PROJECT GALILEO SHUTTLE TO CARRY LETHAL PLUTONIUM
Despite scientific warnings of a possible disaster, NASA is
pursuing plans to launch the Project Galileo shuttle space probe which
will carry enough plutonium to kill every person on earth.
Theoretically, one pound of polutonium, uniformly distributed,
has the potential to give everyone on the planet a fatal case of lung
cancer. Galileo will have 49.25 pounds of plutonium on board, most of
it plutonium 238, a radioisotope 300 times more radioactive than the
one used as fuel for atomic bombs.
Critics of the plan, such as Dr. John Gofman, professor of
medical physics at the University of California, Berkeley, and Michio
Kaku, professor of nuclear physics at the City University of New York
claim that putting Galileo's plutonium payload into space is both
risky and unnecessary.
The plutonium will be used to fuel "radioisotope thermoelectric
generators" which keep instrumentation warm. Although NASA and the
DOE say there are no alternatives, professor Kaku asserts that the
latest advances in solar cells make it possible to generate solar
electricity even as far away as Jupiter, Galileo's destination.
NASA downplays the possibility of the release of plutonim in an
accident, stressing that the substance will be encapsulated in "clads"
made from iridium alloy in a graphite shell. The DOE contends that
clads can withstand explosive pressures up to 2,200 pounds per square
inch. However, a DOE safety analysis report on the Galileo mission
obtained under FOIA states that from the viewpoint of potential
nuclear fuel release, the most critical accidents would occur on the
launch pad. Launch pad accident scenarios, such as "tipovers" and
"pushovers" are estimated to generate explosive pressures as high as
Once in space, Galileo is still potentially danglerous. Since
the solid-fuel rocket substituted for the highly volatile liquid-fuel
Centaur rocket used in the Challenger does not have the power of the
Centaur, NASA devised a plan to use the earth's gravitational pull to
increase the rocket's momentum sufficiently to reach Jupiter. During
the "flyby" orbits around the earth, Galileo would at times be only
277 miles overhead. A 1987 NASA report estimates the chance of
Galileo inadvertently reentering the earth's atmosphere to be less
than one in a million, and, as such, an accident scenario is deemed
NASA set the probability figures for the chance of a shuttle
accident at one in 100,000 for thhe Challenger. Investigation
following the crash put the figure at closer to one in 25.
While "The Lethal Shuttle: Plutonium Payload Scheduled" was one
of the top 10 overlooked stories cited by Project Censored in 1986,
the continued failure of the media to draw attention to the potential
risk of Project Galileo fully warrants its renomination for 1987.
SOURCES: THE NATION, 1/23/88, "The Space Probe's Lethal Cargo,"
by Karl Grossman;, pp 1, 78; L.A. TIMES, 2/6/86.