance:

"But - though it has never happened in 36 years of nuclear-powered space flight - there is a remote chance some plutonium could be released accidentally. Should that happen, it's possible people would die - NASA estimates that fatalities would at most reach 120; respectable critics contend that the number could, over time, run into the thousands."

This is wrong in numerous points. There have been several accidents including the nuclear materials in space and some of them were quite serious.


There can be no reasonable doubt that people are still dying from that last incident and from some of the others as well. Yet you claim that nuclear powered space flight has caused no casualties so far.

Furthermore, the "serious critcs" you quote include one of the finest physicists in the world, Dr. Michio Kaku from your own City University of New York. After carefully having examined NASA's own documents on Cassini he states:

"If we carefully re-examine, line-by-line, the physics analysis behind NASA's Final Environmental Impact Statement, we find that the FEIS has consistently underestimated the possible risks of an accident with the Cassini space mission. Originally, NASA estimated the number of cancer fatalities from a maximum credible accident over a 50 year period to be 2,300. We detail how this figure of 2,300 deaths could easily be off by a factor of 100, i.e. true casualty figures for a maximum accident might number over 200,000."

Full text available online under:

Former NASA officials like Alan Kohn speak out against Cassini too and their comments are online as well:

I think there is good reason the author of said editorial doesn't sign it with his name, lest he might draw attention to his lack either of knowledge or of responsibility.

M. Hammerschmitt


I sent this as e-mail back to them ( and await now eagerly their response (which will never come) or publication of my letter (which will never happen). But the outright stupidity of the editorial might still be used as an example of the disinformation tactics the pro Cassini people are pulling.

See you!



At 11:06 AM 9/16/97 Marcus Hammerschmitt wrote:

Ladies and gentlemen!

My name is Marcus Hammerschmitt, I'm a German writer. I protest your upcoming editorial by Michael D. Lemonick on Cassini. While pretending to provide a levelheaded and well thought out perspective on the subject it merely hands down NASA propaganda to its readers.

I've been occupied with Cassini now for more than four months, and the deeper I dig into this, the fouler the stink. Unfortunately said editorial doesn't disperse but rather strengthen it.

Here comes a critique of the major glitches.

The "small amount" of Pu 238 dispersed into the atmosphere by the SNAP-9A aboard that Transit 5BN-3 navigational satellite totaled 2.1 pounds. Now you go fix yourself 2.1 pounds of Pu 238, put it contained in the safest conceivable storage in your flat and wait and see, what the authorities will say about this "small amount" of plutonium. I can promise you interesting times with a lot of exotic hardware around and in your house and thorough investigations about where you got this from. Yet NASA disperses this stuff in the atmosphere and can get away with a "redesign" of RTGs so they only disperse a percentage of their contents in the atmosphere about reentry or launch failure (and not the whole of it). You don't have a clue about plutonium if you don't perceive that a very small percentage of 72.3 pounds of plutonium (the nuclear payload of Cassini) is a very big thing to us humans down here. You really don't. Oh no, it's not just me saying so. It's some of the finest scientists in this world, including Dr. Gofman, the man who passed the first real quanta of plutonium to Oppenheimer and Dr. Michio Kaku, who is Henry Semat Professor of Theoretical Physics at the City University of New York. And the latter gives a much more detailed scenario of what probably happens after a major launch failure, including the release of Pu 238, with Cassini:

The result of a failure in this style would be pure emotions indeed. Hysteria, car crashes, violence, lootings, evictions, resettlings at first, and then, the pain and agony of all the different cancers, for years and years and years to come. Look at the demonic vicinities of Chernobyl and you get more of your pure emotions than you might be able to take.

There is another article by Dr. Michio Kaku which puts the tests on Cassini's RTGs into perspective. You might want to read it and even tell your readers about it, because it's as scientific and up to date about RTGs as possible.

If Beverly Cook of NASA says they have tested their RTGs beyond failure, she omits the sad truth that "failure" occurred far beneath the forces expected to work in a Cassini launch failure. Dr. Kaku says:

"Tests have shown that aluminum bullets fired at the RTGs at velocities of 1,820 ft/sec and titanium bullets fired at l,387 ft/sec have caused a breach of containment. Edge-on fragments at velocities as low as 312 ft/s can rupture the leading fuel clads. So even at room temperature, we can expect high-velocity fragments to pierce the RTGs. But at high temperatures near the melting point of iridium, where the RTG casings are weakened by high temperatures and pressures, we can expect shrapnel to do even more damage to the RTG casings, bursting many of them open."

Such the definition of "failure" in this case, given by one of the most respected physicists in the world.

And yes, NASA has stated time and again that there are no solar alternatives to RTGs aboard Cassini. They could buy a million parrots repeating this over and over, and it still wasn't true.

Dr. Kaku again:

"Downsize the craft. If the probe is 130 pounds overweight, then the obvious solution is to lose 130 pounds of equipment. This means leaving out some experiments. However, the Cassini is the Cadillac of space missions, and a few less redundant experiments will still give us excellent science. This may be the solution.

Conform to the new NASA philosophy. The new philosophy of NASA is faster, cheaper, better. For example, the Mars Observer was a billion dollar fiasco: bulky, costly, infrequent. The new Mars probes were correctly downsized; the new strategy is to send small space craft to Mars twice every two years. Similarly, space shots to Saturn should be downsized and made more frequent, not less frequent, and energized by solar cells.


