Bush Expanding Nuclear Power for Space: Threatens Planetary Ecosystem
By Bruce Gagnon
After a 30-year shutdown of plans for the nuclear rocket, the Bush administration has resuscitated the technology by giving NASA nearly $1 billion
to expand space nuclear and propulsion research and development. “We are still doing exploration of our solar system in covered wagons,” says Ed Weiler, NASA’s Space Science Chief. “The
Nuclear Systems Initiative will open up the railroad.”
Included in NASA plans are the nuclear rocket to Mars; a new generation of Radioisotope Thermo-electric Generators (RTGs) for interplanetary missions; nuclear-powered robotic Mars rovers to be launched in 2003 and 2009; and the nuclear powered mission called Pluto-Kuiper Belt scheduled for January, 2006. NASA envisions mining colonies on the Moon (for helium 3 and water), Mars (magnesium, cobalt, and uranium) and asteroids (gold) powered by nuclear reactors launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on rockets with a historic 10% failure rate. By exponentially increasing the number of nuclear launches NASA also exponentially increases the chances of accident.
During the 1950s and 1960s NASA spent over $10 billion to build the nuclear rocket program canceled in the end because a launch accident would contaminate major portions of Florida and
NASA’s expanded focus on nuclear power in space “is not only dangerous but politically unwise,” says Dr. Michio Kaku, professor of nuclear physics at the City University of New York. “The only thing that can kill the US space program is a nuclear disaster…a Chernobyl in the sky.”
“NASA hasn’t learned its lesson from its history,” says Kaku, “and a hallmark of science is that you learn from previous mistakes. NASA doggedly pursues its fantasy of nuclear power in space.”
Since the 1960s there have been eight space nuclear power accidents by the US and the former Soviet Union, several of which released deadly plutonium. In April, 1964 a US military satellite with 2.1 pounds of plutonium-238 on board fell back to Earth and burned up as it hit the atmosphere, spreading the toxic plutonium globally as dust to be ingested by the people of the planet. In 1997 NASA launched the Cassini space probe carrying 72 pounds of plutonium that fortunately did not experience failure. Hundreds of thousands of people could have been contaminated.
Last year the Department of Energy (DoE) and NASA announced that present facilities must be expanded. The DoE will spend over $35 million to renovate the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee to help with space plutonium production. Oak Ridge workers would purify the plutonium, which then would be shipped to Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico where it would be formed into pellets used in space power systems.
Historically DoE has a bad track record when it comes to protecting workers and local water systems from radioactive contaminants.
Serious questions need to be asked: How will workers be protected? Where will they test the nuclear rocket? How much will it cost? What would be the impacts of a launch accident?
Critics of NASA have long stated that the NASA space nukes initiative represents the Bush administration’s covert move to develop power systems for space-based weapons. The military has often stated that their planned lasers in space will require enormous power projection capability and nuclear reactors in orbit would provide such power.
In April, 1964 a US military satellite with 2.1 pounds of plutonium-238 on board fell back to Earth and burned up as it hit the atmosphere…
The Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space maintains that missile defense is a Trojan horse for the Pentagon’s control and domination of space, and NASA’s nuclear rocket is a Trojan horse for the militarization of space.
NASA’s new chief, former Navy Secretary Sean O’Keefe said, “I think it’s imperative we have a more direct association between the Defense Department and NASA. … You can’t differentiate between…military application and those capabilities which are civil and commercial in nature.”
In the end hundreds and hundreds of billions of dollars will be wasted on plans for the nuclearization and weaponization of space. In order to fund these missions Bush and Congress will cut programs like social security, education, health care, child care, public transit and environmental protection. The lives of future generations will become more insecure.
For the third year in a row the Global Network (GN) will organize two days of protests on February 3–4, 2003 in Albuquerque, N.M. at the 20th Annual Symposium on Space Nuclear Power & Propulsion. This event draws the top players from NASA, DoE, DoD, nuclear academia and nuclear aerospace each year to plan the push of nuclear power into space. Hundreds of middle and high school students are brought to the symposium for indoctrination and the GN has been able to speak to many of these young people at our protests.
NASA, DoE, and the Pentagon are not asking the public if we want to suffer the risk and costs of nuclear power in space. Their corporate and military interests make it necessary to push ahead without public debate. Their plans threaten the life of the entire planetary ecosystem. The time has come for vigorous organizing around the space nuclear power issue.
(Also posted at http://web.greens.org/s-r/30/30-13.html )