Subject: San Diego Union Tribune a willing participant in character assassination and libel!
Date: January 15th, 2004

To The Editor,

Frankly, I cannot help but wonder if your paper makes any effort to check facts given by your letter writers before allowing them to libel others, for example, by claiming my statements "could not be further from the truth."  I'm sure that if you had bothered to check, you would not have bothered to print the two letters in today's North County Opinion page which attempt to assassinate my character and proclaim NASA's plutonium missions utterly safe.

The facts are that even NASA's own documentation for the Cassini mission admits that there can be accidents, and I'm sure their documentation for the MER missions admits this too.  Where NASA goes wrong is, in part, from ignoring their own documentation, as if by merely stating the truth buried in a few hundred pages of technical documents, it's now okay to ignore it, especially if reporters and people such as your letter writers can't/won't bother to find it!

Writer Voyko Banjac of Solana Beach claims there is no harm from the plutonium because it is not "weapons grade" and because a piece of paper can stop an alpha particle.  In so claiming, he neglects to mention -- despite his degrees in Chemical and Nuclear Engineering -- that about 13% of the plutonium on board these missions IS in fact, "weapons grade", and that ALL of the plutonium -- both the Pu 239 (so-called "weapons grade") and the Pu 238 -- are incapable of having their alpha emissions shielded by a piece of paper when we inhale the particulate matter created by a typical NASA accident.

The non-weapons grade plutonium is about 280 times MORE carcinogenic than the "weapons-grade" plutonium, for about 2000 years instead of for about 250,000 years.  So if it is dispersed into the atmosphere, it can be very dangerous, as was explained to me by the late Dr. Karl Z. Morgan (who was known as the "father of health physics").  Dr. Morgan was assured by NASA that the SNAP-9A had a "one in ten million" chance of failure -- it failed (Dr. Morgan testified under oath that he has been told this).  Public outcry resulted in NASA's designing a containment system, but because it is not very strong, Dr. Morgan and others continued their opposition, but louder "scientists" prevailed, to the detriment of public health and, as the truth comes out, to the detriment of NASA's reputation.

Yes, there IS a containment system -- and I never said there wasn't one.  But NO, it will not work "as designed" all of the time.  In fact, most of the tests are inadequate, in part because they were usually stopped prior to the actual point of failure.  For example heat testing was for ridiculously short lengths of time and absurdly low temperatures, impacts were not nearly as hard as the containers might actually experience, and NO -- ZERO -- attempt was made to combine IMPACT and FIRE in the same test!

Furthermore, the "probabilistic risk analysis", "fault trees", and "event trees" Banjac alludes to (but does not describe in any detail) actually are used to FALSIFY the data, not ENLIGHTEN the PUBLIC as to the truth!  For example, many accident scenarios are calculated together, and ONLY the AVERAGE DEATHS caused by these accidents is ever published!  It's like calculating that guns are harmless because most people miss their targets with most of the shots they take.

But all that false math is okay with Banjac and your other writer, Richard Jennings of Poway, because obviously, to these people, a little plutonium inhaled by each of us is irrelevant.  Much medical research done in the past half century indicates that so-called "low level radiation" is actually extremely harmful, but the cancers, leukemias, heart attacks, and birth defects from a nuclear accident are scattered widely in the population, and so Banjac can claim that only 10 Americans have ever died from nuclear accidents, which is utterly false -- why, more than that have died on nuclear submarines alone which sank!  (But he'll probably say those weren't "nuclear" accidents because, as far as we know, the reactors did not melt down (we actually don't know that for sure, anyway).)

Banjac is obviously claiming that the SNAP-9A plutonium dispersal caused NO deaths -- but 2.1 pounds of plutonium (about 17,000 Curies) was released into particulate form in the upper atmosphere, which drifted down and is now in all of us -- in our lungs, our bone marrow, and other organs.  There was no "sheet of paper" to provide the "necessary shielding against Pu radiation."  (Apollo 13's Pu payload may also have been released; no one knows for sure what really happened to it.)

Banjac obviously is claiming that ALL combined nuclear releases from EVERY ACCIDENT that EVER occurred in America -- and all the weapons testing, too -- was harmless.  That it did not contribute to any health effects, even though about 1/3 of us die of cancer, and another 1/3 of heart disease -- both known effects of plutonium.  We simply can't prove that plutonium caused any PARTICULAR death, but that doesn't mean it doesn't add to the death toll every day -- just like car accidents do.  Safety has been a prime concern of automobile manufacturers since Ralph Nader's famous book calling them to task. But the Nuclear Industry is still claiming they cause NO deaths!  As long as they continue to make such absurd claims, society has a long way to go before the truth guides our behavior about most nuclear endeavors.

