Karl Grossman

'Darth Trump' is pushing to turn space into a war zone

Beginning to fill in his declaration of last year about turning space into a war zone and establishing a U.S. Space Force, President Trump was at the Pentagon last week promoting a plan titled “Missile Defense Review.”

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Locavore Movement Overlooks Farmworkers

Locally-grown food from small farms, an alternative to food from “factory farms,” has become, thankfully, popular across the U.S, including the area covered by the Atlantic Chapter of the Sierra Club. On Long Island, where I live, Suffolk County remains the top agricultural county in terms of value of annual produce in New York.

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How NASA Became Massively Dysfunctional

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration has been celebrating its 50th anniversary by doing what it does best: public relations puffery.

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Cowed Media Disease

It's the day after U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman announced the first case of mad cow disease in the United States, the telephones at the Center for Media & Democracy in Madison, Wisconsin are ringing constantly with press inquiries.

"I've never seen anything like this in my 30 years of activism!" John Stauber, executive director of the center and co-author of the 1997 book Mad Cow U.S.A., is saying. Stauber has been warning for years about the threat of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), better known as mad cow disease, coming to America.

And after years of very limited press interest, this is something else. In between taking calls on December 24, he recalls a 1992 conversation with a reporter from the Wall Street Journal--an experience typical of the difficulty he had trying to get media to sound the alarm.

He had begun investigating mad cow disease as an outgrowth of research he was doing on recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH), the genetically engineered drug designed to increase a cow's milk production, while at the Foundation on Economic Trends, a Washington, D.C. group that examines developments in science and technology and their impacts.

"I got a call from a retired Eli Lilly drug researcher who told me that if rBGH came on the market in the U.S., we would be seeing mad cow disease," recounts Stauber. He didn't see the connection. The scientist explained: "If you inject cows with rBGH, you will have to feed them fat and protein supplements," because rBGH takes a heavy toll as it hikes milk production. Likely to be used, he said, would be "the cheapest form" of fat and protein: slaughterhouse waste. And this waste, the researcher said, would inevitably include parts of animals infected with mad cow disease -- and the disease would be passed on. The use of slaughterhouse waste was how mad cow disease had spread in Great Britain and elsewhere in Europe in the 1980s.

Then Stauber filed a request under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, obtaining a 1991 report that discussed the pros and cons of banning feed containing slaughterhouse waste: "The advantage of this option is that it minimizes the risk of BSE," it read. "The disadvantage is that the cost to the livestock and rendering industries would be substantial."

Stauber called a Wall Street Journal reporter who specializes in agriculture and told him of all this. The reporter said it was "a theoretical issue. Call me when they find the first cow" with mad cow disease.

Stauber told him: "They'll be calling me when they find the first cow."

Media cowed

"And now they've found the first cow and [are] calling me," he says as the phones ring non-stop at his public interest organization, a non-profit dedicated to investigative reporting on the public relations industry. (The center's website declares: "Whether the issue is health, consumer safety, environmental preservation or democracy and world peace, citizens today find themselves confronted by a bewildering array of hired propagandists paid to convince the public that junk food is nutritious, pollution is harmless, and that what's good for big business and big government is good for the rest of us.")

The Wall Street Journal reporter's stance was representative of the media view on mad cow disease coming to the U.S. that he encountered, says Stauber, even after the publication of Mad Cow U.S.A., with its pages of documentation, much obtained through FOIA, pointing to the disease reaching America -- unless strong steps were taken. The book, co-authored by Sheldon Rampton, editor of the center's PR Watch, was "ignored by the mainstream media."

The attitude, says Stauber, was akin to, "You don't need a yellow light or a red light at the intersection until there is a pile-up and bodies strewn across the intersection."

