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The comment about the activists hating Cassini because it is nuclear powered is a prime example of irrational fear. For heaven's sake, the sun is a gigantic nuclear fusion reactor, in a manner of speaking, and the earth's core is radioactive. What the hell will one tiny space probe do to ultra-google-giga cubic meters of empty space?
I can see it now in the new movie "The Probe After". The Cassini accidentally crash lands on one of the few planets in the universe that has advanced sentient life, and wipes out half of the radiation sensitive population. They get angry, trace the probe back to us, and eliminate the human race.
I'll stop writing now, I'm just too depressed about the sun going out in a few billion years.
I think the nuke activists were just worried that at initial launch that the thing would explode and irradiate the launchpad and surrounding cities. Or, I suppose they thought that instead of a fire plume to lift the rocket out of Earth's gravitation that there would be radioactive material that would be spewed out all over the place as propulsion or something (that would be silly). Perhaps as it reached a few hundred feet it could also disintegrate and bits of radioactive material would fall causing mass cancer and panic. Once in outerspace, there's not much else it would do except on one of the Earth flyby it were to go haywire and crash back to earth and irradiate the atmosphere. In reality, the RTG nuke units are like made out of black box material that just about can't be destroyed so all the concerns were probably way overdone but still they are concerns. I guess some of the concerns were valid, but like for the Mars rovers the radioactive material were really just warmers to keep the internals from becomming ice crystals and were fairly harmless (hey, but I still wouldn't bet my life on it).
Now what the activists should have been concerned about was the never- should-have-been made nuclear plane. Imagine if that thing crash landed. They did fly it once I hear and it actually did have radioactive fallout every time it flew. They never could shield the pilot well enough from the radioactivity in the rest of the plane behind him. A radioactive plane is not a good idea any way you look at it.
It always reminds me of one of my many favorite SciFi Short Stories. "The Green Hills of Earth" and the nuclear powered rockets Heinlein described in the story. I wonder what the envionmentalists would have thought about those ships.
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