Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

There's No Earthly Need for Plutonium in Space

Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

There's No Earthly Need for Plutonium in Space

Article excerpt

NASA's so-called Cassini space probe to Saturn is scheduled to launch Oct. 6. On the one hand, it is part of a great human endeavor to fathom the far reaches of space. On the other' it is potentially an act of cosmic destruction.

The problem is the plutonium package on board to generate electricity (see NCR, Aug. 29). An accident could cause untold harm on earth and/or in space. This cry to stop and reconsider even at the 11th hour is unlikely to be heard, just as previous appeals have gone unheard, because of the money and reputations at stake, but cry we must because we owe it to ourselves and the future of the planet not to go thus quietly into any nuclear good night.

Writes Helen Caldicott, one of many serious scientific voices raised in protest: "One pound of plutonium, if uniformly distributed, could induce lung cancer in every person on earth. We are talking about 72 times one pound of plutonium."

And Theodore Taylor, nuclear physicist: "If accidentally dispersed into the atmosphere, Plutonium-238 from a space reactor could render uninhabitable an area several times the area of Germany for more than a hundred years."

And Horst Poehler, NASA contract scientist: "With so much plutonium on board, Cassini could be the mother of all accidents. ... The shielding on the plutonium is fingernail thin. It's a joke. Remember the old Hollywood movies when a mad scientist would risk the world to carry out his particular project? Well, those mad scientists have moved to NASA. …

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