Sunday, January 22, 2012

A Way Around the Federal Nuclear Power Fix

The nuclear power program in the United States was set up rigged—to allow the federal government to push atomic energy with state and local governments “pre-empted” on most issues.

That’s what the State of Vermont was confronted with last week as a federal judge blocked the state’s attempts to shut down the accident-plagued Vermont Yankee nuclear plant.

But there’s a way around this federal nuclear fix—the use by states of their power of “eminent domain.” That’s a legal principle going back centuries and is how, commonly, states condemn property for a highway right-of-way if the owners refuse to sell.

The application of the state’s power of “eminent domain” to nuclear power was pioneered in New York State in the 1980s—and was how the completed Shoreham nuclear plant was stopped from opening. That ended the scheme of nuclear promoters to turn Long Island into a “nuclear park” with seven to 11 nuclear plants.

The Long Island Power Act was passed by New York State in 1985 creating a Long Island Power Authority (LIPA) with the power to seize the assets and stock of the utility behind this nuclear scheme, the Long Island Lighting Company (LILCO).

The federal government was gung-ho for Shoreham. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) had approved the start-up of operations at Shoreham, the first of three nuclear plants to be built on that site, and the construction of two more nuclear plants at Jamesport, to be joined by two more there. More plants would go up between the two with all fronting on the Long Island Sound.

But by enacting the Long Island Power Act that utilized the state’s power of “eminent domain,” New York State made clear that if LILCO persisted with nuclear power, the state would eliminate it.

This strategy can be used by the State of Vermont—and other states—faced by the nuclear juggernaut of the federal government and nuclear industry. Indeed, it’s a strategy that needs to be pursued because it is highly unlikely that federal nuclear officials will be sensible or fair—or uphold democracy.

The NRC like its predecessor agency, the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), has never, for example, denied a construction or operating license for a nuclear plant anyplace, anywhere in the United States. These days, with no new nuclear plants having both been ordered and built in the U.S. since 1973, the NRC has been busy rubber-stamping “license renewal” applications of utilities to run their existing plants—including Vermont Yankee—20 more years. It has also begun to give the go-ahead to utilities to build new plants.

The Long Island Power Act “set forth a mechanism for getting rid of the utility by giving the public authority which it created the power to condemn the utility’s assets and stock,” explains Irving Like, a co-author of the act.

“With this we had the ability to tell LILCO: either you shut down the Shoreham plant or we will condemn you,” he said. Like, of Babylon, Long Island, had previously written the Environmental Bill of Rights of the New York State Constitution.

With Vermont now “looking for a path forward,” Like suggested last week that it—and other states faced by the federal government and nuclear industry’s drive—should “see if you can model a statute along those lines.” He would be glad to share his knowledge and can be contacted at

Also co-author of the Long Island Power Act was Steve Liss, counsel to the Environmental Conservation Committee of the New York State Assembly, who last week spoke of how “eminent domain” gives a state the power to act “in the public interest for a lawful purpose.” The state must pay “fair market value” for what it condemns, Liss added.

Although Vermont Yankee’s owner is Entergy, a utility based in Louisiana which has been buying nuclear plants around the U.S.—including Vermont Yankee from its original owner—the State of Vermont’s power of “eminent domain” can be applied to it, Liss said. The state, after enacting a legal foundation similar to the Long Island Power Act, could move against the assets of Entergy in Vermont, he said.

Another strategy, said Liss, would be for Vermont to acquire the utilities in Vermont that distribute the electricity from Vermont Yankee and which own the transmission lines through which it runs—and refuse the electricity and bar its transmission over the lines.

In his January 19th ruling, U.S. District Court Judge J. Garvan Murtha declared that the State of Vermont’s demand that Vermont Yankee be shut down was “grounded in radiological concerns,” and this is an issue on which the federal government has “pre-empted” state and local governments.

