The "double standard" that the U.S. has created to deal with its liability in the event of a space nuclear accident – including the current plutonium-fueled Cassini space probe mission – is being described as an "outright violation of the Outer Space Treaty" by the Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space.

The 1967 Outer Space Treaty, the fundamental international law on space, states that "each state party to the treaty that launches or procures the launching of an object into outer space…is internationally liable for damage to another state party."

Nevertheless, the U.S. in 1991 initiated a "Space Nuclear Power Agreement" between NASA and the U.S. Department of Energy which restricts U.S. liability in the event of a mishap on a mission involving a nuclear power system to the limits of the U.S. Price-Anderson Act. The act limits U.S. liability in the event of a nuclear accident to $100 million for all other nations and $8.9 billion for the U.S. itself.

"This is an outrageous double standard," declared Bruce Gagnon, coordinator of the Global Network. "The U.S. is not, as the Outer Space Treaty requires, agreeing to be ‘internationally liable for damage.’ It is the height of international arrogance."

Meanwhile, this coming August 18, NASA intends to have Cassini, with 72.3 pounds of deadly plutonium, perform a dangerous fly-by of Earth. Cassini will buzz Earth at 42,300 mph at just 729 high in what NASA calls a "slingshot" maneuver so it can gain speed for its trip to Saturn.

If a malfunction occurs NASA admits in its Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) that Cassini, with no heat shield, could reenter the Earth’s 75-mile atmosphere disintegrating and releasing the plutonium globally.

In a "Safety Evaluation Report" prepared for NASA just prior to the October 1997 launch of Cassini the "Interagency Nuclear Safety Review Panel" concluded that, "the aeroshells have not been designed for the high speed reentry characteristic of this fly-by maneuver. Much of the plutonium is vaporized and over a 50-year period provides a collective dose to the world’s population…it is possible, using the linear non-threshold dose hypothesis, to postulate up to several tens of thousands of latent cancer fatalities worldwide over the next to years."

Independent scientists say the death toll could be much higher. Dr. Ernest Sternglass, professor emeritus of radiological physics at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, says 20 million to 40 million people could die.

As for clean-up costs, NASA in its EIS says costs could be as high as $200 million per square kilometer and also says that a "reentry footprint" of dispersed plutonium "could range to about 50,000 square kilometers" – bringing the cost to $10 trillion.

NASA claims that the "likelihood" of a Cassini Earth fly-by accident is "one-in-a-million", but Dr. Stephen Edberg of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory admits in the award-winning investigative TV documentary "Nukes in Space 2: Unacceptable Risks" that this estimate was "pulled out of a hat" by NASA scientists.

Meanwhile, noted Gagnon, even if the Cassini fly-by is not diverted from Earth NASA is planning at least eight more nuclear-fueled space shots in coming years.

"With an accident rate of 12% in its space nuclear program already, additional accidents are inevitable and the U.S. is thumbing its nose at the rest of the world when it comes to covering the liability question," said Gagnon.

Gagnon stated that the Global Network, with affiliates throughout the world, is seeking to have nations challenge the U.S.’s "Space Nuclear Power Agreement" in the United Nations and through the International Court of Justice at The Hague as a violation of international law.

The contents herein are Copyright 1999, Global Network/Bruce Gagnon, the article may be reproduced for non-profit purposes as long as the source is recognised, otherwise reproduction can be arranged through the Global Network.
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