Shooting Plutonium in a Rocket Over Florida
I don't care what the odds are, you just don't fire a rocket containing the "most toxic radioactive substance known" into outer space, risking accident and mass exposure.
Is a probe to the planet Pluto really worth the risk of showering Florida with plutonium?
I mean really, could we at least vote on something like this?
"With the spacecraft containing 24 pounds of radioactive plutonium-238, the New Horizons launch is somewhat controversial.
The craft is not directly nuclear-powered, but the decay of the plutonium generates heat to fuel a battery, which in turn will power the probe as it moves far away from the sun to the outer reaches of the solar system.
Critics have expressed concern that an accident on launch could spread deadly plutonium over a wide swath of central Florida.
In an environmental impact statement NASA was required to file before making final flight plans, the space agency indicated that a 1-in-620 chance exists of an accident on liftoff that would release plutonium into the environment.
As a worst-case scenario, NASA estimated the chances at "1 in 1.4 million to 1 in 18 million" that an "extremely unlikely launch area accident" could release up to 2 percent, or about half a pound, of the plutonium on board the spacecraft.
NASA critic Karl Grossman, author of "The Wrong Stuff: The Space Program's Nuclear Threat to Our Planet," said he doesn't agree with NASA's interpretation of the risks.
"Is NASA again crossing its fingers and hoping?" he asked. "If it's 2 percent or it's 6 percent or if it's 20 percent or if it's 100 percent, when you're talking about plutonium, you're talking about the most toxic radioactive substance known."
New Horizons scientists say the benefits of the project outweigh the risks associated with launch."