There were some journalists interested -- indeed, "excited" about the issue, says Stauber -- but he was told that their editors, news directors or executive producers didn't want them to pursue it. An offensive by agribusiness contributed to the inaction. There was the lawsuit following an Oprah Winfrey show in 1996 titled "Dangerous Food" on which ex-rancher Howard Lyman warned of the spread of mad cow disease to the U.S. "Today we could do exactly what the English did and cease feeding cows to cows. Why in the world are we not doing that?" asked Lyman, going on: "Because we have the greedy that are getting the ear of government."

The Texas Beef Group sued Winfrey, Lyman and King World Productions for $2 million, based on a then-new "food disparagement" law in Texas. The case was dismissed, but had a chilling effect. Stauber says a TV network producer later told him his orders were to keep his "network from being sued the way Oprah was."

Meanwhile, the meat industry and the government, notably the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and what Stauber terms "front groups" -- the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis and the Center for Consumer Freedom -- were working to convince "the media this was a non-issue."

Also, some new U.S. regulations on feeding cattle slaughterhouse waste were put into effect in 1997, but Stauber describes them as "a farce." Potentially infected blood, fat, bone meal and other parts of dead animals continued to be legally fed to livestock.

There was a continued attempt to mislead reporters and deceive the public, says Stauber. "Rather than watchdogging the issue, the press just passed on the false assurances. The media, dumbed down about this disease, kept the public in the dark."

There was an exception in alternative media: Joel Bleifuss of In These Times did investigative reporting on mad cow disease using material Stauber provided. The journalism by Bleifuss on mad cow disease was cited in 1994 as one of the "most under-reported" stories in the U.S. by Project Censored at Sonoma State University.

Then, on December 23, 2003, came the Veneman announcement.

A torrent of interest

Stauber and Rampton had gone together to see Shattered Glass -- the movie about the New Republic reporter who didn't simply pass on the PR spin but made up stories out of whole cloth -- when they got a phone call from CNN's Lou Dobbs Tonight program to comment on the announcement.

Stauber appeared and was very glad to do so, he said, because he was able to promptly rebut the claims by Veneman and industry that the 1997 rules were a "firewall," and the denial that mad cow disease could be passed to people by eating muscle meat. (Nerve tissue, which prions tend to infect, permeates muscles.)

That afternoon and evening, a torrent of other media were calling. "It seemed like a dam broke," says Stauber. He and Rampton were extensively quoted in the New York Times the next morning. The Times article included a 1997 Food and Drug Administration estimate mentioned in their book that forecast that if "a single case" of mad cow disease was found in the U.S. and a "total ban" on slaughterhouse feed was immediately begun, still as many as 299,000 infected cattle could be expected in the following 11 years. That would be due to the latency period of up to 10 years before mad cow disease manifests in animals. The latency period for the human form of the illness, the always-fatal variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, is five to 40 years after eating infected meat.

"Listen," CNN anchor Dr. Sanjay Gupta said to Stauber on CNN American Morning, "one of the things that you have said is that this is probably the tip of the iceberg. Don't you think that's a little bit dramatic?"

"No, I don't think it's dramatic at all," replied Stauber. He pointed out that in 1985 in Great Britain, when mad cow disease "first appeared it was in one or two cattle. Five years later, it was in hundreds of thousands." And he cited the FDA estimate. Great Britain "has been to hell and back on this issue" and "overcome it by doing two things -- an absolute and complete ban on feeding slaughterhouse waste to livestock...and testing virtually every animal." But the U.S. meat industry and government "still refuse to accept that."

Solid reporting, at long last, was being done on the subject by some mainstream media -- including after December 30 when Veneman announced additions to the supposedly already-toughened "firewall" of federal rules.

"On the surface, it may look like the USDA is finally waking up. But these new measures are not enough," wrote Arlene Weintraub and Janet Ginsburg in Business Week. Todd Hartman in the Rocky Mountain News reported: "Below the drumbeat of reassurances from government and the cattle industry that mad cow disease poses no threat to public health, a small universe of scientists working on a family of related illnesses are finding disturbing evidence to the contrary."

"Federal agencies have more power to recall defective toys and auto parts than they do tainted beef," Sabin Russell reported in the San Francisco Chronicle.