Saturn is not going away. All this will cause delays, but Saturn is not going to go away. Other windows of opportunity will open up. Given the fact that one can whip around other planets and change trajectory, windows of opportunities open up all the time. Use a combination of solar/fuel cells. The FEIS only considers solar and fuel cells separately, not in conjunction. Fuel cells can be used to store energy when solar cells can no longer receive adequate energy from the sun."

Oh no, I don't quote Dr. Kaku so often, because he's the only one. I quote him because he's just one of the finest examples for a scientist who knows about responsibility for the enormous power his knowledge can unleash. Believe it or not, there are others too. Use the internet before writing your next editorial.

M. Hammerschmitt,


To: Community Conversations
Florida Today
Melbourne, FL

What you have set up is a political, not a factual debate. None of the announced participants have the scientific background to present a factual debate.

The stakes are sufficiently high that the community deserves a scientific debate with no punches pulled.

The Cassini launch coud devastate the economy as well as the lives and health of the Florida east coast residents. What about the twelve additional plutonium launches scheduled for the next 12 years at one each year?

Let AF/NASA put up a scientist of stature to debate the factual issues. Until now, AF/NASA has consistently refused to participate in such a debate. Secrecy is the word.

The enclosed monograph, "Cassini Cancers (The Plutonium Story), could offer the basis of issues to be debated.

Sincerely Yours,
Horst A. Poehler, Ph. D.

Source URL for Cassini Cancers article:



"Assessing probabilities of these potential events is where the differences occur. NASA, which is to launch Cassini, places the risk at a level that could be expected to kill 120 people. Its extreme critics say as many as 200,000 people could die prematurely from cancer in the worst case.

"For some Americans, no risk is acceptable. But Americans routinely climb into cars and trucks that annually kill more than 40,000 people in accidents, a hazard far more real than that postulated by the critics. Cassini deserves to fly."


This is incorrect at several levels First, the so-called "extreme" critics -- scientists , that is -- say tens of millions may die (Dr. Ernest J. Sternglass). Other scientists have pegged the potential at perhaps 1.5 million (Dr. John W. Gofman). It was presumably Dr. Michio Kaku whom the Globe is citing anonymously.

Second, one of the main complaints of the critics is not even that NASA's numbers are wrong: It is that NASA's numbers are made up. This has been shown over and over again by showing the contradictory statements NASA has been making. NASA science is bad science and no one should be fooled into thinking that NASA or it's critics really have any idea how many might die. It's critics generally admit this, while NASA attempts to sound as sure of itself as it can, and the Globe editor obviously was fooled.

Third, all these numbers are particularly variable because in the "worst case" accident, there is no way to predict what the dangers will be. This is because it is not just a question of how much plutonium is released. NASA's numbers on that issue appear to be pure malarkey as stated above. But the danger also depends on where that amount which might be released ends up. Over New York City or over the middle of the Pacific Ocean? NASA averages it all out across society, not taking into account the chance that it will come down on an area with a vastly greater population density than the average population density of the Earth.

Also, NASA assumes that they will clean up any mess that they make. This is preposterous. NASA had a chance to practice their plutonium recovery capabilities in November 1996, when the Russian Mar '96 probe reentered the atmosphere. What did NASA do, after promising Australia (where the probe was expected to come down) full cooperation? Nothing. The probe came down over Chile and Bolivia instead, and NASA didn't care anymore. A nonwhite population can make all the difference, I guess.

When launched, Cassini will fly over or near war-torn and poverty-stricken areas of Africa, then over one of the poorest countries in the world (and one of the richest from an biodiversity point of view) -- Madagascar -- then over or near Australia, and then out into space. Any of these 'impact points' can end up with NASA's nuclear gift.

Then in 1999 the probe will be returning to near Earth -- very near Earth, 496 miles above Earth to be exact -- in what is called a Gravity Assist or Flyby maneuver. A that point it will be traveling at about 42,300 miles per hour. At that speed an inadvertent reentry would result in a minimum of about 3% incineration of the plutonium payload into the upper atmosphere, and possibly as much as 33% -- according to NASA'S OWN NUMBERS. They say the chance of this happening is less than 1 in one million.

One in one million. I wonder how they know? Karl Z. Morgan, former director of the Health Physics Division of Oak Ridge National Laboratories, who is referred to as "the father of Health Physics," has pointed out that prior to the SNAP-9A accident in 1964 when NASA released 2.1 pounds of plutonium into the atmosphere after a accidental reentry, NASA officials had estimated the chance of an accident for that rocket launch at less than one in TEN million! Yet despite those long odds, it malfunctioned and reentered Earth's atmosphere anyway despite NASA assurances.

Back then, NASA purposely designed the plutonium powerpacks to incinerate into a respirable vapor, and that's what happened. 2.1 pounds of plutonium vaporized into the upper atmosphere. The exact death toll and other health effects from that "accident" is unknowable because the of the inexact nature of the science of identifying widespread but low risk. (Witness how recently we began to learn that second-hand cigarette smoke is hazardous, yet now we think it might be killing tens of thousands of people each year in America.)

Your editorial realizes that minute particles of plutonium are hazardous. Specifically, 2.1 pounds of plutonium 238 has something in the neighborhood of 200 million potentially lethal doses in it, assuming a lethal dose of Plutonium 238 is about 5 micrograms. It may actually be much less, possibly a tenth of that or even less.

Our web site contains many articles by scientists who have studied NASA documents and who have studied the health effects of radiation. I hope you will come visit, and get yourselves a real education on the many reasons for opposition to Cassini, and then publish a better editorial next time, which presents a more complete view of the issues.

Russell Hoffman
STOP CASSINI newsletter


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Russell D. Hoffman
STOP CASSINI webmaster.


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First placed online September 18th, 1997.
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