But perhaps the worst thing of all about these two letters is that your paper should have caught these absurdities and refused to publish them.

When the San Diego Union Tribune assures the public that I have "another agenda" what exactly are you claiming?  Nothing I have written is false, none of Banjac's or Jenning's "corrections" stand up to any scrutiny at all, and that's true least of all for Banjac's claims about my discussion of NASA's methods of calculating error rates.  Terrorism such as we saw on 9-11 was not factored into ANY nuclear power plant's design criteria (or into the launch risks for Cassini), and now that it's arrived, the Nuclear Industry still won't admit that there really is NO protection against such an attack, especially if it's against our coming Dry Storage Casks at San Onofre, which are particularly vulnerable to a 9-11 style attack.

It's clear who has the hidden agenda -- Banjak, Jennings, and the San Diego Union Tribune, for publishing such inaccurate statements against me.

Readers may wish to visit some of the URLs in the related items shown below.


Russell Hoffman
Concerned Citizen
Carlsbad, CA

Below are both letters referred to above, also a suggested letter people can send to President Bush which I wrote earlier today (before seeing the SDUT items).  That letter includes several additional items including some URLs people should check out.

Below are two letters from the San Diego Union Tribune:

Letter on Mars landing had another agenda

Regarding Russell Hoffman's Jan. 8 letter, "Don't get so euphoric about this Mars landing":

Hoffman's theories of a possible crash of the Mars Spirit mission are simply incorrect. His discussion of "cumulative errors" implies that engineers don't analyze or take into account such events. That could not be further from the truth.

As someone with degrees in chemical and nuclear engineering and involved in safety, risk assessment and hazards analysis, I can assure him that a major part of any engineering design is dedicated to "probabilistic risk analysis." Many scenarios of components failing are analyzed, with the use of "fault trees" and "event trees" to determine exactly how bad the final outcome will be. Events such as explosions, impacts, failures of systems, human error, as well as terrorist actions are taken into account, and then the system is designed with a built-in margin of safety.

Although nothing on Earth can be designed to be 100 percent risk-free, the risks associated with accidents quoted by Hoffman need to be put in perspective. An average American is millions of times more likely to be killed in an automobile accident, mauled by a stray dog, or hit by lightning than in any way harmed by a falling spacecraft or nuclear radiation. For comparison, the total number of Americans killed in nuclear accidents since 1945 is fewer than 10 (and all of those being worker exposures, not the public); that is somewhat fewer than the 40,000 Americans killed in automobile accidents every year.

What would happen if terrorists did indeed hijack, or explode, this spacecraft close to Earth? Very little. The RTG package is designed to withstand impact into a hard surface, so it would most likely end up at the bottom of the ocean, with its nuclear material intact and shielded.

What if some enterprising terrorist actually infiltrated NASA, physically stole the RTG and had the time to open the package and remove the plutonium-238? Again, very little. The terrorist would be faced with a device looking like a lunch box that would be slightly warm to the touch, due to the heat generated by radioactive decay of Pu238. Could he or she build an atomic bomb with it? Not at all. Pu238 has absolutely no explosive properties, and has nothing to do with "weapons-grade" plutonium, which isn't even used on space missions or in land-based commercial reactors.

What if the terrorist tried to use it as a "dirty bomb" by strapping on some conventional dynamite and blowing up the RTG? In that scenario, it's safe to say the only people injured or killed would be those driven to mass hysteria by the media coverage and hype definitely not due to the radiation released. A dirty bomb based on Pu238 would scatter a lot of dust and debris in the air, but little if any health effects would arise from the radiation itself, due to the very short range of its alpha-particles. For example, a regular sheet of 8.5-by-11 copy paper would provide all the necessary shielding against Pu238 radiation.

Solana Beach

NASA just put a 38-pound, highly advanced robot right on target in the middle of a dry lake bed on a planet now 105 million miles away from Earth.

Not only has Spirit sent back stunning initial digital images, but it is staged to roam nearly a mile over a 90-day period using 3D digital cameras, rock microscopes and spectrometers to help us all understand what the heck is up with water and/or life on Mars.

NASA has every right to be proud and celebrate this success. I am proud of it and was certainly euphoric when Spirit safely landed.

