Anti-nuclear group says crash bolsters position
By Alan Snel
MELBOURNE, Fla. Foes of nuclear power in space are pointing to Saturday's Columbia space shuttle disaster as an ample reason why it's too dangerous to carry plutonium in space or propel rockets with atomic energy.
With NASA planning a budget earmarking billions of dollars for nuclear-powered spaceships, protesters plan to picket a space nuclear power convention in Albuquerque, N.M., today.
They also will voice their opposition in May and June at Kennedy Space Center where twin rovers will blast off bound for Mars carrying a couple of ounces of plutonium.
"I've been inundated with calls and e-mails with people asking the question, 'Was there a nuclear payload on Columbia?' My response is not that we know of," said Bruce Gagnon, coordinator of the Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power. "This is a troubling scenario for NASA."
Karl Grossman, who has written about the "space program's nuclear threat" and is a Global Network board member, said, "Consider the consequences if a rocket powered by a nuclear reactor came down in pieces over Texas or elsewhere on Earth."
Advocates of nuclear power in space, however, argue Saturday's space shuttle tragedy is not relevant to the issue because nuclear reactors in space are activated only after the rockets clear Earth.
Denver-area resident Robert Zubrin, who has a doctorate in nuclear engineering and is president of The Mars Society, said it's "repulsive" for anti-nuclear forces to use the shuttle disaster "to further their agenda."
"While launch safety is always an issue, the space nuclear reactors, in general, will not be turned on until in deep space," Zubrin said.
He said it's much more cost-effective to run space vehicles and equipment with nuclear power.