CBS Evening News broadcast a "Food Chain" segment by Bob McNamara on "what's in the meat that we eat" and the mad cow disease connection, with a stress on how the meat industry had long manipulated government policy.

"Mad Cow Forces Beef Industry to Change Course," was the front-page headline of the New York Times. A team of Times reporters wrote: "In an attempt to rescue the market for American beef, the industry is being forced to accept regulation it has long fought." Nation after nation was banning the import of U.S. meat, signaling an annual loss of many billions of dollars for the meat industry.

Stauber's center offered a free download of Mad Cow U.S.A. at its website: prwatch.org. Between the original Veneman announcement and mid-January 2004, there were 70,000 downloads. (Common Courage Press has just publised a new paperback edition of the book.)

Corporate reassurance

Meanwhile, government and meat industry PR machines and "front groups" were on the move. "Meat-industry trade groups were scurrying during the recent holiday season to coordinate key messages and media lists as they responded to reports of mad cow disease rearing its head in the Western U.S.," stated John N. Frank in PR Week.

The Harvard Center for Risk Analysis criticized the newly hard-hitting coverage. "The coverage of mad cow disease is demonstrating the tendency for reporters and editors to play up the dramatic, the frightening and the controversial aspects of risk stories, and to play down or omit altogether information that puts the risk in perspective," the center's David Ropeik said in an op-ed in the Washington Post. "Why is this front-page news, given that the overwhelming scientific evidence, developed from years of rigorous testing in Britain at the height of the epidemic there, shows that meat is not infectious?"

Ropeik, former reporter and news anchor for WCVB-TV in Boston and a longtime leader of the Society of Environmental Journalists, is the center's director of risk communication, "responsible for," according to its website, "communicating the center's approach of keeping risk in perspective to the press, policy makers and the public."

Ropeik berated media for barely mentioning a study his center did -- with an $800,000 U.S. Department of Agriculture grant, says Stauber -- which "found that if mad cow disease occurred in the American cattle herd, the chance that it would spread to other animals or pose a threat to human health is extraordinarily low." And Ropeik concluded, "Mad cow disease offers a warning to America: We need more balanced journalistic coverage of this, and all risks, in the name of public health."

The Harvard center is "a front group for industry with massive Fortune 500 funding," says Stauber. "They will whitewash corporate issues especially on food safety and pesticides." The center receives funding from such companies and groups as the American Petroleum Institute, American Plastics Council, ARCO, Business Roundtable, Chemical Manufacturers Association, Chlorine Chemistry Council, DuPont, Edison Electric Institute, Exxon-Mobil, General Electric, Monsanto, National Food Processors Association, Texaco, Union Carbide--and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. But "it has the wonderful name 'Harvard' in front of it,"says Stauber.

Another "front group" seeking to quell the coverage has been the Center for Consumer Freedom. Set up by the lobbying firm Berman & Co. in Washington in 1995 as the Guest Choice Network with money from the Philip Morris tobacco company, its initial focus was fighting laws restricting smoking in public places. With its name change, it developed a broader mission: campaigning through the media against what it terms "food cops, health care enforcers, anti-meat activists." It now receives substantial funding from the meat and restaurant industries.

The Center has attacked Stauber personally, saying he is involved with the Organic Consumers Assocation in using the Veneman mad cow disease announcement "to drive U.S. shoppers away from the grocery meat counter and toward more expensive organic and so-called 'natural' options" (PR Newswire).

Some media see no threat even now. "What's the Beef?" editorialized Newsday. "There's no reason to let the single case of mad cow disease that has turned up in Washington State change New Yorkers' eating habits. The chances of it bringing affliction down on a consumer here are immeasurably miniscule."

"Candidate Mooing," editorialized the Washington Post, berating Democratic presidential candidates for criticizing the Bush administration "as soft on mad cow disease." (It noted that Sen. John Kerry urged George W. Bush "for once not to listen to the demands of corporate America and act on behalf of the health and economic needs of all Americans.") The Post observed: "There is no particular reason to think that the regulatory systems designed to prevent an outbreak of bovine spongiform encephalopathy in this country didn't function as intended."