Indeed, that is central to the scheme concocted in the late 1940s and 1950s by those seeking to promote atomic energy. They came out of the Manhattan Project, the World War II program to build nuclear weapons. They sought after the war to continue and expand their nuclear work. They would keep building weapons but atomic bombs don’t lend themselves to commercial spin-off—they can’t be sold. So there would be a limit in constructing atomic and hydrogen bombs. Thus this “nuclear establishment”—officials and scientists of the multi-billion dollar Manhattan Project and the project’s corporate contractors, notably General Electric and Westinghouse—sought to perpetuate the endeavor with other uses of atomic energy, especially nuclear power plants.

The Manhattan Project in 1946 became the Atomic Energy Commission, to be given extraordinary powers, particularly with the Atomic Energy Act of 1954, by a U.S. Congress that the “nuclear establishment” found (then and now) easy for it to manipulate. This included federal jurisdiction over the issue of radioactivity, as noted by Judge Murtha.

A licensing system for nuclear power plants was devised to give an illusion of democratic process. Hearing officers, many of whom would come from the national nuclear laboratories which sprang up with the Manhattan Project, would be called “judges.” In fact, the hearings have been kangaroo courts—consistently approving atomic projects. The NRC, like the AEC before it, has been an unabashed booster of nuclear power. The system is a sham.

Like, in the 1960s, learned well about the impossibility of making change when a government is dominated by a special interest. He was deeply involved in efforts to stop New York State public works czar Robert Moses from building a four-lane highway on Fire Island, a slender barrier beach south of Long Island. The road would have devastated the famed nature and communities on Fire Island. Moses—the subject of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book The Power Broker—had such huge power in New York State that stopping his plan through the state couldn’t happen, concluded Like and other highway opponents.

So, instead, a campaign to create a Fire Island National Seashore was launched—to use the power of the federal government to stop Moses.

A Citizens Committee for a Fire Island National Seashore was formed with Like as its counsel. It was chaired by Maurice Barbash, also a lover of Fire Island and Like’s brother-in-law. By 1964, it had led in getting a Fire Island National Seashore established and the Moses road stopped.

Two decades later, Like and Barbash flipped the strategy when it came to Shoreham –and LILCO’s other proposed Long Island nuclear plants. A Citizens Committee to Replace LILCO—with a state public power entity—was created with Like its counsel, Barbash its chairman.

State power would be used to stop the nuclear assault on Long Island.
The Long Island Power Act created a foundation for preventing this plan from moving ahead and also committed the state agency it created, the Long Island Power Authority, to developing clean, safe, renewable energy for Long Island.

In 1989, LILCO abandoned Shoreham because of the Long Island Power Act. It sold Shoreham to LIPA for $1. It was then decommissioned as a nuclear facility. Also helping greatly with this outcome were continuing anti-nuclear demonstrations on Long Island, legal action by Suffolk County against LILCO under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, the refusal of Suffolk and New York State to adopt or implement a federally-required evacuation plan for the plant (after both governments concluded evacuation of heavily-populated Long Island would be impossible in the event of a major nuclear accident), and other legal, political and activist challenges.

Federal nuclear promoters were extremely upset. U.S. Energy Secretary John S. Herrington declared at a Nuclear Power Assembly in Washington that “the Shoreham plant must open!” He asserted: “If it doesn’t, the signals will be the low point in this [nuclear] industry’s history. If it does, we are going to begin a brand new era.”

Well, it didn’t open.

In recent times, trying to use global warming as an excuse (although the nuclear “cycle” of mining, milling, fuel enrichment and the rest of it contributes significantly to global warming), the federal government and the nuclear industry has tried for what it calls a “revival” of nuclear power.

The Fukushima Daiichi disaster has threatened that effort. And, not incidentally, the reactor at Vermont Yankee—and the one which had been at Shoreham—were both General Electric Mark I reactors, the same as those that exploded and released many thousands of tons of radioactive poisons at Fukushima.

