STOP CASSINI Newsletter #51 -- October 2nd, 1997

Copyright (c) 1997

STOP CASSINI Newsletters Index

Subject: STOP CASSINI NEWSLETTER #51 - October 2nd, 1997


This issue includes a special report about the uses, and dangers, of Depleted Uranium, prepared by Pamela Blockey-O'Brien and written by the Editor. Her research was very thorough, but we are left with one question about the stuff...

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

***** STOP CASSINI NEWSLETTER Volume #51 October 2nd, 1997 ***** Today's subjects:

****** VOLUME #51 October 2nd, 1997 ******

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

*** A STOP CASSINI Special Report: Depleted Uranium

In newsletter #49 we introduced Pamela Blockey-O'Brien, and showed a link to her web site. Pamela is an elderly woman, but full of fight. I've been talking to her regularly for the past few weeks about various topics relating to radiation issues. We recieved the following email regarding some of the information at Pamela's web site, from someone who worked on the Cassini project in a senior engineering position:

At 11:45 AM 9/30/97 "D" wrote:


Thank you for providing this link, examples of the level of scientific understanding that you supporters possess does more to discredit your cause than any number of NASA press releases.

I would think you would be embarassed by this type of material, depleted uranium on airplanes? Sheesh. . .

[name withheld by request because he is a former...]
Cassini - Senior Engineer




Thanks for your email.


I asked Pamela Blockey-O'Brien for some citations regarding your questions, and here is what she came back with:

Industrial Uses of Depleted Uranium
by Paul Loewenstein,
Vice-President and Technical Director of Nuclear Metals Inc.

Nuclear Metals Inc. is one of the largest users of Depleted Uranium which they get free from the Department of Energy.

The following quote is part of Appendix 9 which was excerpted from Metals Handbook, 1989, ISBN: 0871-700077 Volume 1, Industrial Uses of Depleted Uranium, American Society for Metals, and was reprinted on pages 135 - 141 of "Uranium Battlefields Home and Abroad: Depleted Uranium Use by the U.S. Department of Defense" March 1993. Published by Citizen Alert and Rural Alliance for Military Accountability.

"There are three principal nonnuclear uses of Depleted Uranium. Radiation shielding; counterweights in airplanes, helicopters, and missiles; and armor piercing projectiles for military ordinance..."

It continues, in a section titled "Special Applications":

"Counterweights are used in aerodynamic control devices of airplanes, missiles, and helicopters to maintain the center of gravity when such devices are moved. Counterweights frequently are complex in shape to fit control surface contours. High density is important in order to keep the counterweight small compared to the control surface. Depleted Uranium is well suited for this application, and uranium counterweights have been used in many civilian and military aircraft. For example, 1,500 kg of uranium counterweights are used in each Boeing 747."

Regarding other uses, "Uranium Battlefields Home and Abroad" states: "Development of Depleted Uranium armor began in the 1970's, at Los Alamos National Laboratory, Los Alamos, New Mexico." (Page 16.)

Appendix 8 in the book is a copy of the materials safety data sheet by the United States Department of Labor, OSHA, which points out what the base metals are in Depleted Uranium:

99.8% U-238
0.2% U-235

These conflict somewhat with the values given by the U.S. Army: 0.0005% U-234, 0.25% U-235, and 99.75% U-238. Source: "U.S. Army Guidelines for Safe Response to Handling, Storage, and Transportation Accidents Involving Army Tank Munitions or Armor which Contain Depleted Uranium."

In the section "Health Hazards Data", the Materials Safety Data Sheet from the U.S. Department of Labor/OSHA says this about Depleted Uranium: "Increased risk of lung carcinoma and chemical toxicity to kidney. Hazardous decomposition products...Decay products of U-238, U-235, and U-234 are radioactive also."

Sites where they have used Depleted Uranium for testing are considered radioactive sites for purposes of cleanup. These include (other than the Gulf War zone) locations across the nation. One of them is the Nuclear Metals Inc. manufacturing site in Concord, Massachusetts.

Another is at the Jefferson Proving Grounds, Madison, IN where the U.S. Army has acknowledged that "the low level radioactivity [of Depleted Uranium] poses an environmental concern." Source: Draft Environmental Impact Statement, April 1991, U.S. Army, titled "Closure of Jefferson Proving Grounds in Indiana and Realignment to Yuma Proving Ground, AZ." Note that "over 60,000 kilos of Depleted Uranium penetrators were fired." Source: Indiana Department of Environmental Management, report to the Governor. U.S. Army Jefferson Proving Ground evaluation. April 20th, 1988.