Karl Grossman, professor of journalism at SUNY/College at Old Westbury, hosts the Enviro Close-Up TV series. This article has been republished with permission from EXTRA!, a publication of the media advocacy group FAIR.

Say No to Nuclear Power

The alleged al-Qaeda plot to build and denotate a "dirty" bomb is a grim reminder of the widespread proliferation of nuclear materials.

Tens of thousands of pounds of "spent" nuclear are produced yearly at every atomic power plant -- fuel rods loaded with Cesium-137 and Strontium-90 and other lethal radioisotopes. Fifty or 100 pounds of this stuff is enough for a "dirty" bomb.

Atomic power plants, meanwhile, remain sitting ducks for terrorists -- their "containments," the government admits, unable to withstand a strike by a big airplane or heavy weapon. But the Bush administration wants to build dozens more.

How to deal with this threat?

Trying to put the atomic genie back in the bottle might sound like an impossible proposition, but the alternative is equally daunting: to survive the 21st Century with atomic materials becoming ever more available.

By "rebottling that [atomic] atomic genie, we could all move to energy and foreign policies that our grandchildren can live with. No more important step could be taken," says energy analyst Amory Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute.

Parts of the planet have already been designated by treaty as "nuclear free zones." It is time for us to work for the entire world to be a nuclear free zone. Alice Slater, president of the Global Resource Action Center for the Environment (GRACE) says what we need now is a "Bronx Project" – the polar opposite of the Manhattan Project which produced nuclear technology. It would be a crash program to bring on the widescale use of safe, clean energy technologies and "end to the horrendous experiment with atomic technology."

But the Bush administration is moving in the opposite direction.

Nuclear plants typically are fueled by 200,000 to 300,000 pounds of uranium. The fuel is not very radioactive in the initial stage -- but as the Uranium-235 (3 percent of the fuel) is fissioned, it quickly splits into lethal poisons like Cesium-137 and Strontium-90. Uranium-238 ( 97 percent of the fuel) transmutes into Plutonium-239 -- raw material for atomic bombs. The administration would like to build 50 new nuclear plants to add to the 103 now operating in the United States.

"It’s like reviving Frankenstein -- this is the sequel," says Robert Alvarez, executive director of the group Standing for Truth About Radiation.

The terrorist threat further underlines the lethal folly of relying on atomic power.

Harvey Wasserman, senior advisor to the Nuclear Information and Resource Service and Greenpeace U.S.A. notes that one of the jets, for instance, that flew into the World Trade Center passed over the Indian Point nuclear plant complex, 28 miles north of New York City. If Al-Qaeda had targeted the plant instead, the number of casualties would be somewhere around 3,000,000.

The U.S. government has not dealt -- and still does not deal -- realistically with this threat. In 1982, a U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission Board, while considering an operating license for the Shearon Harris nuclear power plant in North Carolina, dismissed the argument by a plant opponent named Wells Eddleman that the safety analysis for the plant was deficient because it didn’t consider the "consequences of terrorists commandeering a very large airplane ... and diving it into the containment."

The NRC board declared: "Reactors could not be effectively protected against such attacks without turning them into virtually impregnable fortresses at much higher cost … The applicants are not required to design against such things as artillery bombardments, missiles with nuclear warheads, or kamikaze dives by large airplanes."

Nuclear plant owners are still not asked to protect against such attacks because it is impossible. The three- to four-foot concrete containment of nuclear plants simply cannot withstand such assaults.

But the Bush administration not only wants to build more nuclear plants, but also use Yucca Mountain in Nevada as a repository for nuclear waste. Trucks and trains carrying deadly nuclear material from around the nation to Nevada would be potential hijack targets.

The truth is we don’t need atomic technology. Indeed, we now have fully-developed safe, clean, renewable energy technologies. Wind power, solar energy, hydrogen fuel technologies including fuel cells, and other renewable energy technologies are more than ready to use. Coupled with energy efficiency, they can be tapped and widely utilized, and render atomic power completely unnecessary.

We need to stop sowing the seeds for terror and create instead a nuclear-free world where technology works in harmony with life rather than threaten it.

Karl Grossman is professor of journalism at the State University of New York/College at Old Westbury and the author of "Cover Up: What You Are Not Supposed To Know About Nuclear Power." He is also the writer and narrator of TV documentary "The Push To Revive Nuclear Power.

U.S. Launching Lethal Plutonium Into Space

Despite tremendous danger, huge expense and a clear alternative, the U.S. government is pushing ahead with plans to deploy nuclear power in space. In October, NASA will launch the Cassini space probe to Saturn carrying 72.3 pounds of lethal plutonium, long described by scientists as the most toxic substance known. Should something go awry, billions of people on Earth could be affected.While the $3.4 billion mission is among a number of space projects using nuclear power planned by the U.S., Cassini will carry a record amount of plutonium. The plutonium will be used as a fuel in three radioisotope thermoelectric generators (RTGs) to produce electricity to run the space probe's instruments. But the probe, itself, is to be launched on a Titan IV rocket. Titans have undergone a series of mishaps in recent years.In 1993, a Titan IV blew up 101 seconds after launch from Vanderberg Air Force Base in California, blasting to smithereens an $800 million spy satellite system it was lofting. Industry consensus was that the rocket was erratic. "The Titan frequently is referred to by its misnomer, the workhorse launcher," said the space industry publication Space News. ""But it has proven to be more of a temperamental and ornery show horse."Even if the Cassini successfully launches on October 6, an even more potentially lethal scenario lies ahead: In August 1999, NASA intends to have Cassini hurtle back for an Earth "flyby," coming within 312 miles of the Earth's surface.Because Cassini does not have the propulsion power to get directly from Earth to Saturn, NASA plans to send the probe to Venus, have it circle Venus twice and then come flying back at 42,300 miles per hour towards Earth to do the flybyby. The idea: to use the Earth's gravity to increase the velocity of Cassini so it can reach its destination of Saturn.After traveling more than a billion miles in space already, any miscalculation in it's path back around Earth could cause what NASA in its Final Environmental Impact Statement for the mission calls an "inadvertent reentry." Translation: the probe would fall into the 75-mile high Earth atmosphere, disintegrating and releasing the plutonium. NASA admits --albeit reticently -- that "approximately 5 billion of the estimated 7 to 8 billion world population at the time ... could receive 99 percent or more of the radiation exposure."On the other hand, NASA's public relations machine claims the plutonium on Cassini would be contained in any "flyby" accident. PR representatives stress that the plutonium is in heavily shielded modules, even though the Environmental Impact Statement says a sizable amount of the 72.3 pounds of plutonium on Cassini would likely be released as "vapor or respirable particles." This would maximize the health impacts -- plutonium is most dangerous if inhaled as dust."The way Cassini would burn up," explains Dr. Michio Kaku, professor of nuclear physics at the City University of New York, is "as it flies by Earth ... if there is a small misfire [of Cassini's] rocket system, it will mean that they will penetrate into the Earth's atmosphere and the sheer friction will begin to wipe out the heat shield and it will, like a meteor, flame into the Earth's atmosphere...."This thing, coming down into the Earth's atmosphere, will vaporize, release the payload and then particles of plutonium dioxide will begin to rain down." Dr. Kaku says that plutonium particles inhaled by people will, because plutonium "is not water soluble," lodge in peoples' lungs "causing cancer over a number of decades."Dr. Horst Poehler, a scientist who worked for 22 years for NASA contractors at the Kennedy Space Center, maintains the NASA's "heavily shielded modules" are, in fact, "fingernail thin" and a flyby accident would turn out to be "the mother of all accidents." Declares Dr. Poehler: "Remember the old Hollywood movies when a mad scientist would risk the world to