STOP CASSINI Newsletter #45 -- September 18th, 1997

Copyright (c) 1997

STOP CASSINI Newsletters Index

Subject: STOP CASSINI NEWSLETTER #45 - September 19th


More editorials answered, and current events in the STOP CASSINI movment.

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

***** STOP CASSINI NEWSLETTER Volume #45, September 18th, 1997 *****
Today's subjects:

****** VOLUME #45 September 18th, 1997 ******

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

*** An answer to a front-page article in the San Francisco Chronicle:


Front page Cassini article in today's San Francisco Chronicle

Please send your comments to:
Daniel Rosenheim - Managing Editor (,
David Perlman - Science Editor (,
Science Reporter - Charles Petit (

Wednesday, September 17, 1997, Page A1

(Copyright) 1997 San Francisco Chronicle

PAGE ONE -- As Saturn Launch Nears, Bay Area Opposition Builds Dispute over safety of plutonium fuel

David Perlman, Chronicle Science Editor


END OF CLIP (see web page cited above for complete article)


To: San Francisco Chronicle
From: Russell D. Hoffman
Date: 9/18/97

To The Editor:

Regarding your front page Cassini article, I would like to make a few comments.

The total cost so far of Cassini is closer to $1.4 billion than the $3.4 billion you mentioned which is the projected final cost if the mission proceeds to completion. So the loss if we stop now is "only" $1.4 billion, which is about as much money as America discards in spilled an spoiled milk in a two month period. These figures do not consider the potential financial loss from an accident which could be several orders of magnitude higher.

Regarding plutonium dispersal in the environment, the pro-nuclear Cassini people have inappropriately used a host of averaging techniques to minimize the apparent risk. When talking about potential global exposures, such techniques serve to mask the true dangers.

For example the expected dose from an accident assumes an even dispersal of the plutonium. In fact it would disperse into pockets of greater and lesser contamination levels. Millions or even billions of people might live in the higher contamination level areas while the lower contamination areas might be over water or unpopulated areas -- it's the luck of the draw. The risk of these unfortunate millions must be assessed at this higher level.

Within the contamination area, some will have greater lung capacities or perhaps (due to being smokers, perhaps) they will have a greater retention rate for the plutonium. In both cases one can reasonably assume their risk is also higher than average.

Lastly, many segments of the population have a higher risk level than "average." These would include infants, the old or infirm, and those with already-damaged immune systems. All these groups are likely to be more susceptible to radioactive plutonium contamination than the average person.

Yet despite all these things, NASA officials and supporters still try to average the exposure across everyone equally and then they tell us what a small, small dose we each will receive.

Regarding NASA assurances about the strength of the containment system for the plutonium, these assurances are at odds with NASA's own data on the matter. In the June 1995 EIS for the Cassini mission, page 4-51, NASA states that fully 33% of the plutonium payload is expected to be released at high altitude in a flyby reentry accident.

In the June 1997 SEIS, NASA "recooked the numbers" down to about 3%, yet even 3% is a very significant amount of plutonium 238! And the change begs the question of what could have caused such a difference in the two reports, considering that NASA claims these RTG systems have 12, 25, or even 37 years of technology behind them (the different time period appear on page 2-20, 2-14, and in statements by PR person Beverly Cook, respectively). 33% to 3% in two years is a very big change for something so well understood! The change in percentage cannot be due to NASA having raised the flyby height above earth from 312 miles to 496 miles, as one pro-nuclear person suggested to me, because these numbers are specifically for an actual flyby reentry accident scenario. No one has been able to explain to me why the numbers changed. NASA has certainly not offered ANY credible explanation!

Perhaps more absurd is that when the number was 33%, NASA was willing to fly the mission. That is to say, the "RoD" (Record of Decision) on the Cassini mission at the time was that is was perfectly alright to fly.

Yet NASA was and continues to claim that these RTGs are "like a bank vault". Some bank vault! Would you put your money in a bank vault with a 3% loss rate, let alone a 33% loss rate?

One should remember that NASA must balance conflicting needs when building RTGs. They need to be as light as possible as do all space probe components. They need to let the heat of decay out because that's what the thermocouples couple to. They also need to let out the gas that is produced from the decay of the plutonium, which means all those fancy containers do, in fact, have a built-in escape system for the inner contents. I would be interested in seeing the reports on the mechanical reliability of this venting system and encourage any "investigative reporters" to look into it.

We have built a web site devoted to answering NASA's absurd health assurances regarding Cassini. It is called the STOP CASSINI WEB SITE and is the oldest and largest web site devoted to the issue. It contains many articles by highly respected scientists as well as opinion pieces and in-depth analysis of NASA's published documentation on the Cassini mission.

The URL is:

Russell D. Hoffman
STOP CASSINI newsletter

*** President Clinton's science adviser get told to listen to the facts:

Date: Thu, 18 Sep 1997 11:46:45 -0400 (EDT)
From: Florida Coalition for Peace and Justice (
Subject: Cassini


President Clinton's science advisor, Dr. John Gibbons has recommended to the president that he should approve the Cassini launch.

But due to enormous global pressure the president as asked Gibbons to go back and take another look at the case before the president makes a decision. This is an indication that Clinton is felling the pressure that WE ALL are generating with our work.

John Gibbons has stated that he is now willing to receive faxes from scientific and technical folks who oppose Cassini. Dr. Gibbons can be reached by fax at (202) 456-6021.

Peace, Bruce Gagnon

*** Here is one item we heard Dr. Gibbons might be seeing, and an answer:

We were recently shown the three items shown below and informed that this information was being passed on to President Clinton's science advisors.

1. In any launch vehicle accident or explosion the RTG cannister will remain intact. It has been thoroughly tested at pressures and temperatures for all possible accidents. Worst case is that it could fall on solid concrete as part of launch debris and break open. Even in this case the pellet would not break, the plutonium would remain intact. A person wouldn't want to pick it up, but there would be no radiation fallout.

This is an oversimplification. A good article to read regarding this topic was written by Horst Poehler, Ph. D., a 22 year Senior Scientist for NASA contractors working at NASA. The URL of his article is:

Another good article was written by Dr. Michio Kaku, a learned physicist considered by many to be in the top 25 of all living nuclear physicists, which is available at this URL:

Consider NASA's "worst case" scenario. What they are saying is that if the RTGs land on concrete (or anything just as hard or harder) then the containers will not be breached. But what if it ALSO lands in the middle of a fire (or starts one), instead of away from a fire? Also, what about a Full Stack Intact Impact? That's when the rocket powers itself into the earth because navigation systems AND destruct mechanisms both fail. Impossible? No, it's happened before. Unlikely? Yes. But that's not the point when you consider the consequences.

Also, a late launch accident, when the rocket is going very fast (up to about 25,000 miles per hour, the escape velocity from Earth) can result in RTG melting during subsequent reentry (what goes up and does not escape Earth's gravititional forces, must come down sooner or later) which will increase the likelihood of a GPHS/GIS containment breach both at high and low altitudes. This might happen decades from now, when the containment system may have become brittle or been damaged by orbital space debris. (The half-life of Pu 238 is 87.75 years, that of Pu 239, about 24,400 years. About 85% of the plutonium on board Cassini is Pu 238, and about 12% is Pu 239. The rest is other isotopes.)

These are just some of an infinite number of multiple-accident scenarios that can happen. This is the sort of one-track thinking that pervades the pro-nuclear Cassini arguments. Not once, in any document, will NASA discuss the impact of a full release, yet any number of combinations of accident scenarios can result, however unlikely, in a FULL release of the plutonium payload. It is NOT impossible and the true risk is unknown. NASA guesses the estimates -- cooks the numbers, as Dr. Kaku puts it.

Any risk is unnecessary if a reasonable alternative exists, and some risks are not worth taking even if no reasonable alternative yet exists. In the case of Cassini, NASA has not properly expressed the risk, nor properly explored the alternatives.

It should be noted that the containment system has conflicting requirements, including being as light as possible and as small as possible AND it must let as much of the heat out as possible, because otherwise the thermocouples won't have the temperature gradient needed to work. Those requirements suggest LESS shielding is better, not more. In fact, by fulfilling those requirements fully, i.e., forgetting about shielding the plutonium at all, one could undoubtedly run the same mission with FAR LESS PLUTONIUM!

Talk about deals with the devil! Every pound of plutonium contains perhaps billions, certainly hundreds of millions of potentially lethal doses (which can be reused, by the way, to kill again and again). Every additional pound of plutonium carried on board adds that much more to the danger.

So perhaps any containment at all is foolish!

I recently heard that Dr. Karl Z. Morgan reported that before the SNAP-9A accident in 1964 where 2.1 pounds of plutonium were dispersed, NASA officials were saying that the likelihood of an accident was less than one in ten million. Yet that accident happened, and back then, the plutonium was indeed designed without ANY containment, and it incinerated on the way back to Earth, in the upper atmosphere.

There is no way to determine the health effects of that event. There is absolutely no way, by actual measurement or statistically, to know if 5 people or 5 million people died from the SNAP 9-A exposure. (In fact, either figure is probably equally unlikely, although the killing is not over yet.)

NASA can not, has not, and could never (with the facts known) prove that NO harm was done, yet that's what they claim. But the opposition's scientists have made a very good case for the idea that harm COULD HAVE been done.

2. The cannister could break apart and plutonium escape if the spacecraft accidentally re-entered Earth on the gravitational swingby. In 23 years in dozens of missions, we have never accidentally hit a planet. It is not inconceivable, but the probabilities are extremely small (less than one in a million, totally calculable from the statistics of navigation and propulsion errors). This worst case, one in a million possiblity, could result in plutonium vaporization -- but with very few resulting cancer case increases. Much less potential injury than a Florida hurricane.

Expected releases in a swingby reentry accident was given by NASA itself as 33% of the plutonium payload in the June 1995 EIS for the Cassini mission (page 4-51). That's some containment system! (NASA was calling it "like a bank vault" at the time, and still calls it that.)

In the June 1997 EIS they changed the value to about 3%, but how they did this is utterly unknowable! But what is knowable is that NASA claims that the RTGs have many years of solid, stable technology in them, from 12 years (June 1995 EIS, page 2-20) to 25 years (June 1995 EIS, page 2-14) to 37 years (Beverly Cook, DOE, in interviews on TV last week). So depending on which NASA quote you prefer, they have 12, 25, or 37 years of experience building "safe" nuclear RTG power sources. (The "37" year figure is particularly interesting since it includes the period when NO containment was considered okay!)

Yet with all this skill and experience and knowledge, NASA's own numbers changed from 33% to "just" 3% in two years for the Cassini mission! And not only that, but the 33% figure was alright with NASA! The Record of Decision (ROD) at the time was to proceed with the mission. It was NOT stated ANYWHERE that a 33% release rate expected in a flyby reentry failure would be considered TOO HIGH.

Regarding past experience with flyby maneuvers, we actually are not sure if we have never hit a planet, because there are several probes that malfunctioned and we lost contact with them. Somehow the writer forgets these. Still other probes we were able to stay in contact with, but we could no longer control them, such as Clementine, which burned up it's thruster payload in one long unstoppable burn and flew off on it's merry way to nowhere when it was supposed to be making a minor course correction towards an asteroid flyby.

So in 23 years, we have proven that accidents that result in loss of directional control of the spacecraft actually happen with some regularity. The most recent such event was the Lewis Space Satellite which experienced excessive thruster firing shortly after launch a few weeks ago, causing it to spin uncontrollably. NASA may try to blame solar for the unsolvability of the problem, claiming that this spinning caused them to not be able to extend their solar panels, but the fact is, the solar panels could have been better designed to be extendable while the satellite is spinning uncontrollably, if NASA thought they needed to have that capability! For example, they could have been designed to extend partially but still function enough for minimum spacecraft handling.

No, it wasn't solar that killed the Lewis bird. It was a thruster problem, not a solar panel problem, just as MIR's problems were poor maneuvering by the crew and perhaps other ship control errors, NOT solar-panels-are-in-the-way errors.

Regarding the author's comments about the how few deaths can result from the potential vaporization, NASA's values have been questioned repeatedly and in great detail by many learned and respected American and other scientists. The carcinogenic properties of plutonium 238 are shocking, but not entirely unknown. NASA's values are absurd.

3. There is NO solar option -- unless you wait for some non-invented solar arrays (never even invented for Earth use) ten years from now or something. Stopping this launch in 1997, cancels the project, wastes 2.5 billion dollars and leaves us with no outer planets mission for a decade.

My understanding is that "only" about $1.4 Billion has been wasted so far, and much of that could be applied to other alternative missions. Besides, $1.4 Billion is only about two month's worth of spoiled and spilled milk in America. We can absorb this loss and needn't cry over it. We probably could NOT absorb the financial loss of a true worst-case accident.

NASA used a 1981 NASA/JPL report generally referred to as The Rockey Report to "prove" that Cassini could not be flown as a solar mission.

Here is the URL of a scanned copy of the Rockey Report:

Regarding solar alternatives, NASA's quotes from the report in the June 1995 EIS for the Cassini mission (page 2-53) clearly indicate that, in NASA's interpretation, the report shows that Concentrated Solar Arrays (CSA's) would be unworkable. But upon reading the ACTUAL Rockey report, it is abundantly clear to anyone that the report in fact indicates that for the mission it was discussing, to Jupiter, CSAs were in fact, perfectly plausible! NASA completely misrepresented the report to the public!

This is patently dishonest, of course, and is perhaps the clearest example of NASA actually lying to present the RTG solution as the only workable solution. Without going to the actual source report, one would conclude from NASA's clever use of selected sections that the report indicated that CSA's would not work.

Perhaps NASA forgot that Karl Grossman had obtained The Rockey Report several years earlier after an exhaustive effort using the Freedom of Information Act. Few others would have been skilled enough or persistent enough to get that report at all!

But beyond that, NASA, and DOE for that matter, have never properly funded solar solutions on Earth or in Space. Despite that lack of funding, solar advances have been tremendous in the past few decades and continue to advance. There are plenty of solar missions that NASA could fly instead of Cassini. But for some reason, NASA decides to do a mission which they are not properly equipped to handle safely: They decide to send the Cadillac of all missions, putting all their deep-space eggs in one casket, to Saturn.