Yes, Hoffman is correct that Spirit uses nuclear energy, but let's put that in perspective with facts. Spirit uses less than one ounce of Pu238 to produce 8 watts of heat, keeping the electronics from freezing during the cold Martian nights. That's it.

The Pu238 is in eight separate smaller pieces, each contained in platinum and carbon fiber containers (some superstrong stuff) to minimize risk should an accident occur. The Pu238 is in ceramic form, which will not burn, fractures into large non-breatheable parts (i.e. not dust), and is insoluble in water. If a catastrophic accident had occurred on launch, the spacecraft broke up, and the heater's containment vessels were breached, you would need to go find one of these chunks of Pu238 and swallow it to be exposed. Inside their containment vessels, the Pu238 gives off short-range alpha particles that travel about 3 inches and are stopped by clothes, paper, even skin.

While it would certainly be bad news if someone actually swallowed the stuff, it is hardly the widespread potential nuclear disaster alluded to in Hoffman's letter.

Space exploration is a risky business and requires people brave enough to intelligently take those risks. It looks to me as though our NASA engineers not only managed that risk in an exceptional manner, but are also clearly this planet's leaders in space exploration. Great job, NASA!


Suggested letter to send to President Bush regarding NASA and nukes:

Dear Reader,

Please paste your name into the following document and send it to:

"The President of the United States" <>

Thank you in advance,

Russell Hoffman
Concerned Citizen
Carlsbad, CA


January 15th, 2004

Dear Mr. President:

I am writing to you to ask that NASA be completely defunded, UNLESS it becomes a non-nuclear, scientifically-credible, publicly-open, militarily-disconnected endeavor.

Otherwise, at the very least, stop the sham of pretending NASA is doing valuable scientific research about the foundations of life, when in fact it is little more than a cover operation for a large military/industrial/nuclear complex.  Its so-called scientific missions, such as Cassini (launched in 1997) AND Spirit, (launched last summer), contained thousands of Curies of Plutonium 238 on board -- over 400,000 Curies in the case of Cassini, and nearly 5,000 Curies -- still an awful amount! -- in the case of each of the two MER spacecraft.  Spirit (MER1) has already landed and found little worth the risk from such large amounts of Pu 238.  MER2 has yet to land -- but only about 1 in 3 missions to Mars succeeds, so NASA may have risked NUKING EARTH during launch for nothing.  There were approximately 7 billion people on earth who were put at risk during launch.

I've heard NASA's excuses for using plutonium.  I know they claim it is adequately protected.  But a careful examination of their own documentation shows this is not so!  The containment system is INADEQUATE and to make it adequate would make the use of plutonium too expensive -- or even useless, so the only solution is to use solar power instead. 

And why not?  Even NASA's own projects are yielding newer and better solar panels for just such endeavors (see NASA's own publication, NASA Tech Briefs, current edition, if you don't believe me!).

I know that after Cassini and Spirit and other "exploratory missions" will come PROMETHEUS, which the NASA administrator carefully FAILS to mention is a NUCLEAR REACTOR-powered rocket.  NASA wants to build many Prometheus rockets and send them all over the solar system.

I know that sooner or later one will fail, and will be flung towards Earth, which is essentially a large gravitational "vacuum" sweeping through space.  Maybe 100,000 years from now.  SO WHAT?  We plan to still have PEOPLE here on this planet then, THAT'S WHAT!  And besides, it's perfectly possible that a Prometheus rocket will fail the first time one is launched (the reactors are activated after launch).

We do not wish to live as though ARMAGEDDON is coming.  We EXPECT the human race to survive and evolve over many millennia.  But nuclear pollution MUST STOP in order for the human race to survive.

NO NUKES IN SPACE!  NASA has proven time and again that they cannot always control the behemoths they launch.  Spectacular failures are common.  Yet when nuclear payloads are involved, NASA consistently miscalculates the odds against failure.  They lie with statistics.

For example, it is well-known that when they present a "worst case scenario" to the public in, for example, an Environmental Impact Statement, that "worst case scenario" is actually nothing of the sort -- it is an AVERAGED case study, built from perhaps ONE real "worst case scenario" and THOUSANDS of lesser accidents.  It is mathematical HOGWASH!

Lastly, Mr. President, as a citizen, I KNOW that our military is still very, very pro-nuclear and they expect all other citizens of the United States to like it that way.  WELL, WE DON'T.