carry out his particular project? Well, those mad scientists have moved to NASA."As for the death toll of a Cassini "flyby" accident, NASA says in its Final Environmental Impact Statement that despite the radiation exposure which, it acknowledges, could impact billions of people, only 2,300 cancer deaths would "occur over a 50-year period to this exposed population."However, outside experts have weighty evidence to the contrary:*Dr. Ernest Sternglass, professor emeritus of radiological physics at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, after his review of the data contained in NASA's Final Environmental Impact Statement, said that "they underestimate the cancer alone by about 2,000 to 4,000 times. Which means that not counting all the other causes of death -- infant mortality, heart disease, immune deficiency diseases and all that -- we're talking in the order of ten to twenty million extra deaths." Considering the additional potential causes of death, the total death toll "may be as much as thirty to forty million people."*Dr. John Gofman, professor emeritus of radiological physics at the University of California at Berkeley, says just the amount of plutonium NASA admits could be dispersed in a "flyby" accident "represents an astronomical quantity of a potent alpha-emitting cancer producer. The number of cancer doses is so high as to make calculations extraneous. Scientists and engineers in control of their faculties would surely have eliminated this project from their agenda. Yet it appears that is not the case."*Dr. Helen Caldicott, a founder and president emeritus of Physicians for Social Responsibility, says NASA fails to understand the especially dangerous characteristics of plutonium and the health impacts from "chronic, long-term "exposure. This is incredibly deadly stuff." And NASA has drastically underestimated the impact by basing it on an "average dose for the overall world population," not providing for those who would receive larger doses of plutonium.*A dispersal of plutonium from Cassini "would be a terrible event," said Dr. Karl Z. Morgan, one of the first five health physicists in the world, often described as the "father" of health physics and former director of the Health Physics Division at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. "Each of these plutonium particles would deliver a terrific dose -- hundreds or thousands of rems -- to the tissue close up against the particle. There would be numerous cancers as a result."Ignoring the AlternativesMoreover, plutonium-power is not necessary for the Cassini mission. Solar photovoltaic energy could substitute to generate the mere 745 watts of electricity that the plutonium-powered system is to provide. Other nations certainly have avoided the risk.The European Space Agency (ESA), for instance, announced in 1994 a "technology milestone," a "breakthrough" in "high efficiency" photovoltaic solar cells specifically for use on deep space probes. Declared the ESA announcement: "Under contract with ESA, European industry has recently developed high efficiency solar cells for use in future demanding deep space missions." The new solar cells reach a 25 percent efficiency "under deep space conditions," stressed ESA. "The 25 percent mark represents the highest efficiency ever reached worldwide."Added ESA physicist Carla Signorini: "If given the money to do the work, within five years the European space agency could have solar cells ready to power a space mission to Saturn," she told the newspaper "Florida Today" in 1995.And last month, at a conference in Darmstadt, Germany on the use of nuclear power in space, Dr. Gerhard Strobl of the German company that developed the high-efficiency solar system for ESA, Angewandte Solarenergia-ASE, said his firm's solar cells could produce adequate power for the Cassini mission although the space probe would have to be redesigned.In short, by not using solar power for the Cassini mission, "NASA is putting ideology ahead of the laws of physics because the amount of energy that you could generate from solar cells is clearly sufficient to energize Cassini," said Dr. Kaku. "We are only speaking about a modest amount of electricity. It is well within engineering specifications to use solar cells and, if necessary, fuel cells -- batteries -- to supply the electricity needed. But NASA is ideologically committed to using nuclear." City University's Dr. Kaku acknowledged that "retrofitting Cassini with solar cells would cost more and might delay the mission a bit, yet that is a small price to pay for the lives of people who could be killed if there is a tragedy."Yet NASA, along with other proponents of a nuclear Cassini mission -- the U.S. Department of Energy, the DOE's national nuclear