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OpEdNews Op Eds    H4'ed 2/18/21

Academies Report Urges Nuclear-Powered Rockets for Trips to Mars and Lays Out NASA-U.S. Military "Synergies"

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A report advocating rocket propulsion by nuclear power for U.S. missions to Mars, written by a committee packed with individuals deeply involved in nuclear power, was issued last week by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.

The 104-page report also lays out "synergies" in space nuclear activities between the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the U.S. military, something not advanced explicitly since the founding of NASA as supposedly a civilian agency in 1958.

The report states: "Space nuclear propulsion and power systems have the potential to provide the United States with military advantages....NASA could benefit programmatically by working with a DoD [Department of Defense] program having national security objectives."'

The report was produced "by contract" with NASA, it states.

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (NAS) describe themselves as having been "created to advise the nation" with "independent, objective advice to inform policy." .nationalacademies.org/about

The 11 members of the committee that put together the report for the National Academies includes: Jonathan W. Cirtain, president of Advanced Technologies, "a subsidiary of BWX Technologies which is the sole manufacturer of nuclear reactors for the U.S. Navy," the report states; Roger M. Myers, owner of R. Myers Consulting and who previously at Aerojet Rocketdyne "oversaw programs and strategic planning for next-generation in-space missions [that] included nuclear thermal propulsion and nuclear electric power systems; Shannon M. Bragg-Sitton, the "lead for integrated energy systems in the Nuclear Science and Technology Directorate at the Idaho National Laboratory:" Tabitha Dodson, who at the U.S. government's Defense Advanced Research Project Agency is chief engineer of a program "that is developing a nuclear thermal propulsion system;" Joseph A. Sholtis, Jr., "owner and principal of Sholtis Engineering & Safety Consulting, providing expert nuclear, aerospace, and systems engineering services to government, national laboratories, industry, and academia since 1993." And so on.

The NAS report is titled: "Space Nuclear Propulsion for Human Mars Exploration." It is not classified and is available at Click Here

Bruce Gagnon, coordinator of the Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space, from its offices in Maine in the U.S., declared: "The nuclear industry views space as a new -- and wide open -- market for their toxic product that has run its dirty course on Mother Earth."

"During our campaigns in 1989, 1990, and 1997 to stop NASA's Galileo, Ulysses and Cassini plutonium-fueled space probe launches, we learned that the nuclear industry positioned its agents inside NASA committees that made the decisions on what kinds of power sources would be placed on those deep space missions," said Gagnon. "Now it appears that the nuclear industry has also infiltrated the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine that has been studying missions to Mars. The recommendation, not any surprise, is that nuclear reactors are the best way to power a Mars mission."

"It's not the best for us Earthlings because the Department of Energy has a bad track record of human and environmental contamination as they fabricate nuclear devices. An accident at launch could have catastrophic consequences."

Stated Gagnon: "We fought the DoE and NASA on those previous nuclear launches and are entering the battle again. The nuclear industry has its sights set on nuclear-powered mining colonies on an assortment of planetary bodies -- all necessitating legions of nuclear devices being produced at DoE and then launched on rockets that blow up from time to time."

"We urge the public to help us pressure NASA and DoE to say no to nukes in space. We've got to protect life here on this planet. We are in the middle of a pandemic and people have lost jobs, homes, health care and even food on their table."

"Trips to Mars can wait," said Gagnon.

There have been accidents in the history of the U.S. -- and also the former Soviet Union and now Russia -- using nuclear power in space.

And the NAS report, deep into it, does acknowledge how accidents can happen with its new scheme of using nuclear power on rockets for missions to Mars.

It says: "Safety assurance for nuclear systems is essential to protect operating personnel as well as the general public and Earth's environment." Thus under the report's plan, the rockets with the nuclear reactors onboard would be launched "with fresh [uranium] fuel before they have operated at power to ensure that the amount of radioactivity on board remains as low as practicable." The plans include "restricting reactor startup and operations in space until spacecraft are in nuclear safe orbits or trajectories that ensure safety of Earth's population and environment" But, "Additional policies and practices need to be established to prevent unintended system reentry during return to Earth after reactors have been operated for extended periods of time."

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Karl Grossman is a professor of journalism at the State University of New York/College at Old Westbury and host of the nationally syndicated TV program Enviro Close-Up (www.envirovideo.com)

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