Solar-energized Juno to arrive at Jupiter on Independence Day

What NASA insisted for decades could not be—a spacecraft using solar energy rather than nuclear power going beyond the orbit of Mars—will be proven false next Monday, July 4th, Independence Day, when the solar-energized Juno space probe arrives at Jupiter.

NASA had maintained that to provide on-board power and heat on spacecraft in deep space, plutonium-powered systems were required—despite the disaster if there were an accident on launch or in a fall back to Earth and the plutonium was released. I broke the story 30 years ago about how the next mission of NASA’s ill-fated Challenger shuttle was to involve lofting a plutonium-powered space probe and I have been reporting in articles, books and on television on the nuclear-in-space issue ever since.

If the Challenger accident did not happen in January 1986 but the shuttle exploded on its next scheduled mission, in May 1986, with the plutonium-powered space probe in its cargo bay, the impacts could have been enormous. Plutonium is the most lethal of all radioactive substances.

Still, when NASA re-scheduled the two plutonium-powered missions it had planned for 1986—one the Galileo mission to Jupiter—it not only publicly declared that plutonium systems to provide on-board power for space probes in deep space were necessary but swore to that in court.

Opponents of the Galileo mission brought suit in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. in 1989 seeking to stop the nuclear-energized Galileo shot because of its public health danger in the event of an accident, and they pressed NASA and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) on the availability of a safe energy alternative.  NASA and DOE officials swore that only nuclear power would do that far out in space, that solar energy could not be harvested beyond the orbit of Mars.

And now comes NASA’s own Juno spacecraft energized by solar energy functioning in deep space. Indeed, NASA acknowledges, “This is the first time in history a spacecraft is using solar power so far out in space.”

Says Bruce Gagnon, coordinator of the Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space: “All during out campaigns to oppose NASA plutonium launches during 1989, 1990 and 1997”—when NASA launched its Cassini space probe with the most plutonium NASA ever used in a power system on a spacecraft—“the space agency maintained in court and in the media that solar would not work as an on-board power source in deep space. Then, in part because of grassroots pressure from around the planet, NASA decided to use solar on the deep space Juno mission.”

“To this day,” Gagnon went on last week, “NASA still maintains that it must use deadly nuclear devices on some of its space missions—further evidence that the nuclear industry maintains a stranglehold on the space agency. The nuclear industry mistakenly views space as a new market for its toxic product that so many have rejected back here on Earth.”

Gagnon added: “We will continue to organize to stop the nuclearization of space—and we will use NASA’s own Juno mission as evidence that the bad seed of nuclear power is not essential for space exploration.”

The Global Network—www.space4peace.org—established in 1992, is based in Maine.

Juno is not a minor space mission. As NASA states on its Juno mission web page–http://science.nasa.gov/missions/juno/— “The primary scientific goal of the Juno mission is to significantly improve our understanding of the formation, evolution and structure of Jupiter. Concealed beneath a dense cover of clouds, Jupiter, the archetypical ‘Giant Planet,’ safeguards secrets to the fundamental processes underlying the early formation of our solar system. Present theories of the origin and early evolution of our solar system are currently at an impasse. Juno will provide answers to critical science questions about Jupiter, as well as key information that will dramatically enhance present theories about the early formation of our own solar system.”

Juno will, as of Monday, have flown nearly 2 billion miles to reach Jupiter. It was launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida on August 5, 2011. It did a “slingshot maneuver” or “flyby” of Earth in October 2013 to increase its velocity. It has been flying at 60,000 miles per hour. It will orbit Jupiter more than 30 times doing scientific observations.

And although sunlight at Jupiter is just four percent of what it is on Earth, Juno’s solar panels, manufactured by Spectrolab, a division of Boeing, will be able to continue to harvest solar energy.  Its passes will include bringing it closer to Jupiter than any mission before.

On its current “Where is Juno?” page, NASA reports: “The Juno spacecraft is in excellent health and is operating nominally.”

The solar energy on 66-foot wide Juno is being generated by three large solar panels.  They convert sunlight to electricity at a 28 percent efficiency rate. That’s a little over the 25 percent efficiency rate of the better photovoltaic rooftop panels now being widely used for electric power on Earth. The cost of the mission is $1.1 billion.

Says NASA on its website: “To answer our fundamental questions about origins we especially need to know Jupiter’s internal structure and global water abundance. Juno will map the internal structure by studying its influence on the planet’s gravitational field with unprecedented accuracy. The water abundance will be determined by microwave radiometers that will detect thermal radiation from deep atmospheric layers, a completely new approach. Water ice brought most of the heavy elements to Jupiter. Knowing the water abundance will tell us the original form of that ice and hence help define the conditions and processes in the original cloud of dust and gas that led to the origin of Jupiter. Those same conditions and processes were forming other planets too. Because this enormous planet contains most of the water in the solar system we can expect this investigation to help us understand the origin of the life-giving water on Earth.”

At the end of its mission NASA will send Juno diving into Jupiter and it will burn up.

“NASA going green with solar-powered Jupiter probe,” was the headline of an Associated Press article in USA Today in 2011. “NASA’s upcoming mission to Jupiter can’t get much greener than this: a solar-powered, windmill-shaped spacecraft,” the story began.

But it wasn’t as if solar on Juno was NASA’s first choice. The Associated Press piece described Scott Bolton, the principal investigator for the mission for the Southwest Research Institute, a NASA contractor, as maintaining “the choice of solar was a practical one…No plutonium-powered generators were available to him and his San Antonio-based team…so they opted for solar panels rather than develop a new nuclear source.” The article quoted Bolton as saying: “It’s nice to be green, but it wasn’t because we were afraid of plutonium.”