For the federal government and nuclear industry to allow Vermont Yankee and other U.S. nuclear plants to operate for 60 years is inviting disaster. The NRC has now given 20-year “license renewals” to more than half of the 104 U.S. nuclear plants—turning a deaf ear to strong state and local opposition. Nuclear plants have been long seen as having an operating life of no more than 40 years, after which their metal components would become embrittled by radioactivity and they’d be far more prone to accidents. The NRC is also considering extending the 60 year extension period to 80 years. Meanwhile, the claim of nuclear promoters that the new nuclear plants they seek to build (and the NRC has started to approve) are “inherently safe” is completely false. They, like the Fukushima plants, like Chernobyl, like Vermont Yankee, like all nuclear power plants, are inherently unsafe.

Importantly, nuclear power is not necessary. From solar to wind to wave power to tidal power to bio-fuels to geothermal to hydropower and on and on, safe, clean, renewable energy technologies can provide all the power we need.

But how to stop the decades-old “nuclear establishment” and its confederates?

A challenge to the Atomic Energy Act and other such laws giving federal nuclear officials the powers to run roughshod over state and local governments—and the people—is vital. There must be an end to the rigged U.S. nuclear power program Taking on the federal nuclear officials must happen. Vermont should appeal Judge Murtha’s ruling. And, as in the case of Shoreham and the scheme to load Long Island with nuclear power plants, other legal, political and activist initiatives need be launched.

Meanwhile, Vermont and other states can replicate New York State’s use of the state power of “eminent domain” to fight nuclear power. It’s a strategy that can work. Through it an end-run can be made around the would-be mandate of federal nuclear officials and the nuclear industry that we must accept deadly nuclear power.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

After Fukushima and Chernobyl, Here's The Best Energy Alternative

(Published today on

In the wake of the Fukushima Daiichi and Chernobyl nuclear plant disasters, it is clear that nuclear power is far too dangerous an energy technology. And considering the global warming impact of burning fossil fuels—coal, oil and gas—they also need to be eliminated.

So how are we to power society?

In fact, safe, clean, renewable energy technologies are more than ready to do it.

Scientific American, a most conservative scientific publication, in a 2009 cover story unveiled its “A Plan for a Sustainable Future.” It declared in its “Plan to Power 100Percent of the Planet with Renewables” that, “wind, water and solar technologies can provide 100 percent of the world’s energy, eliminating all fossil fuels.”

The New Scientist, the highly-respected British magazine, also in a 2009 cover story titled “Our Brighter Future”–presented presented a United Nations report declaring that “renewable energy that can already be harnessed economically would supply the world’s electricity needs.”

From solar to wind (now the fastest-growing and cheapest new energy technology) to wave-power to tidal-power to bio-fuels to small hydropower to co-generation (combining the generation of heat and electricity) and on and on, a renewable energy windfall is at hand.

A while back, I visited the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Golden, Colorado. In one division, solar power was being used to break down water into oxygen and hydrogen — with the hydrogen available for use as fuel. “It’s the forever fuel,” Dr. John Turner, senior scientist at NREL told me. “This uses our two most abundant natural resources—sunlight and water—to give us an energy supply that is inexhaustible.”

In another division, which pioneered thin-film photovoltaic technology (sheets of material embedded with solar collectors that can coat a large building, even a skyscraper, and have the building become a huge power generator), the scientists spoke of solar photovoltaics generating all the energy the world needs. Thin-film photovoltaic is now being widely used in Europe.

In the wind division at NREL, scientists were speaking about the advanced wind turbines they have developed—especially for off-shore siting—and the abundant wind resources all over the world that could provide, they, too, stressed, all the energy the world would need.

All the NREL scientists from the various divisions speaking of how the renewable energy technology they are working on could provide all the energy the world needs might not all be right regarding a specific technology—but together a mix of these and other safe, clean energy technologies can indeed provide all the energy the world needs.

There’s also the NREL division in which technologies to use biomass to produce fuel, not out of food crops but from non-edible vegetation and various waste products. And so on.

