Dozens arrested in protest of plutonium-fueled space mission
October 4, 1997
Web posted at: 8:14 p.m. EDT (0014 GMT)
CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida (CNN) -- A Saturday protest against
NASA's upcoming launch of a plutonium-powered spacecraft
ended with the arrests of several dozen people.
Hundreds gathered outside the fence surrounding the pad
where the Cassini probe is scheduled to be launched October
13 for a seven-year trip to Saturn. At the end of the rally,
five members of the group Grandmothers for Peace walked
through the main gates of the facility and were arrested by
Air Force guards.
Other protesters threw pieces of carpet over the barbed-wire
fence, and about 20 people were arrested when they attempted
to climb over.
The Cassini rocket will be powered by 72 pounds of
plutonium -- the most ever rocketed into space. Protesters
say that if the rocket explodes it could sprinkle deadly
poison for hundreds of miles.
"Winds can blow (plutonium) into Disney World, Universal
City, into the citrus industry and destroy the economy of
central Florida," said Michio Kaku, a protesting physics
professor from New York. He claimed that casualties could
run as high as a million people if there were an accident.
NASA uses solar power for most projects, including the Mir
Space Station, but says Saturn is too far from the sun for
that to be an efficient power source. Plutonium has been
used on previous missions, including the Galileo probe that
was launched in 1989.
NASA maintains there is little danger because the
Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generators (RTGs) on Cassini have
been tested to resist intense heat. Other government
officials agree. "It cannot be exploded like a bomb,"
said Beverly Cook of the Energy Department. "It is an alpha
emitter. Alpha radiation can be stopped by a piece of
Protesters maintain that the material is highly toxic, and
downplayed NASA's safety assurances. "Jimmy the Greek would
say: Look at the track record," Kaku said. "The track record
is one out of 20 booster rockets blow up on launch ... Ten
percent of our space probes actually come down."
The Cassini rocket is scheduled to reach Saturn's atmosphere
on July 1, 2004, when it will begin a four year period of
data gathering. It also will send a probe to the surface of
Saturn's moon Titan -- the most distant landing ever
attempted, according to NASA.