They could in fact have designed a somewhat less ambitions Saturn mission that could have used solar. Possibly they even could have designed the exact same mission using solar. CERTAINLY they could have designed the same mission using solar solutions if they had been willing to wait a little longer! For example, the Galileo mission to Jupiter, launched October 18th, 1989, were it begun today, just 8 years after launch, could without question have been accomplished as a solar mission. (The Rockey Report pretty well proves that.)

~~~~~~ SUMMATION ~~~~~~

Only by denying or not knowing the possible effects of low level radiation damage (For example Louis Friedman, President of The Planetary Society and a primary pro-nuclear Cassini champion outside of NASA, had never heard of Dr. John W. Gofman, clearly indicating his lack of research into which learned and respected scientists disagree with NASA, and what they are saying about "low level" radiation), only by denying or refusing to accept the possibility that two accidents can happen at once (causing a release from impact on concrete plus a fire, for example), only by denying or refusing to hear that the opposition has legitimate grievances which HAVE NOT been answered by the trite and meaningless oversimplifications and/or outright lies of the pro-nuclear Cassini spokespeople, and only by denying or refusing to accept the clear indications that a solar mission could have been designed, only by doing all this tomfoolery could NASA go ahead with this foolhardy and ill-conceived mission.

Worse, though, is the repeated denunciation by NASA's supporters of the opposition as being anti-space, anti-science, and anti-discovery -- and being a small group of activists, when in fact they are a large group of thinking scientists as well as others. Perhaps some are anti-space or even anti-science and anti-dicovery, but none of these things are actually requirements for being opposed to Cassini.

One can be opposed to it simply because a balanced look at the facts of the case as presented by both sides denies any other choice. I have certainly read both sides's statements, and I find NASA's utterly unconvincing.


Comments by:
Russell Hoffman
STOP CASSINI newsletter

*** News about a protest that didn't get much news:

Date: Wed, 17 Sep 1997 21:41:45 -0400 (EDT)
To: (Ellen Connett)
Subject: Re: Cassini

Yes, we were 50 or more on August 7 in the NASA Headquarters Building in Washington DC. Eight of us remained after ordered to leave to bring stronger attention to our message to CANCEL CASSINI. We were jailed overnight in the Central Cell Block, taken into court the following day and the judge gave us a court appearance date of December 3rd for plea and trial. A video was made by one of the peacemakers from Raleigh, North Carolina. Sixty Minutes of CBS requested the tape for a Cassini program that should air next Sunday or the following one...but they may or may not use the film. Peace. Ardeth Platte of Jonah House

*** Bill Nye ("The Science Guy") look at Cassini from one side.

This is some sort of press release we were sent...


# 312 "Space Exploration"

The Science Guy discovers what it's like to be an astronaut. Bill finds out what sorts of tools humans invent to explore space and learns that it takes 100 tons of fuel for a rocket to orbit Earth. This episode's Way Cool Scientist is Dr. Linda Horn from NASA, who's helping to develop the Cassini spacecraft destined for Saturn!

Episode Topics: astronaut,rockets,orbit

Broadcasts This Term:



(Local broadcast dates and times may vary: please check your local TV listings for more information.)

Taping Rights: 36 months (From each broadcast)

NOTE: Many local PBS stations provide workshops and print materials from "PTV, the Ready to Learn Service on PBS" for their local communities. These resources promote using television as a positive and active experience with children. Find out if your local station offers these materials!

For information about programming for use in the K-12 classroom, see the PBS Teacher Connex monthly online guide.

*** A look at my "crudentials"...

At 08:12 PM 9/17/97 "H" wrote:

Mr. Hoffman,

I am in my second year of debate. Last weekend a Varsity deabte team used the information from some of your websites. However, they did not include your qualifications. I have read many of the things you have written on the internet. None of the crudentials you have listed qualify as being a reliable source. You claim that you are a computer programmer, futurist, and environmental writer. What is this supposed to mean??? In fact any other debate team can assume that this information is indeed false or distorted. In my opinion, along with many others, you are making up the information. Where are you getting your facts? Why should we believe anything you say? If any of the "crudentials" you have listed are made up, or if you do not have proof of them, you do not only jeopardize yourself , but any other teams that access and use your information.





Thanks for your email.

If you do not wish to believe me for any reason, feel free to read the "experts" and noted and respected scientists, many of whom have articles posted at the STOP CASSINI web site


I am what I am and make no apologies for trying to speak out against Cassini. It is both my right and, because I perceive such a grave danger, I believe it is my duty as an American to speak out. As to what you refer to as "crudentials" and your comment about "what is that supposed to mean" it means exactly what it represents itself as at the web site. Is your problem with the actual statement about my being a "computer programmer, futurist, and environmental writer" or is your problem about what that statement means, which is clearly posted at the web site? If you don't like the statement, go read the web site. If you don't like the web site, or don't trust the person who put it together and built many of the products that appear there to be able to carry a thought, that's your business and you are entitled to think what you want.


I try to say what I know to be true and can only confess to making honest errors, not purposely false or distorted statements.


My facts come from many sources and I have learned more and more to carefully cite them as you would notice if you compare the later items to the earlier ones.

Thank you again for writing,


Russell Hoffman


Please feel free to post these newsletters anywhere you feel it's appropriate! THANKS!!!

Welcome new subscribers!

Thanks for reading,
Russell D. Hoffman
STOP CASSINI webmaster.


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First placed online September 18th, 1997.
Last modified September 21st, 1997.
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