Or consider “hot dry rock” (HDR) geothermal. It turns out that below half of the planet, just one to six miles down, it’s extremely hot. When naturally flowing water hits those hot rocks and has a place to come up, geysers are formed. But now a technology has been developed that sends water down an injection pipe to hit the hot dry rock below and rise to the surface in a second production well — which can turn a turbine and generate electricity. Dave Duchane, the HDR manager at Los Alamos National Laboratory, told me: “Hot dry rock has an almost unlimited potential to supply all the energy needs of the United States and, indeed, all the world.”

Renewables Are Ready is the title of a book written by two Union of Concerned Scientists staffers in 1999. Today a host of safe, clean, renewable energy technologies are more than ready. Combined, importantly, with energy efficiency, they render as unnecessary nuclear power, as well as fossil fuels.

Lester Brown, president of Earth Policy Institute, last year published World on the Edge: How to Prevent Environmental and Economic Collapse, which concludes that solar, wind and geothermal energy can provide all the energy the world’s needs and he sets forth his Plan B that would implement this. Brown, formerly president of Worldwatch, dismisses nuclear power as too expensive and dangerous.

It’s already happening, he emphasizes. “The old energy economy, fueled by oil, coal, and natural gas, is being replaced with wind, solar, and geothermal energy,” writes Brown. “Despite the global economic crisis, this energy transition is moving at a pace and on a scale that we could not have imagined two years ago.”

In a chapter titled “Harnessing Wind, Solar, and Geothermal Energy,” Brown details the potential and the technologies for fully utilizing these safe, clean, renewable energy sources.

“This transition is now building on its own momentum,” says Brown, “driven by an intense excitement from the realization that we are tapping energy sources that can last as long as the earth itself. Oil wells go dry and coal seams run out, but for the first time since the Industrial Revolution, we are investing in energy sources that can last forever.” To view my “Enviro Close-Up” TV interview with Brown, go to

What’s needed now is rapid and full implementation of the safe, clean, renewable enrgy technologies now available.

Instead of a Manhattan Project, the wartime crash program out of which came nuclear weapons (followed by nuclear power plants), let’s have, as Alice Slater of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, says might be called a “Bronx Project”—a crash program to fully implement the use of safe, clean, renewable energy. What a job-creator it would be. And what a new world of safe, clean, non-polluting energy technologies we would then have—energy we and Planet Earth can live with.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Anarchy on the High Seas

The disdain of much of the cruise ship industry for safety (as well as labor and environmental) laws is signaled by flags that fly on the stern of more than half of cruise ships. They are called “flags of convenience.”

Some 60 percent of cruise ships are now registered in Panama, Liberia and the Bahamas. By doing this—by obtaining “flags of convenience” from these and other countries—ship owners can avoid the laws of the nation from which they actually operate and take advantage of weak safety, labor and environmental standards.

The Costa Concordia and the other Costa ships are registered in Italy, although for years Costa ships flew the “flag of convenience” of Panama. Most of the other 100 ships of Costa’s owner, Florida-headquartered Carnival Corporation., sail, however, under “flags of convenience” of Panama and the Bahamas.

There has been sharp criticism through the years of this practice.

“Maritime lawlessness isn’t confined to pirates. Thanks to a system of ship registration called ‘flags of convenience,’ it is all too easy for unscrupulous ship owners to get away with criminal behavior,” wrote Rose George in an op-ed piece in the New York Times last year. “They have evaded prosecution for environmental damage like oil spills, as well as poor labor conditions, forcing crews to work like slaves without adequate pay or rest. But unlike piracy, which seems intractable, the appalling conditions on some merchant ships could be stopped.”

It used to be that ships flew the flag of the nation where they were from—and abided by its laws. “A ship is considered the territory of the country in which it is registered,” noted S.J. Tomlinson in a 2007 essay in the Villanova Sports and Entertainment Law Journal.
It was in the U.S. in the 1920s that the practice of registering ships in foreign nations began. Ship owners were frustrated by increased regulation and rising labor costs and also were seeking a way around Prohibition. Panama was an early haven. Liberia later became popular. And the Bahamas later joined in. Other nations now involved include the Marshall Islands.