Here is a quote from The New York Times, January 1st, 1993 in an article titled "Making the Desert Glow" by Eric Hoskins:

"The dangers posed by the Uranium shells is widely recognized. In July German authorities arrested Siegwart Gunther, director of the Albert Schweitzer Institute when he arrived in Berlin carrying a spent round retrieved from Iraq. He was charged with illegally 'releasing ionizing radiation'."

An article titled "Gulf Teams Not Told of Risk from Uranium" by Nick Cohen and Tom Wilkie, The Independent (London), November 10th, 1991 starts out saying "Soldiers, mine-clearing experts and reconstruction workers in Kuwait have not received the Atomic Energy Authority report on the health risks posed by Depleted Uranium ammunition left lying on the Gulf War battlefield by British and American forces."

Recent news reports around the country indicate our soldiers were also not told about the dangers. It was suddenly a major news item just a couple of weeks ago. But the full truth has yet to be released.

In a letter dated 15th August 1991 to Mr. Leonard A. Dietz, who is a former scientist with Knolles Atomic Power Lab, John W. Kolmer, M.D. Military Assistant for Medical and Life Sciences, Office of the Director of Defense Research and Engineering, Department of Defense, Washington D.C. 20301-3030,wrote:

Dear Mr. Dietz,

You letter of 30th July 1991 concerning Depleted Uranium was brought to my attention by Dr. Osterman.

In this letter you posed the question of the "probability that lung cancer could develop" after inhalation of Depleted Uranium.

As you are no doubt well aware, since this material is a source of ionizing radiation, the potential for carcinogenicity is real. The same holds true for nephro-toxicity which, in most of the literature available to me, seems to be the greater limiting health endpoint of concern, protection from which requires a much lower ambient concentration in drinking water or foodstuffs.

The potential risk to human health from exposure to Depleted Uranium is, of course, dose and time related, both of which must be measured, approximated, or assumed.

Let me assure you that we feel your concern, which parallels our own, is real and we thank you for sharing that with us."

John W. Kolmer

These doctors are looking at human health, not politics or monetary issues.

In an article in the Atlanta Constitution , March 12th, 1978 titled "Pentagon Will Use Depleted Uranium for Making Armor Piercing Bullets," Joseph Albright, Atlanta Journal Constitution Washington Bureau wrote:

"Depleted Uranium is a weak source of radioactivity, but that is not why it is being used in bullets. Its chief advantage is that it is extremely heavy and cheap... A soldier inside an army tank armed with uranium bullets will be exposed to as much as 2/10ths of a millirem of gamma radiation every hour, according to Darwin Taras, an Army expert on Depleted Uranium weapons. A Food and Drug Administration radiation authority said that at this millirem dosage tank crews will receive the equivalent of one well-administered Chest X-ray every 20 to 30 hours. This dosage is permissible but not desirable under current radiological health standards for civilians, according to a half dozen radiation experts outside the Pentagon."

Since that has been printed, the permissible dose rate has been lowered, and lowered, and lowered...

Also in 1978, then-Senator Bob Dole delivered remarks on the Senate floor deploring the use of the material. Among his comments were: "They [the Pentagon] seems to have chosen this material for bullets because Uranium metal is dense, and because Depleted Uranium is cheap. Needless to say, I find this proposal shocking..."

By the way, D.U. as it's referred to in the military "biz" has a half-life of 4.5 billion years. Uranium decays by alpha particle emission, however the daughter products which are formed during the decay emit alpha, beta, and gamma radiation.

Thank you again for your email.

Pamela wished me to add that if your email is a fair example of the level of knowledge of NASA's senior Cassini engineers regarding radioactive materials and their use, then we are obviously in deep trouble.

Russell D. Hoffman
(with thanks to and help from Pamela Blockey-O'Brien)


At the request of the original writer the bulk of the followup is being omitted, but a few points are significant. I should note that a number of email messages were sent back and forth.

FOLLOWUP (excerpts)

I will conceed the use of DU in 747s, I was not aware of this
For the record, I do not condone the use of DU in munitions.
this whole affair is a sad commentary on the science and math education of the general population.


RESPONSE (excerpts from several emails)

For the record, I cannot personally stand behind every statement Pamela Blockey-O'Brien has made on her web page as I have not been able to research it all myself. But I am sure it is filled with well-researched, well documented material. You specifically brought up D.U. used in airplanes, so that is what she and I responded to.