We don't want you to make NUCLEAR BUNKER BUSTERS.  We want ALL NUCLEAR POWER PLANTS CLOSED FOREVER and that includes military propulsion systems!  We want no more investments in nuclear armaments, including DEPLETED URANIUM BULLETS, SHELLS AND ARMOR.

This is not to say we do not see any benefit from radiological sources.  Short-half-life medical compounds, x-rays, "hot" tracers when searching for oil -- perhaps all of these have some use to society. (Although in every case just mentioned, MORE ADVANCED TECHNOLOGICAL SOLUTIONS do actually exist that will work in most situations; they are just more expensive to use because they have not been widely adopted yet.)

But we know that the pro-nuclear industry has a STRANGLEHOLD on America and on the world, and most of that strength comes from the U.S. Military being so incredibly pro-nuclear.  They even nuke their own, as if it is a battle-scar to be worn proudly!  But look at the lawsuits that have come from this process:  Thousands of veterans who witnessed close-up the effects of nuclear blasts are now sick and dying with cancer, leukemia, heart disease, and their children have birth defects, if they are not spontaneously aborted.

Thousands of CIVILIANS suffer these effects each year because of the 1000+ nuclear bombs we have set off, with less than a 0.2% use in actual conflict (so far).

Thousands more suffer from our use of DEPLETED URANIUM in Kosovo, in Afghanistan, and twice in Iraq (so far, with the last use continuing to this day in daily and even hourly spurts).

I know that TERRORISTS hate us.  I know this wanton use of nuclear weaponry, large and small, and in-between, is ONE OF THE REASONS they hate us.  Sure, many of their reasons for hating us are UTTERLY IRRATIONAL.  But not all their reasons are irrational, and our use of nukes is perhaps their best reason to hate us.  Why PLAY INTO THEIR HANDS by giving them a LEGITIMATE grievance?

I, and many other citizens, know all this, and now, you know that we citizens know it, so please don't pretend that these issues are resolved.  Many people do not want PROMETHEUS.  We do not want Yucca Mountain either, the planned earthly depository for High Level Nuclear Waste, which has been POORLY STUDIED and is strongly opposed in Nevada by every citizen and elected official.

We want all Nuclear Reactors shut off IMMEDIATELY.  We want the money proposed for NASA to be used instead for college educations for those who need it.  In short -- WE TRUST OUR FUTURE CITIZENS more than we trust NASA, because NASA has proven itself to be a liar, a falsifier of data, a misinformation giver, and a blatant cover-up of a military agenda.  Our children, on the other hand, are innocent until proven guilty.  We wish to put our faith in them, instead.  Shut NASA down entirely.  Shut down the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Department of Energy, both sham government oversight organizations, and shut down the nuclear power plants.

Scientists by the thousands have opposed these nuclear projects for many years.  Average Joe and Jane Citizen largely opposes them, too.  For the most part (not counting a few Yahoos!) only the military and a select group of private profiteers endorse them.  So it's time for a change.


A Concerned Citizen

Enclosed below is another relevant letter, with many additional links to important related information:


January 14th, 2004

Today, President Bush promised billions of new dollars to build, among other things, nuclear space ships capable of going to Mars faster than non-nuclear missions.  While claimed to be a scientific search for life, in fact, this new plan is little more than a cover for the U.S. military's continued nuclear space initiatives.

NASA currently uses, on average, tens of thousands of Curies each year, of the most deadly substance known to mankind -- Plutonium -- as a heat and power source for many of its so-called civilian missions.  The U.S. military undoubtedly also uses plutonium for missions encircling the Earth.

There is no safe way to launch nuclear materials into space.  Space debris and a wide variety of launch accidents make it impossible.  But this doesn't stop NASA because they DENY THAT INCINERATED PLUTONIUM IS DANGEROUS!!!   It could easily be 100 times more dangerous than they admit -- perhaps even 1000 times more dangerous (at the dose rates that result from an upper-atmosphere dispersion).  They deny that the accident rate is as high as it really is, and they deny that the containment systems they design are as useless as they really are.

Oppose NASA's new funding initiative!  The same amount of money, if it were used to increase science education in our schools, would result, over time, in a much greater increase in human knowledge.


Russell Hoffman
Former Editor, Stop Cassini newsletter
Concerned Citizen
Carlsbad, CA

or try:

STOP CASSINI web site:

Internet Glossary of Nuclear Terminology / "The Demon Hot Atom":

List of every nuclear power plant in America, with history, activist orgs, specs, etc.:

List of ~300 books and videos about nuclear issues in my collection (donations welcome!):

Learn about The Effects of Nuclear War here: