BBC NUKES IN SPACE STORY
PUBLIC COMMENTS NEEDED ON NASA'S NEXT NUCLEAR SPACE MISSION
BBC radio ran a half hour story (click on link above to hear it) on NASA's plan to launch nuclear power into space. Called Project Prometheus, BBC investigated (mostly from NASA's point of view) the prospects for nuclear propulsion in space. Project Prometheus is the name that the Bush administration has given to the planned nuclear rocket now under development by NASA and the Department of Energy (DoE). The BBC story interviewed Global Network Coordinator Bruce Gagnon about the organizations opposition to space nuclear power.
In order to meet the growing demand for plutonium for future space nuclear missions, NASA is now planning to expand plutonium production facilities at the Idaho National Laboratory. In addition to the nuclear rocket, NASA also plans a growing list of nuclear missions to outer planets in the coming years. The next plutonium mission set for launch is the New Horizons mission to Pluto. New Horizons will carry a radioisotope thermoelectric generator (RTG) that transforms heat from decaying plutonium-238 into electricity to power the spacecraft's instruments. The New Horizons mission is set to launch from the space center in Florida in January or February, 2006. The Global Network will be organizing opposition to this launch and your help will be needed.
NASA has just released its Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the New Horizons Mission. Public comments are due before April 11, 2005. We urge concerned citizens to write NASA and state your opposition to nuclear power in space. Send your comments to: email@example.com
The nuclear industry views space as a new market and are feverishly working to convince the global public that launching nuclear power into space will be safe. What we know is that rocket technology can and does fail. Launches from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida have a 10-20% failure rate. In 1996 a Russian Mars mission, carrying plutonium on-board, failed to achieve proper orbit and burned up as it reentered Earth orbit spreading deadly plutonium over the mountains of Chile and Bolivia. The plutonium production process is also dangerous. Between 1994-1996, while fabricating the plutonium RTG's for the 1997 Cassini mission at Los Alamos Labs in New Mexico, the DoE reported 244 cases of worker contamination.
The U.S. military has long stated that they need nuclear reactors in space to power weapons technologies in the future. NASA's past director, Sean O'Keefe (former Secretary of the nuclear Navy) has stated that every mission at NASA from now on will be "dual use," meaning that each mission will be testing civilian and military technologies at the same time. So then what is the military application of the nuclear rocket?
Space News, an industry publication, ran a story on March 7, 2005 called NASA Asks Public To Comment on RTG-Powered Pluto Probe. In the article Bruce Gagnon was quoted as saying, "NASA is controlled by two entities today, the Pentagon and the nuclear industry. NASA just doesn't give a damn about the public's input."
With that said, the danger of the planned dramatic increase in launches of nuclear devices in coming years should concern all of us. It will only take one accident, and a release of plutonium into the Earth atmosphere, to unleash severe health consequences globally. This is not some theoretical possibility, since the beginning of the space age, there have already been eight accidents with space nuclear power, some quite severe. (See the Global Network web site for a list of those accidents.)
Please help us by sending your comments to NASA by April 11 opposing the launch of nuclear power on the New Horizons mission. Even though NASA does not want to listen to the public, let's make sure they hear from us anyway. (People from outside the U.S. are also encourage to write. This is a global issue!) Send your comments to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks for your support.
Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space
PO Box 652
Brunswick, ME 04011