Indeed, the Deepwater Horizon oil rig at which an explosion in 2010 killed 11 crewmen and set off the massive Gulf of Mexico oil spill was registered in the Marshall Islands. It was considered to be a vessel requiring a national flag.

Many of these nations that provide “flags of convenience” at a price “lack the capacity or will to monitor the safety and working conditions on ships or to investigate accidents,” said George. “Instead, ship safety certificates are given out by private classification societies. Owners are allowed to choose which society they want—and the worst predictably choose the least demanding, This self-policing has been compared to registering a car in Bali so you can drive it in Australia with faulty brakes.”

Stated M.J. Wing in a 2003 essay in the Tulane Maritime Law Journal: “Those nations whose open registries have become the most popular also tend to be those who possess the most lax labor, safety, and environmental codes.”

CBS News travel editor Peter Greenberg believes that “when you have a ship that’s home-ported in the United States, U.S. law should prevail.” There needs to be a change of law, he said.

He made the comment after a 2010 fire aboard the Carnival Splendor which left 4,500 passengers and crew stranded at sea. The National Transportation Safety Board had said it would lead the investigation into what happened, but Carnival argued that the U.S. didn’t have jurisdiction because the ship was registered in Panama.

“With all due respect to the Panamanian authorities,” commented Greenberg. “I have not seen a show called ‘CSI Panama’ lately. I really want guys who know what they’re doing, who really live this work, to do the investigation.”

What began in the 1920s has now become a maritime industry norm. Meanwhile, the cruise industry has been exploding—growing at a rate as high as 7 percent annually in recent years. Ships have grown to be humongous. Oasis of the Seas, a ship of Florida-headquartered Royal Caribbean International, which went into service in 2009, can carry more than 6,000 passengers. It’s a model for other megaships. And the gargantuan floating hotel is registered in the Bahamas.

Carnival Corporation proudly announced last April that it had added its “100th cruise ship to its fleet with the delivery of the Carnival Magic. It can carry more than 5,400 passengers. It is registered in Panama. Carnival described itself as “a global cruise company and one of the largest vacation companies in the world. Our portfolio of leading cruise brands includes Carnival Cruise Lines, Holland America Line, Princess Cruises and Seabourn…P&O Cruises…Cunard Line…AIDA…Costa Cruises…and Iberocruceros.”

Carnival categorizes its Carnival Magic as a ship in its “Dream Class.”

The cruise ship industry has become a huge business—and like most big
businesses has no problem avoiding rules. The traditional antidote has been government regulation, but the “flags of convenience” system offers an end-run to that.

The sea is not forgiving to those who would cut corners. The dream of a cruise at sea can easily become a nightmare—as it became for the passengers on the Costa Concordia.

Major changes need to be made in the maritime industry—including the end of the “flags of convenience” system. There should be an international ban on “flags of convenience.” As for the United States, all forms of public transportation—airplane, train, car, truck and much of ship transport—are accompanied by comprehensive government regulation. This needs to happen to all seagoing vessels emanating from U.S. ports—without the scam of licenses from Panama, Liberia and the Bahamas. The years of ship owners doing what they want must end. Large numbers of lives are at stake. The anarchy on the high seas cannot be allowed to continue.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Spaceborne Nuclear Russian Roulette

By Karl Grossman
Russia’s Phobos-Grunt space probe, with 22 pounds of radioactive Cobalt-57 on board, fell to Earth Sunday. The probe was launched in November to go to Phobos, a moon of Mars, but its rocket system failed to fire it onward from low Earth orbit.

There is some confusion as to where pieces of the 14.9-ton probe fell. The Associated Press reported Sunday that “pieces…landed in water 1,250 kilometers west of Wellington Island in Chile’s south, the Russian military Air and Space Defense Forces said in a statement.” The AP dispatch, datelined Moscow, quoted a spokesman, Colonel Alexei Zolotukhin, as saying that this “deserted ocean area is where Russia guides its discarded space cargo ships serving the International Space Station.”

