Archive for the ‘Radiation’ Category

Applause for Perseverance Ignores Plutonium Bullet We Dodged

Thursday, February 25th, 2021
Special note: Plutonium-238 is 280 times more radioactive than plutonium-239, the isotope used in atomic bombs and as a “trigger” in hydrogen bombs. There are 10.6 pounds of plutonium-238 on Perseverance.
The amount of Plutonium -239 in the atomic bomb that destroyed Nagasaki was about 2 pounds.

Applause for Perseverance Ignores Plutonium Bullet We Dodged

Karl Grossman


ABC: NASA releases stunning new video of Perseverance rover landing on Mars

ABC (2/22/21) had one of many reports that celebrated the Mars landing without noting that the rover was powered by plutonium—or the risks NASA had taken in launching that payload into space.

With all the media hoopla last week about the Perseverance rover, frequently unreported was that its energy source is plutonium—considered the most lethal of all radioactive substances—and nowhere in media was the NASA projection that there were 1-in-960 odds of an accidental release of the plutonium on the mission.

“A ‘1-in-960 chance’ of a deadly plutonium release is a real concern,” says Bruce Gagnon, coordinator of the Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space.

Further, NASA’s Supplementary Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) for the $3.7 billion mission acknowledges that solar energy could have been an “alternative” power source for Perseverance. Photovoltaic panels have been the power source for a succession of Mars rovers.

One in 100 rockets undergo major malfunctions on launch, mostly by blowing up. NASA in its SEIS (viewable online) described the potential impact of an accidental release of plutonium during Perseverance’s July 30, 2020, launch on the area around Cape Canaveral under the heading “Impacts of Radiological Releases on the Environment:

In addition to the potential human health consequences of launch accidents that could result in a release of plutonium dioxide, environmental impacts could also include contamination of natural vegetation, wetlands, agricultural land, cultural, archaeological and historic sites, urban areas, inland water and the ocean, as well as impacts on wildlife.

It adds:

In addition to the potential direct costs of radiological surveys, monitoring and potential cleanup following an accident, there are potential secondary societal costs associated with the decontamination and mitigation activities due to launch area accidents. Those costs may include: temporary or longer term relocation of residents; temporary or longer term loss of employment; destruction or quarantine of agricultural products, including citrus crops; land use restrictions; restrictions or bans on commercial fishing; and public health effects and medical care.

NASA was compelled to disclose the estimated odds of an accident, consequences of a plutonium release and alternatives to using nuclear power under the National Environmental Policy Act.

Meanwhile, the US is now producing large amounts of plutonium-238, the plutonium isotope used for space missions. The US stopped producing plutonium-238 in 1988 and began obtaining it from Russia, a trade that was halted in recent years. A series of NASA space shots using plutonium-238 are planned for coming years.

Plutonium-238 is 280 times more radioactive than plutonium-239, the isotope used in atomic bombs and as a “trigger” in hydrogen bombs. There are 10.6 pounds of plutonium-238 on Perseverance.

We dodged a plutonium bullet on the Perseverance mission. The Atlas V rocket carrying it was launched without blowing up. And the rocket didn’t fall back from orbit, with Perseverance disintegrating on re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere and dispersing its plutonium.

But with NASA planning more space missions involving nuclear power, including developing nuclear-powered rockets for trips to Mars and launching rockets carrying nuclear reactors for placement on the Moon and Mars, space-based nuclear Russian roulette is at hand.

The acknowledgement that “an accident resulting in the release of plutonium dioxide from the MMRTG [Multi-Mission Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator] occurs with a probability of 1 in 960” is made repeatedly in the SEIS.

The amount of electricity produced by Perseverance’s plutonium generator is minuscule—some 100 watts, similar to a light bulb.

Mars rover Opportunity

The solar-powered Mars rover Opportunity, designed for a 90-day mission, kept working for 14 years. (image: NASA)

A solar alternative to the use of plutonium on the mission is addressed at the start of the SEIS, in a “Description and Comparison of Alternatives” section. First is “Alternative 1,” the option adopted, using a plutonium-fueled generator “to continually provide heat and electric power to the rover’s battery so that the rover could operate and conduct scientific work on the planet’s surface.”

That is followed by “Alternative 2,” which states:

Under this alternative, NASA would discontinue preparations for the Proposed Action (Alternative 1) and implement a different power system for the Mars rover. The rover would use solar power to operate instead of a MMRTG.

The worst US accident involving the use of nuclear power in space came in 1964, when the US satellite Transit 5BN-3, powered by a SNAP-9A plutonium-fueled radioisotope thermoelectric generator, failed to achieve orbit and fell from the sky. It broke apart as it burned up in the atmosphere. “A worldwide soil sampling program carried out in 1970 showed SNAP 9-A debris to be present at all continents and all latitudes,” according to a 1990 report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and the Swedish National Institute for Radiation Protection; the level of  plutonium-238 in the Earth’s environment tripled (LA Times, 7/25/88).