It [also] depresses me how inaccurate many of the anti-Cassini voices are, but I still admire and share their general sense of concern.. But it's sad, to be in a position where the lack of education is so obvious. The lack of desire to become educated.

Combine this with growing belief in the occult and other nonscientific explanations of nature, psychic hotlines, and other "games of chance"... and we have a perfect recipe for the decline and fall of civilization. At least I'm trying, really really trying, to listen to what the scientists say, not the "activists". I have found Pamela to be an interesting combination but the vast majority of her work appears to be very well researched.


All who do not condone the use of DU in munitions need to speak out and I hope "D" has made his feelings clear to his representatives, his favorite newspaper editors, and his family.

*** Regarding "DU", what's the one burning question we are left with?

In light of what we have learned through Pamela's research about Depleted Uranium, I can't but wonder if NASA, or any other space agencies worldwide, ever use the stuff?

*** At the web site: A rebuttal to comments in newsletter #48

In newsletter #48 we published a list of "unresolved issues". Jim Spellman, President of the California Space Development Council and Executive Director -- NSS/Western Spaceport Chapter, sent those comments out for rebuttal and sent us the collected response. We in turn (of course) have rebutted those responses and due to the length of the document and the growing complexity, converted it to HTML and posted it online at the following URL:

The document will probably be updated a few times as more material comes in.

*** Email from someone who is afraid we won't escape our planet's "natural" death...

At 11:03 PM 9/29/97 "SF" wrote:

I think you are a closed minded individual whose wants to be stuck on this planet when it dies a natural death because you are afraid of the 1 in 100000 risk that you will die in an accident trying to leave for another planet or solar system. Without the knowledge that this program will give us, we will be stuck here forever.

If it wasn't for people like you we would already have a colony on the moon and an outpost on Mars, but you think that a 1 in 100 chance is to risky, chicken. If given a chance I would risk a 1 in 2 chance of survival just to get into space. I think you should shut-down your page and put up an infomative page about how the technological advantages that the space program has gave us has improved all our lives. If NASA stops now, that means that Europe will beat our [posterior] into the new frontier, and reap all the benefits that new frontiers provide to a nation.




Thank you for your email. I have called for a permanent colony on the moon for about 20 years and continue to do so. I would jump at the chance to go into outer space despite the present risks, though if the risks were 1 in 2 as you say you would be willing to risk, I personally would probably lose some interest in the endeavor...

However, we are not talking about what you or I or our astronaut heros are willing to risk, but rather we are talking about the effects of a global plutonium 238 contamination or a contamination of some portion of the globe, for a study that could just as well be run with solar if not this year, then soon enough. Do you really believe the lie we've been hearing that if we don't get to Saturn now, the alignment will be ruined and it will be about 175 years before we can get there again? That's what the pro-nuclear Cassini people are telling Congress and the people RIGHT NOW. That's how dishonest it's getting. We certainly don't need to launch in just two weeks. The available window is actually at least through 1999 and other less bulky missions could still undoubtedly be run later than that. Saturn may move around somewhat, but it isn't going away...

What you see as anti-technology is nothing of the sort, certainly MY anti-nuclear Cassini views have nothing to do with being anti-technology. Quite the opposite. Science has given us the tools to see, time and again, the effects of low levels of pollution on the human population. In particular the effects of vaporized plutonium, and plutonium 238 particles in particular, are well known.

Being FOR human health is in no way equivalent to being ANTI technology.

However, being closed-minded as you appear to be, and giving only a short look at the facts as you clearly have done (or surely you would have seen that I am not anti-technology by any stretch of the imagination) makes me wonder if technology alone can save this planet.

Perhaps it is mankind's spirit of unconcern for the effects on others that most needs to change. You speak of your concern for your own risks. I speak of my concern for others. When you speak to that issue about Cassini, we will be on the same level but right now, if it were only my risk involved, or your risk involved, or that of the scientists who planned and built Cassini, well, we should each and all be free to choose our own level of risk. I completely agree with you on that. And I would jump at the chance to get into space myself -- as would you. But that doesn't mean you can force such odds as you mention, 1 in 100, or 1 in 2, on the world population for any old reason or just because you wish to. It has to be a scientifically sound and rational decision. NASA's Cassini health risk estimates are not based on sound science (as we have documented many different ways at the STOP CASSINI web site). Even if it is a scientifically sound decision, it is still proper that it also be a democratic decision. People have a right to reject something they fear, especially when science cannot prove they should not fear it (as in this case), even if it is, in fact, wrong to reject it. Certainly, the only rational thing anyone can do to prevent a wrongly made democratic decision is to attempt to educate the public and that is what I try to do about Cassini. Because so far, a democratic decision has not been made by the world. Rather, a small band of highly paid scientists each passed the buck around until there was no one taking responsibility for what they were doing.