But, the article went on: “RIA Novosti news agency, however, cited Russian ballistic experts who said the fragments fell over a broader patch of Earth’s surface, spreading from the Atlantic and including the territory of Brazil. It said the midpoint of the crash zone was located in the Brazilian state of Goias.”

“The $170 million craft was one of the heaviest and most toxic pieces of space junk ever to crash to Earth, but space officials and experts said the risks posed by its crash were minimal because the toxic rocket fuel on board and most of the craft’s structure would burn up in the atmosphere high above the Earth anyway,” said the article by Vladimir Isachenkov.

What happened demonstrates what could have occurred to the plutonium-fueled rover which NASA calls Curiosity which it launched on November 26 on a voyage to Mars. Curiosity’s launch went without incident. It is now on its way to Mars. But it could have ended up like Phobos-Grunt—falling back to Earth from orbit, its 10.6 pounds of plutonium released as deadly radioactive dust.

Moreover, the United States and Russia are both planning to launch other space devices with nuclear materials on board. Accidents involving discharge of nuclear materials is inevitable—they’ve already occurred in both the U.S. and Russian/Soviet space programs.

NASA is not only planning more space missions using plutonium but it is developing nuclear-powered rockets. Some of the rocket designs go back to the 1950s and 60s and the projects had come to an end out of concern of such a rocket blowing up on launch or falling back to Earth. Further, NASA is planning nuclear-powered colonies on the Moon and Mars. These nuclear power systems would be launched from Earth—and there could be release of radioactive material in an accident on launch or a subsequent crash back to Earth.

Involved is a lethal game of space-borne nuclear Russian roulette.

The Phobos-Grunt space probe “got stranded in Earth’s orbit after its Nov. 9 launch,” said the AP, “and efforts by Russian and European Space Agency exports to bring it back to life failed.” Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, then estimated that Phobos-Grunt would fall to Earth in January and it would come down along a swatch that included southern Europe, the Atlantic, South America and the Pacific.
Roscosmos “predicted that only between 20 and 40 fragments” of the probe “with a total weight of up to 200 kilograms—440 pounds—would survive the re-entry and plummet to Earth,” the AP said.

The Cobalt-57 was contained in “one of the craft’s instruments,” said AP. Roscomos, it said, claimed the Cobalt-57 posed “no threat of radioactive contamination.”
Indeed, Cobalt-57 is not plutonium, considered the most deadly radioactive substance. Nevertheless, it still can be harmful.

As the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory says in a “Human Health Fact Sheet,” available at, Cobalt-57 has a half-life of 270 days, “long enough to warrant concern.” (The hazardous lifetime of a radioactive material is 10 to 20 times its half-life.) The “Human Health Fact Sheets” notes that Cobalt-57 can cause cancer. It “can be taken into the body by eating food, drinking water, or breathing.”

The AP article Sunday said the $170 million Phobos-Grunt involved “Russia's most expensive and most ambitious space mission since Soviet times.” The last Soviet interplanetary mission occurred in 1996: a probe to go to Mars “built by the same Moscow-based NPO Lavochkin company” which constructed Phobos-Grunt, said AP. The Mars 96 space probe had plutonium on board.

It also “experienced an engine failure and crashed shortly after its launch,” said AP. The Mars 96 space probe “crash drew strong international fears because of around 200 grams of plutonium on board. The craft eventually showered its fragments over the Chile-Bolivia border in the Andes Mountains, and the pieces were never recovered.”

The AP article said the “worst ever radiation spill from a derelict space vehicle,” the crash back to Earth in 1978 of the Cosmos 954 satellite that contained a working nuclear reactor. Radioactive debris fell over northwestern Canada.

The worst U.S. accident involving a space device with nuclear materials was the fall from orbit in 1964 of a satellite powered by 2.1 pounds of plutonium. The fiery re-entry resulted in a wide dusting of fine particles of plutonium from its SNAP 9-A nuclear system over the Earth, according to subsequent research. 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. A millionth of a gram of plutonium is a fatal dose.

