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Space Nukes: Imminent Fact,
Not Far-Fetched Fantasy

By Carol S. Rosin and Karl Grossman

Those who want to put weapons and nuclear hardware into space just won't stop. "Star Wars" is supposed to be dead, but a version of it-called the Ballistic Missile Defense-continues to be pushed by the Clinton administration at an annual taxpayer cost of $3 billion.

If Bob Dole becomes the next U.S. President, he is pledged to implement his "Defend America Act of 1996"-essentially a revival of "Star Wars," with space-based components that now include kinetic-energy and directed-energy weapons.

The New Menace: Comets in Space

Using nuclear-tipped missiles to deflect asteroids and comets away from Earth is the latest justification for "Star Wars" technology. This excuse for using nuclear weaponry in the post-Cold War era was initially floated in 1992 at a meeting of hundreds of scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

In an article in The New York Times on that event, Dr. Robert A. Park, professor of physics at the University of Maryland and director of public information of the American Physical Society, wrote: "As calls for more and bigger bombs continued, Lowell Wood, Dr. [Edward] Teller's protege at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories, could not contain his excitement; from the back of the auditorium he shouted, 'Nukes forever!'"

Dr. Park responded to fears concerning asteroids and comets by noting that "in defending Earth against this minuscule threat, the "Star Warriors" would create a vastly greater hazard of nuclear missiles at the ready. . . The handful of non-weapons scientists at the meeting, including experts on comets and asteroids, were horrified. The reduced threat of self-annihilation by an all-out nuclear war between superpowers had obviously driven the weapons scientists to concoct a new justification for their work."

Discounting the doomsdayers, Dr. Park further observed, "encounters with objects a mile or more in diameter seem to occur only about once every million years or so... An imagined menace, if it exists at all, might not threaten Earth for millenniums-or thousands of millenniums."

Nuclear Space Probe Ready for Launch

With the end of the Apollo moon missions, and fearing cuts in its funding, NASA has joined the U.S. military in calling for nuclear power in space. Next October, NASA plans to launch the Cassini space probe which will carry the largest amount of plutonium-72.3 pounds-ever used in a space device.

For those just learning about space-based weapons, "Star Wars" has been predicated on the use of orbiting battle platforms with nuclear reactors providing power for laser weapons, hyper-velocity guns and particle beams. Nuclear-propelled rockets, such as the Timberwind, on which the U.S. has already spent more than $800 million, would loft heavy "Star Wars" equipment into space.

The Cassini probe is scheduled to be launched from Cape Canaveral on top of a Lockheed-Martin Titan IV rocket. Unfortunately, this kind of rocket has experienced a series of explosions on launch.

NASA Chief Scientist Frances Cordova has acknowledged in the space industry publication Space News that the Titan IV "does not have a 100-percent success rate." She also noted the importance of the Cassini mission, saying, "We can't fail. . . . It would be very, very damaging for the agency."

Besides the specter of radioactivity being spread across central Florida as a result of a launch accident, there's another, even more horrifying danger, NASA admits, this one involving a maneuver in which the nuclear-fueled probe would be hurtled back at Earth during its "swing-by" in 1999. Cassini does not have the propulsion power to travel directly from Earth to Saturn, thus it must circle Venus twice, for a swing-by to give it the velocity to reach Saturn.

If Cassini, as it travels 42,000 miles per hour, comes too close to Earth during its 1999 swing-by, an "inadvertent reentry" could occur, causing the space probe to break up in the 76-mile-high atmosphere, and thus raining plutonium down onto Earth. In this scenario, NASA acknowledges that "approximately five billion of the estimated seven- to eight-billion population. . . could receive 99 percent or more of the radiation exposure."

What would be the impact of such nuclear fallout on the Earth's population? "One pound [of plutonium], if uniformly distributed, could hypothetically induce lung cancer in every person on Earth," noted Dr. Helen Caldicott, founder of Physicians for Social Responsibility.

Work on the Cassini Project has already resulted in radioactive contamination. According to a front-page story in the July 29 issue of the Santa Fe paper The New Mexican, "Mishaps in which workers or equipment have been contaminated with radioactive substances are on the rise at Los Alamos National Laboratory. . . . From 1993 to 1995, the number of documented incidents of radioactive contamination across the laboratory rose 22 percent. . . . Lab officials say the rise in radiation exposure and radioactive mishaps since 1993 has one primary cause: the Cassini project, an ongoing effort to build radioactive heat sources for deep space probes used by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration."

There are alternatives to using plutonium in space. In 1994, the European Space Agency (ESA) announced a breakthrough in the development of "new high performance silicon solar cells for use in future deep-space missions" to replace plutonium-fueled generating systems. Touting a "technology milestone," ESA developed cells with a 25-percent efficiency rate, "the highest efficiency ever reached worldwide."

Other ongoing U.S. space nuclear projects include the Sandia National Laboratories' plan to develop nuclear-powered satellites to beam TV signals down to Earth; a proposed Air Force program to use nuclear reactors for power and propulsion for military satellites; and NASA's plans for a nuclear-powered colony on the moon.

These efforts are not proceeding unopposed. The Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space held a gathering in Florida this spring, which included a demonstration in front of the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The Network plans meetings in Germany and the United Kingdom this winter.

"We're here to stop this sheer and utter madness," said Bruce Gagnon, the Network's co-coordinator, at the Florida meeting.

"We're here to save the U.S. space program from itself," declared Dr. Michio Kaku at the gates to the Cape Canaveral Air Station. The professor of nuclear physics at the City University of New York further noted, "We are the makers of history with the power to make space a nuclear-free zone. There is no force more powerful than the force of people united, and with that, social change is possible."

Network co-coordinator Gagnon called for a "good, positive space program, not one carrying weapons and nuclear power into space."

What can you do to stop nuclear weapons in space? First, register as a World Citizen with the World Service Authority and support the work of the World Space Commission. Then join the Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space. And remember-the sovereign will, determination, and energy of everybody will be necessary to stop this "sheer and utter madness" to use space, the "final frontier," as a backdrop for human folly.

Write to the Global Network, c/o the Florida Coalition for Peace and Justice, P.O. Box 90035, Gainsville, FL 32607 USA; phone: (352) 468-3295.

Contact Carol Rosin, Coordinator of the World Space Commission, at 424 Manzanita Ave., Ventura, CA 93001 USA; e-mail:

Karl Grossman is an investigative reporter and professor of journalism at the State University of New York College at Old Westbury. His TV documentaries include "Nukes In Space: The Nuclearization and Weaponization of the Heavens," which is available from EnviroVideo at 1-800-ECO-TV46.

Dr. Carol Rosin is Coordinator of the World Space Commission.

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