The whole nuclear issue glides through under a shell game of buck-passing. NASA/JPL/DoD/DoE/EPA... JPL builds them. DoE owns them. NASA flies them. The Price-Anderson Act insures them inappropriately, And DoD claims it has nothing to do with them, but when NASA stopped building RTGs to incinerate intentionally upon reentry (accidental or otherwise) back in the 60's, NASA started using DoD technology for containment. The current RTG containment technology is an outgrowth of DoD's flawed and largely untested earlier technology. And EPA, who labeled both the June 1995 EIS and the June 1997 EIS "insufficient", has just recently been reported to have "come to an understanding" with NASA over the issue -- without publicizing how the issues they raised (for example, that NASA does not present a true worst case scenario) were resolved. Buck passing again.

I feel that in the case of Cassini the researchers on the anti-nuclear side have documented beyond question that Cassini could have been flown with a solar option if not in its full Cadillac configuration, certainly in a slightly less bloated form. Even now, a redesign could probably be accomplished before the close of the projected launch windows.

NASA is now saying that even the current RTG technology could itself be replaced with one 5 times more efficient -- even that alone would at least mean Cassini could be flown with about 15 pounds of plutonium dioxide rather than the present 72.3 pounds of plutonium dioxide. Perhaps the difference in weight could be used to make a better containment system! Have you any idea, having not looked closely at our STOP CASSINI web site, of how much potential death is contained within a pound of plutonium? How many lethal doses there are? Have you considered that NASA has NEVER, EVER tested the containment system in a real-life situation, at 42,300 miles per hour?

Are you a gambler? Obviously you are, since you have described the risks to your own life you are willing to gamble on. We are all gamblers and in the end we all lose the final round, but when that comes, and what causes it, should be up to each of us to decide, as much as possible. It is an inalienable right -- the right to life. Cassini decides for us. Not just the scientists, but the hand of fate decides. No one, not you, not me, not any team of scientists, can perfect the containment system.

Space debris can impact Cassini and cause a plutonium release. NASA knows this full well. Only random chance prevents this from happening. This is not science, this is gambling.

The scientific, high-tech approach would have been to build the mission around a Concentrated Solar Array. The arrogant, secretive, risky way to do it is to use 72.3 pounds of plutonium dioxide to generate a "whopping" 745 watts of power. To misuse documents such as the 1981 Rockey report as NASA did in the June 1995 EIS (shown and explained at the web site). To attempt to hide the opponents' viewpoint (ie, not link to our web sites, quote us incorrectly and anonymously, and attempt to force our side's scientists to only talk to NASA's PR people rather than NASA's scientists, for some examples). To not release documents and test samples to opposition groups for review and testing.

These are not the acts of a proper high-tech scientific society. And by the way, to claim such secrecy and deceit is the result of having to fight opposing forces, as some have been quick to claim, is the very pinnacle of arrogance. The opposing forces oppose Cassini on scientific grounds (at least those who I listen to and those that have been, as far as I can see, the significant "players" in the field). And those who oppose Cassini for any other reason, have a right to think what they want and every one of them that I have ever spoken to or read about vows nonviolence in their protest. So nothing, absolutely nothing, permits the secrecy and deceit that has accompanied so many nuclear options including this one.

If NASA has to launch in the face of such strong opposition, the problem may be with what NASA is doing.

I do not oppose technology. I do not oppose space exploration in general. But there are other, far safer science experiments on Earth and in space than Cassini, and I oppose Cassini.

In our quest to get off this planet, we cannot ignore the blue jewel we will be leaving behind and will always call home. We know enough about the other planets in our solar system to know how valuable the one we've got is and how important it is not to wreck it.

What superior alien race would welcome us anyway, if they knew what we were willing to do to other members of our own species just for the chance to get out off our planet a little sooner rather than a little later? And if we can't even cooperate with other members of our own species (re your "Europe will beat [us]" comment) why should we expect aliens to want to cooperate with us?

Russell Hoffman


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Russell D. Hoffman
STOP CASSINI webmaster.


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