NASA PLAYS NUCLEAR RUSSIAN ROULETTE AGAIN
NASA is now preparing to launch another plutonium-powered space probe from the space center in Florida.
Called New Horizons, the spacecraft is scheduled to be launched sometime between January 11 - February 14, 2006. The mission will carry a nuclear generator on-board that will provide power and heat for the instruments as it travels to Pluto.
Striking workers at Boeing were supposed to now be preparing the Atlas 5 rocket to carry the New Horizons probe into space, but replacement workers have taken over the job.
As usual, controversy surrounds the launching of deadly plutonium into space. NASA has in the past acknowledged that if there was a launch pad accident, and a release of the plutonium, winds could carry the highly-toxic substance for a 60 mile radius. Contamination would be found, NASA has admitted, as far west as Orlando and Disney World and as far north as Daytona Beach and south to Vero Beach. In past Environmental Impact Statements (EIS) for plutonium missions, NASA has said that such an accident would require permanent evacuation of the population, removal of all buildings, vegetation, animals, and the top 1/2 inch of soil. A nuclear wasteland would have been created.
NASA plays with their accident probability numbers by creating computer programs that limit the possibilities of accidents. They do this as a way to reassure the public that there is no need for concern.
Before the 1997 launch of the controversial Cassini nuclear space mission, the Cape Canaveral City Council invited me to come speak to them about the launch. Cassini, which carried 72 pounds of plutonium-238 on-board, was going to the be "last nuclear launch" the city council had been told the week before by space center officials. So don't worry they were told. I handed city council members a list of NASA nuclear missions that they had on the agenda at that time and told them there were more coming. I suggested they might want to invite space center representatives back to go over the list with them.
NASA, working with the Department of Energy and the Pentagon, are eager to move nuclear power into space. Project Prometheus, the nuclear rocket, is one technology that the military is especially excited about as they will need nuclear reactors to power weapons in space like the space-based laser. NASA and the military are also anxious to put nuclear-powered bases on the moon in order to have the U.S. establish a permanent outpost there in hopes of controlling eventual mining operations for helium-3 and water.
The public must demand an end to the launching of nuclear power in space. Just one accident will make the damage from a hurricane look like nothing.