After the SNAP-9A (SNAP for Systems Nuclear Auxiliary Power) accident, NASA became a pioneer in developing solar photovoltaic power. All US satellites now are energized by solar power, as is the International Space Station.

The worst accident involving nuclear power in space in the Soviet/Russian space program occurred in 1978, when the Cosmos 954 satellite with a nuclear reactor aboard fell from orbit and spread radioactive debris over a 373-mile swath from Great Slave Lake to Baker Lake in Canada. There were 110 pounds of highly enriched uranium fuel aboard.

I first began writing widely about the use of nuclear power in space 35 years ago, when I broke the story in The Nation magazine (2/22/86) about how the next mission of the ill-fated Challenger space shuttle, which blew up on January 28, 1986, was to loft the Ulysses space probe, designed to orbit around the Sun, which was fueled with 24.2 pounds of plutonium-238.

If the Challenger had blown up on that mission, scheduled for May 1986, and released Ulysses’ plutonium, it would not have been six astronauts and teacher-in-space Christa McAuliffe dying, but many more people.

Pursuing the issue, I authored the books The Wrong Stuff: The Space Program’s Nuclear Threat to Our Planet and Weapons in Space. I wrote and presented the TV documentary Nukes in Space: The Nuclearization and Weaponization of the Heavens and other TV programs. And I have written many hundreds of articles.

The absence in media reporting on the nuclear dangers of the Perseverance Mars rover is not new. In The Wrong Stuff, I include a section on “The Space Con Job.”

I quote extensively from an article published in the Columbia Journalism Review (7–8/86) after the Challenger accident by William Boot, the magazine’s former editor, headlined “NASA and the Spellbound Press.” He wrote:

Dazzled by the space agency’s image of technological brilliance, space reporters spared NASA thorough scrutiny that might have improved chances of averting tragedy—through hard-hitting investigations drawing Congress’s wandering attention to the issue of shuttle safety.

He found “gullibility” in the press. “The press,” he wrote, has been “infatuated by man-in-space adventures,” and “US journalists have long had a love affair with the space program”:

Many space reporters appeared to regard themselves as participants, along with NASA, in a great cosmic quest. Transcripts of NASA press conferences reveal that it was not unusual for reporters to use the first person plural. (‘When are we going to launch?)

In The Wrong Stuff, I also wrote about an address on “Science and the Media” by New York Times space reporter John Noble Wilford in 1990 at Brookhaven National Laboratory. Wilford declared: “I am particularly intrigued by science and scientists…. My favorite subject is planetary science.” After his talk, I interviewed him, and he acknowledged that “there’s still a lot of space reporters who are groupies.” Still, he went on, “Some of the things that NASA does are so great, so marvelous, so it’s easy to forget to be critical.”

On NBC’s Today show (2/18/21), the attitude of the reporters on the morning of the Perseverance landing  was as celebratory as the label of the video aired: “Jubilation at NASA Control.” Never was there a mention of nuclear power or plutonium, or the acknowledged risks of an accidental dispersal.

The Global Network’s Bruce Gagnon commented:

I am disheartened that the media shows little inclination to mention the words “plutonium” or “probabilities of accidental release” in their so-called reporting of the Mars rover arrival. You have to question who they work for.

We daily hear the excited anticipation of the nuclear industry as stories reveal the growing plans for hosts of launches of nuclear devices—more rovers on Mars, mining colonies on the moon, even nuclear reactors to power rockets bound for Mars. The nuclear industry is rolling the dice while people on Earth have their fingers crossed in the hope technology does not fail—as it often does.

Gagnon’s Maine-based international organization has been challenging the use of nuclear power and the deployment of weapons in space since its formation in 1992. The US has favored nuclear power as an energy source for space-based weapons (LA Times, 7/25/88). He added:

The media, while ignoring the Mars rover plutonium story, are also guilty of not reporting about the years of toxic contamination at the Department of Energy nuclear labs where these space nuclear devices are produced. The Idaho Nuclear Laboratory and Los Alamos Nuclear lab in New Mexico have long track records of worker and environmental contamination during this dirty space nuke fabrication process.

The public will need to do more than cross our fingers in hopes that nothing goes wrong. We need to speak out loudly so Congress, NASA and the DoE hear that we do not support the nuclearization of the heavens. Go solar or better yet—stay home and use our tax dollars to take care of the legions of people without jobs, healthcare, food or heat.  Mars can wait.




40 year Ash Wednesday anniversary in the Nuclear war room at Pacific Command headquarters

Wednesday, February 17th, 2021

Ash Wednesday 1981 — 2021

     Today is the 40th anniversary of the most significant Ash Wednesday event of my life.  It was a statement of nonviolent resistance to the preparation for nuclear war.  In the Christian tradition, Ash Wednesday is the beginning of 40 days of lent (prayer and fasting) before Easter. It’s considered a day of repentance where ashes in the form of a cross are put on people’s foreheads as a reminder that we are dust and to dust you shall return.  Traditionally, the ashes come from burnt palm fronds. 