This mishap was cited in the Final Environmental Impact Statement that NASA prepared for the Curiosity mission as being among the three accidents which have occurred among the 26 U.S. space missions that have used plutonium. In the wake of the SNAP 9-A accident, NASA switched to solar energy on satellites. Now all satellites and the International Space Station are solar powered.

Still, there has continued to be a push through the years for using nuclear power in space with that drive accelerating in recent times. Major U.S. space nuclear power work is now underway at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama.
“NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center here is expanding the scope of its nuclear technology work,” wrote Frank Morring, Jr. in Aviation Week on November 15.

Marshall has been working “with the Department of Energy on nuclear power technology that might one day power a lunar outpost,” said the article. “That work continues, but it has expanded to encompass another technology goal under the new Obama policy: advanced in-space propulsion.”

The Obama administration is also seeking construction of a facility at Idaho National Laboratory to produce the isotope of plutonium that is used in space nuclear systems, Plutonium-238. It is an “ill-conceived plan” that risks the public’s safety, says James Powell, executive director of Keep Yellowstone Nuclear Free. The organization has been fighting the opening of the facility.

Because Florida is where the Kennedy Space Center is located, is on the front line for launches in the U.S. space nuclear program. Pax Christi of Tampa Bay and other Florida groups were active in protesting the Curiosity launch. They took to the streets with signs declaring: “No Nukes In Space” and “Danger: Launching of NASA Mars Probe With 10 Lbs. Plutonium. Don’t Do Disney.” That referred to Disney theme parks in Orlando.

NASA’s Final Environmental Impact Statement for the Curiosity mission said a launch accident releasing plutonium had 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 would take in Orlando.

“Overall” on the Curiosity mission, NASA said the odds were 1-in-220 of plutonium being released. This included in a fall back to Earth, as the Phobos-Grunt space probe suffered.

John Stewart of Pax Christi of Tampa Bay maintained before the Curiosity launch: “NASA is planning a mission that could endanger not only its future but the state of Florida and beyond. The absurd—and maddening—aspect of this risk is that it is unnecessary. The locomotion for NASA’s Sojourner Mars rover, launched in 1996, and the Spirit and Opportunity Mars rovers, both launched in 2003, was solar powered, with the latter two rovers performing well beyond what their engineers expected. Curiosity’s locomotion could also be solar-powered. NASA admits this in its EIS, but decided to put us all at risk because plutonium-powered batteries last longer and they want to have the ‘flexibility to select the most scientifically interesting location on the surface’ of Mars.”

Beyond the potential price in lives, space nuclear power has a high cost financially. The potential clean-up costs for dispersal of the 10.6 pounds of plutonium on Curiosity would be, said the Final Environmental Impact Statement for the mission, $267 million for each square mile of farmland contaminated, $478 million for each square mile of forests and $1.5 billion for each square mile of “mixed-use urban areas.” The Curiosity mission itself costs $2.5 billion.

Bruce Gagnon, coordinator of the Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space, contends: “The taxpayers are being asked once again to pay for nuclear missions that could endanger the lives of all the people on the planet. Have we not learned anything from Chernobyl and Fukushima? We don’t need to be launching nukes into space. It’s not a gamble we can afford to take.”

Sunday, January 8, 2012


A brilliant analysis of what nuclear technology has been based on is provided by Rory O'Connor in "Nukespeak," part of my Enviro Close-Up series, which has just started airing on the EnviroVideo Blip TV website at --

Rory is co-author of the new 30th anniversary edition of "Nukespeak," updated
-- with four new chapters -- and now with a subtitle: "The Selling of Nuclear Technology from the Manhattan Project to Fukushima."

The program will be broadcast in coming weeks on the Free Speech TV network of 200 cable TV systems and the DISH and DIRECTV satellite systems. And it will alsoo be up on youtube.

Please spread the program around.