laboratories, Lockheed Martin, the company which in 1993 acquired the GE division which for decades produced RTGs -- insist on sticking with atomic power on Cassini.NASA said in its Final Environmental Impact Statement for the Cassini Mission acknowledges that the European "cells thus far have tested favorably under simulated environments." An analysis by its engineers, says NASA, showed they provide "improved performance." But, NASA says, "greatly increased turn times and greater operational complexity and programmatic risk associated with an all-solar Cassini design makes such a design, from both mission engineering and scientific perspective, infeasible.""Infeasible?" comments Dr. Kaku. "Using solar on Cassini is only infeasible if safety is not the primary concern."Leading the ChargeLeading the challenge to the Cassini mission is the Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space based in Gainesville, Fla. Bruce Gagnon, a co-coordinator of the Global Network, says an additional reason "beyond pressure from DOE, the national nuclear laboratories and Lockheed Martin and the nuclear industry" that NASA insists on using nuclear power on Cassini is "the military connection."The Pentagon, notes Global Network co-coordinator Bill Sulzman, is seeking to use nuclear power for weaponry in space. NASA, seeing its funding shrink with the end of the Apollo moon missions of the l960s and the early l970s, began coordinating its operations with the Pentagon to keep its funding up, and continues to "work in step with the military."The U.S. Air Force, notes Sulzman, in its current planning statements stresses space as a high ground. He points to Colonel Mike Heil of the Air Force's Phillips Laboratory, a research and development facility, declaring in an interview earlier this year that "yesterday's high ground of remote ridge lines and distant hilltops has a modern corollary: space. Our technologies are the ladder that enable military commanders, now and in the future, to reach that ultimate high ground."General Joseph W. Ashy, commander-in-chief of the U.S. Space Command, told Aviation Week & Space Technology recently how the U.S. Air Force intended to "expand into" space. "We will engage terrestrial targets someday -- ships, airplanes, land targets -- from space. We will engage targets in space, from space ... It's politically sensitive, but it's going to happen. Some people don't want to hear this, and it sure isn't in vogue ... but -- absolutely -- we're going to fight in space. We're going to fight from space and we're going to fight into space."As for the energy for the weaponry that the U.S. military would like to see used in space -- such as laser weapons, particle beams and hypervelocity guns -- an Air Force report issued last year and obtained by Sulzman, a report entitled "New World Vistas," said there were "power limitations" for space weapons today. "A natural technology to enable high power is nuclear power in space," asserted the Air Force report. "Setting the emotional issues of nuclear power aside, this technology offers a viable alternative for large amounts of power in space."The Strategic Defense Initiative or Star Wars as structured during the Reagan administration was premised on orbiting battle platforms with such nuclear-powered weaponry. The Clinton administration changed the name of the Strategic Defense Initiative to Ballistic Missile Defense but retained a multi-billion budget: $4 billion in the coming fiscal year. It has continued a commitment to nuclear power in space declaring in a 1993 policy statement that "space nuclear power and propulsion systems can contribute to scientific, commercial and national security space missions."In September 1996, the Clinton administration ordered a development program for nuclear-propelled rockets for military and civilian uses. The Defense Special Weapons Agency is to work on "multiple nuclear propulsion concepts," according to a front page article in Space News.Other U.S. space nuclear projects:* A scheme to rocket high-level nuclear waste into space was unveiled by scientists from Brookhaven National Laboratory at the Annual Symposium on Space Nuclear Power and Propulsion held in Albuquerque, New Mexico in January 1997. Sending high-level nuclear waste into space was an idea earlier considered by the U.S. government but rejected -- up until now -- because of a concern about a rocket carrying such waste blowing up on launch or undergoing an accident after launch and crashing back down, dousing the Earth with the atomic waste.* Sandia National Laboratories is embarked on a program to develop nuclear-powered satellites to beam down to Earth "high-definition, multi-channel television" signals. "Described as a pathway to making the United States a global telecommunications superpower, the Sandia proposal would pair controversial space nuclear power with entertainment and communications on demand," according to The Albuquerque Tribune.