Mr. Kurt Lindstrom
Mission and Systems Management Division
Science Mission Directorate
April 11, 2005
Dear Mr. Lindstrom:
I write on behalf of our organization to offer comments about NASA's Draft Environmental Impact Statement on the New Horizons mission to Pluto. We, as we have been since the 1989 launch of Galileo, remain opposed to the launching of nuclear power in space for any purpose.
It is known that when NASA and the Department of Energy (DoE) identify a new mission they have a joint committee that sits down to decide on the kind of power source to be used. It is our understanding that the nuclear industry, who views space as a new market, have made sure to place their operatives right in the middle of this process. So at the very outset this is a rigged game.
It is also known to us that NASA and the DoE have been defunding the research and development of alternative space power concepts in recent years. It is abundantly clear that the nuclear industry intends to ensure that there are not other significant players in the game.
Our concern and opposition is of course centered around the fact that space technology can and does fail. We have seen rocket explosions on launch. We remember the 1996 Russian Mars mission carrying plutonium on-board that failed to achieve proper orbit and fell back to Earth burning up over the mountains of Chile and Bolivia spreading the plutonium over that region. At the time the Boston Globe reported that those governments requested assistance from the U.S. to send in radiological teams to help identify the plutonium contamination belt, but then President Bill Clinton refused to respond. Then we witnessed the Columbia shuttle disaster two years ago and I myself saw NASA operatives on TV dressed in haz-mat suits with Geiger counters taking readings of people in Texas and Louisiana who had come in contact with debris from that accident. Local police forces were heard on National Public Radio warning the public to stay away from Columbia debris and said they were told by NASA that "radioactive" sources were on-board that mission. Just what was the radioactive source on Columbia?
In addition to space accidents, we are also concerned about the entire nuclear production process and its contamination of workers and communities. You should understand that we have very little confidence in the DoE. Years of contamination at the nuclear labs across the country is a matter of public record. The New Mexican, in Santa Fe, reported in 1996 that "Mishaps in which workers and equipment have been contaminated with radioactive sources are on the rise at Los Alamos National Laboratory." The reason? "Lab officials say the rise in radiation exposure and radioactive mishaps since 1993 has one primary cause: the [NASA] Cassini project and an ongoing effort to build radioactive heat sources." So in fact, even if there is no launch problem the production process is already contaminating and likely killing people.
Now NASA and DoE are saying that they have so many plans for space nuclear power in the coming years that they must ramp up production of plutonium and it appears that DoE will center its operations for these missions at the Idaho National Laboratory. A $230 million proposed facility expansion is now underway. Citizens across Idaho are opposed to this expansion and they fear, with good reason, that they will not get the truth about contamination from the DoE. In a recent article in the Boise Weekly newspaper, Jeremy Maxand, director of the nuclear watchdog group The Snake River Alliance, says the following in regard to this issue: "The DoE is proposing a project that could leave Idahoans breathing plutonium for the next 80 years and they won't tell us what its for. Let's talk about something they can't hide from the public. Plutonium-238 is lethal and difficult to contain. Is this secrecy going to benefit Idahoans given the DoE's well-documented and abysmal track record for worker, community, and environmental safety?"
Maxand goes on to say, "It makes me highly suspicious that on one hand they sell this extremely hazardous process to Idahoans via sleek NASA space batteries, when in fact we've made them for decades using plutonium purchased from Russia's stockpile. Then in the next breath they'll say that the plutonium-238 produced in Idaho will be used for classified national security missions...."
Forgive us for not believing anything our government says. But you all have no credibility. One example is Kodiak island in Alaska. The U.S. government built a rocket launch facility there and promised the citizens of Alaska that it would only be used for civilian launches, never military. But in reality the only missions that have yet been launched have been Missile Defense Agency (MDA) tests. We are convinced that the expansion of nuclear power in space for missions like New Horizons are a Trojan Horse. We are convinced that NASA, DoE and the Pentagon are setting up the nuclear space infrastructure to eventually build nuclear reactors for warfare in the heavens. New Horizons is an ice breaker.
For all these reasons we must say that the New Horizons mission must be cancelled. NASA and DoE must develop new non-nuclear power sources for space exploration. We will work against the New Horizons mission in the same way we did for Galileo (1989), Ulysses (1990) and Cassini (1997). Project Prometheus, the nuclear rocket, will also be a target of our organization. NASA has been taken over by the military and the nuclear industry.
The time has come for the public to reject plans to move war and nuclear power into space. It is our money that is being wasted on these dangerous projects while schools and libraries close across the nation and people can't afford health care. Jobs are leaving the U.S. by the millions and we are told there is no money to help the people. The public is turning against NASA and their gee-whiz plans for nuclear launches because the public understands the dangers involved. NASA and DoE are out of control and must be restrained by the taxpayers of the nation and the citizens of the world.
In anticipation of a nuclear space accident the U.S. Congress has created the Price-Anderson Act that limits the liability of the U.S. for nuclear contamination clean-up. This law would not have been passed if NASA did not expect a space nuclear accident at some point in the future. We will not wait until the tragedy happens before we speak out. Cancel New Horizons and all other space nuclear missions today before it is too late.
Bruce K. Gagnon
Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space