     40 years ago, at the height of the cold war, 8 other friends and myself participated in a non-sanctioned Ash Wednesday ceremony in the “Nuclear War Policy and Plans” office at Camp H.M. Smith, the military Pacific Command center based on Oahu above Aloha Stadium in Aiea Heights.   It was a bit of a miracle that 9 of us were able to enter this high-security base let alone this high-security Nuclear war room.  The group was an interesting mix of people: 3 priests, including a Monsignor who was the superintendent of all Catholic schools in the state of Hawaii, several of us lay activists and a mother (a former nun) with her 3-month-old daughter.  As we entered the Nuclear War room, filled with Nuclear War office workers, one of the priests began reading aloud from “the Sermon on the Mount” Matthew Chapter 5 of the New Testament.  Some of us went to the right, some to the left, and we began placing crosses of ashes on the walls of the Nuclear war room.  Our ashes were made from traditional palm fronds with a mixture of burnt IRS tax forms since roughly 60 cents of every federal tax dollar is spent on militarism.  After placing a significant number of ash crosses on the walls, the nine of us came together, joined hands in the center of the nuclear war room, and prayed.  Within a short time armed military troops arrived and took all of us into custody where we were ID, questioned, and kept for a couple hours, then photographed, and surprisingly released.  We expected to be prosecuted but never were.  We later learned that several of the high-ranking generals and admirals had children in the Catholic school system and wondered how could they prosecute the group that included several priests and the superintendent of the Catholic Schools with their kids in Catholic Schools?

     Today, in 2021 the danger of nuclear war is even greater than in 1981.  The Bulletin of Atomic Scientist famous “Doomsday Clock” is now set at 100 seconds to midnight — the closest the hands of the symbolic clock have ever been to the doomsday hour.  Nuclear war and climate disaster are the 2 greatest threats to the future of life on planet earth.  May we have the wisdom and courage to turn away from this self-destruction and redirect the wasteful military spending to meet human needs, especially in this time of an unprecedented global Covid pandemic.

     This Ash Wednesday, let us rededicate our lives to justice, peace, and a living planet, with a commitment to nonviolence, kapu aloha, that respects the dignity of every human being and the sacredness of the earth that we all share.

Jim Albertini

Ash Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2021


Jim Albertini Malu ‘Aina Center For Non-violent Education & Action P.O. Box 489 Ola’a (Kurtistown) Hawai’i 96760 Phone 808-966-7622 Email
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Feb. 5, 2021 Hilo Peace Vigil leaflet on Principles of Nonviolence

Tuesday, February 2nd, 2021

Aloha friends,

I could use help setting up all the banners and signs at the weekly Hilo Peace Vigil. The vigil is 3:30-5PM and I’m usually there before 3 to begin set up. I could also use help passing out the weekly leaflet. I handle the traffic on Kinoole St.and Waianuenue Ave. intersection. Danny Li helps with the traffic coming up Waianuenue but he doesn’t get to the vigil till around 4:30. We could also use 1 or two people for the foot traffic going to the Post office from Kinoole side and Waianuenue side. There are usually people waiting in lines at the PO so time to read the leaflet.

Mahalo for your solidarity.

Jim Albertini


Nuclear Abolition & the End

to War!

In 1945, on learning about the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Mahatma Gandhi said that “Unless now the world adopts nonviolence, it will spell certain suicide for mankind”. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. expressed similar thoughts in the 1960s. “The choice is not between violence and nonviolence but between nonviolence and nonexistence.”

Last week the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists re-affirmed this point by re-setting the Doomsday Clock to 100 Seconds to Midnight, indicating the continuing threat to humanity from nuclear weapons, as well as the existential risk of climate change and the disturbing trends in politics away from truth, and fostering division and hate.


Save the Planet & All Humanity! 

1. Mourn all victims of violence. 2. Reject violence & war as solutions. 3. Defend civil liberties.
4. Oppose all discrimination, anti-Islamic, anti-Semitic, anti-Hawaiian, etc.
5. Seek peace through peaceful means and work for justice in Hawai`i and around the world.
Malu ‘Aina Center for Non-violent Education & Action P.O. Box 489 Ola’a (Kurtistown), Hawaii 96760 Phone (808) 966-7622
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Feb. 5. 2021 Hilo Peace Vigil leaflet – week 1010 – Fridays 3:30-5PM downtown Post Office

Abolish All Nukes! End All Wars! Jan. 29, 2021 Hilo Peace Vigil Leaflet

Tuesday, January 26th, 2021

Abolish All Nukes!

End All Wars!