* The U.S. Air Force has been studying the use of nuclear reactors to "provide power and propulsion for military satellites," according to "Space News". The "bi-modal" nuclear spacecraft would serve both as a "propulsion system and for electric power."* NASA is planning to launch a pair of plutonium-fueled space probes for a mission to Pluto in 1999.* What "Space News" described as "an aerospace industry alliance" has come up with" a scheme to build a "high-powered" nuclear communications satellite. Lockheed Martin mission has been leading a consortium of seven firms, including a Russian company, on this project.Meanwhile, NASA looking into nuclear-powered colonies on the moon and on Mars."Nuclear energy in outer space," says Dr. Kaku, "is the linchpin" of the U.S. space program. "What we are headed for is a nuclear-propelled rocket with nuclear-propelled lasers in outer space. That's what the military and that's what NASA would really like to do ... First we have small little reactors called the SNAP reactors. Then we have the RTGs and Galileo and Cassini ... And ultimately what they would like to do is have nuclear-powered battle stations in outer space. That's what all of this is leading up to."Gagnon says: "Our concern is that the United States military and major weapons corporations view space as a new market, ultimately to profit from. They are using taxpayers' dollars to put a new round of the arms race in space. At the same time the nuclear power industry views space as its new market, a place where they can put plutonium and other radioactive sources, whether it's on military missions or civilian inter-planetary missions ... What is needed now is for the American public to speak out."SIDEBAR:History of FailuresThe use of nuclear power in space has been plagued by accidents. In 1964 a SNAP-9A (SNAP for Systems for Nuclear Auxiliary Power) RTG dropped from the sky burning up in the Earth's atmosphere as it fell. The 2.1 pounds of plutonium fuel it had onboard vaporized and "dispersed worldwide," according to a publication called Emergency Preparedness for Nuclear- Powered Satellites issued in 1990 by a grouping of European nuclear agencies. "A worldwide sampling program carried out in 1970 showed SNAP-9A debris to be present at all continents and at all latitudes," it said.Dr. Gofman, an M.D. and Ph. D. who did early scientific work with plutonium, has long pointed to the SNAP-9A accident as a cause of increased lung cancer on Earth.There have been three accidents out of the 25 known U.S. space missions involving nuclear power. The Soviet and now Russian failure rate has been the same: about 15 percent. That includes the Soviet Cosmos satellite which in 1978 disintegrated as it crashed to Earth over northwest Canada leaving a swath of nuclear debris over tens of thousands of square miles.Last year there was the fiery crash of the Russian Mars 96 space probe carrying a half pound of plutonium on Chile and Bolivia. The probe, according to eyewitnesses, broke apart as it fell. John Van der Brink, who had just retired from the European Southern Observatory in Chile, was out in the mountains of northern Chile on the night of November 16 watching meteors when he saw what was clearly "a piece of space debris [with] sparkling bits sort of coming off the back of it" falling to Earth. "This was an extraordinarily spectacular event."Leo Alvarado, a post-graduate student of geology from the Universidad Catolica del Norte, who had been driving with four other geology students across the Atacama Desert in northern Chile, saw it, too, changing colors as it came down. "We watched it break up into many pieces and burn."The Chilean government is investigating the health impacts of the probe's fall.Recent U.S. space probe missions involving plutonium-fueled RTGs were Galileo (with 50 pounds of plutonium onboard) launched in 1989, and Ulysses (with 25 pounds) in 1990. Indeed, carrying up Ulysses and its plutonium was to be the next mission of the ill-fated Challenger in 1986. After the Galileo launch, in response to a Freedom of Information Act about the alternatives to using nuclear power on Galileo, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory released reports acknowledging that solar power could have substituted for nuclear power on that mission to Jupiter. "Based on the current study, it appears that a Galileo Jupiter orbiting mission could be performed with a concentrated photovoltaic solar array power source without changing the mission sequence or impacting science objectives," one report began.