17 November 2011
Opponents of NASA’s plans to launch a Mars rover fueled with 10.6 pounds of deadly
plutonium will protest the upcoming launch from 12:00 noon until 2:00 PM
this coming Saturday, November 19 at the corner of Gandy Boulevard and
Dale Mabry Highway in Tampa. NASA plans to launch the rover, named
Curiosity, from Cape Canaveral between November 25 and December 15.
“If there is an accident on the launch pad or the rocket carrying the rover explodes in Florida’s skies—as the Challenger did—and the plutonium is vaporized and dispersed, it presents a huge threat to the people of Florida,” said Christine Lin.
Using the motto “Don’t Do Disney November 25-December 15” and displaying images of a mouse-eared figure in a radiation suit, the activists plan to warn Floridians and tourists of the potential danger of the launch. NASA’s Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the Mars Science Laboratory Mission says a launch accident discharging plutonium has a 1-in-420 chance of happening and could “release material into the regional area defined…to be within…62 miles of the launch pad.” That area includes Orlando. According to the EIS, “very fine particles less than a micron in diameter… could be transported beyond 62 miles.” A link to the EIS is at http://science.nasa.gov/missions/msl/
The isotope of plutonium to be used by NASA is plutonum-238, which is 270 times more radioactive than plutonium-239, the isotope used in atomic bombs. According to Dr. Helen Caldicott, president emeritus of Physicians for Social Responsibility, if pulverized into dust, one pound of plutonium-238 could hypothetically give lung cancer to every person on Earth. The EIS states that if there is an accident and plutonium is released, the cost of decontamination of areas affected could be as high as $1.5 billion for each square mile. The mission itself carries a $2.5 billion price tag.
Accidents have happened in the U.S. space nuclear program. Of the 26 space missions listed in the EIS that have used plutonium, three underwent accidents. The worst occurred in 1964 and involved the SNAP-9A plutonium system aboard a satellite that failed to achieve orbit and dropped to Earth, disintegrating as it fell. Its 2.1 pounds of plutonium fuel dispersed widely over the Earth, and Dr. John Gofman, professor of medical physics at the University of California at Berkeley, long linked this accident to an increase in global lung cancer.
“We don’t need to be put at risk to explore Mars,” said Lin. “NASA’s Sojourner, Spirit, and Opportunity Mars rovers were all solar powered, with the latter two performing well beyond what their engineers expected. Curiosity should stay safely on the ground until it can be launched without threatening us and future generations.”
For more information on the launch, go to http://www.counterpunch.org/2011/11/11/the-coming-crash-of-phobos-grunt/