As bullish as NASA has been in using nuclear power on space probes, once it was as insistent in utilizing atomic energy to power space satellites, too. Then, in 1964, a satellite with a SNAP-9A plutonium system on board failed to achieve orbit and dropped to Earth, disintegrating as it fell, its plutonium fuel dispersing all over the Earth.

Long linking the SNAP-9A accident to an increase in lung cancer on Earth was the late Dr. John Gofman, an M.D. and Ph.D., discover of several radioactive isotopes who did extensive experiments with plutonium for the Manhattan Project, and was associate director of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and a professor at the University of California, Berkeley.

With the SNAP-9A accident, NASA switched to using solar energy on satellites. Now all satellites—and the International Space Station—are solar powered.

“A Juno success would be a good sign for future solar-powered missions of all types,” stated the Associated Press “NASA going green with solar-powered Jupiter probe” article.

Unfortunately, if NASA and the DOE have their way, rational energy decision-making won’t necessarily follow a Juno success. “The United States has begun manufacturing nuclear spacecraft fuel for the first time in a generation,” reported SpaceNews last month. SpaceNews said the Department of Energy is having its Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Los Alamos National Laboratory and Idaho National Laboratory join together to produce plutonium for NASA space missions. Some plutonium has been produced although “full production of the stuff is still seven years or so away,” it said.

In space as on Earth, solar power works.

But, says Gagnon, “Just like here on Earth there is a tug-of-war going on between those who wish to promote life-giving solar power and those who want nukes. That same battle for nuclear domination is being taken into the heavens by an industry that wants more profit—no matter the consequences. The Global Network will continue to organize around the space nuclear power issue by building a global constituency opposed to the risky and unnecessary nukes in space program.”

With solar-energized Juno’s arrival at Jupiter, this Independence Day should mark a blow for independence from dangerous nuclear power above our heads in space.

 

“Long Island as a Nuclear Park”

PSEG, a Newark, New Jersey-based utility—long deeply involved in nuclear power—was foisted on Long Island, New York to be THE utility on the island by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.

In 1985, a Long Island Power Authority or LIPA was created and was key to stopping plans by the island’s utility at the time, the Long Island Lighting Company, to open its Shoreham nuclear power plant and go on and build 7 to 11 nuclear plants on Long Island. The notion, in the parlance of nuclear promoters then, was to turn Long Island into a “nuclear park.”

At the start of the push for nuclear power in the U.S., the federal government, manipulated by these promoters, preempted states and localities on most issues involving atomic energy. But on Long Island it was realized that New York State could create a public power entity and use the power of eminent domain to threaten LILCO’s corporate existence if it persisted with Shoreham and its other nuclear projects. Eminent domain is the centuries-old right governments have to expropriate private property as long as they pay compensation.

The Long Island Power Act of 1985 established LIPA with the power to acquire LILCO’s assets or its then undervalued stock.

Moreover, LIPA would be modeled after the Sacramento Municipal Utility District or SMUD, a public power entity with elected trustees that for decades has democratically determined the energy future of its 900-square mile service area in northern California.

With the strong support of Andrew Cuomo’s father and predecessor as governor, Mario Cuomo, LIPA was able to stop Shoreham and LILCO’s other proposed nuclear plants. LILCO turned over the completed Shoreham plant to LIPA for $1 for decommissioning as a nuclear facility. The plant had undergone trouble-riddled bouts of low-power testing. Long Island became nuclear power plant-free. And LIPA became Long Island’s utility. LILCO faded from the scene.

But Mario Cuomo promptly undermined Long Island having a democratically-run public power entity like SMUD. He suspended, soon after LIPA’s establishment, having its trustees elected—although that was central to the LIPA vision. Instead, he arranged for them to be appointed by the governor, State Assembly speaker and State Senate majority leader.

Andrew Cuomo has been highly critical of LIPA in his years as governor and in 2013 he decimated LIPA in favor of having PSEG come to Long Island and take over most of LIPA’s functions.

Cuomo was able to get a majority of state lawmakers from Long Island to vote for what he claimed would be LIPA “reform” by permitting video slot casinos being set up on the island. The selling point was that they would provide revenue for financially-troubled Nassau and Suffolk County governments and their bankrupt Off-Track Betting operations, both political patronage troughs. This ploy turned out to be a big misstep in itself with now years of public opposition on Long Island to the proposed casinos.

Meanwhile, PSEG has had a very sorry record as THE Long Island utility.

This bad record is continuing with intensity.

Recently, for example, PSEG took a blow at solar energy on the island asking the state Public Service Commission to “minimize” and “later eliminate” benefits received by homeowners and business owners utilizing solar energy. PSEG wants to hike the charge to solar customers for being connected to the grid and reduce what they get for sending electricity into it.

“We should encourage homeowners and business owners to invest in rooftop solar systems—but PSEG wants to penalize them,” says Gordian Raacke, executive director of Renewable Energy Long Island. ‘This runs counter to the idea of getting more renewable energy into the grid and of the New York State energy plan which seeks to get half of the state’s electricity from renewable sources by 2030.”

Meanwhile, PSEG is pushing ahead with its plan to install taller and wider utility poles throughout Long Island with their bottoms coated with pentachlorophenol or penta—a cancer-causing substance banned by nations around the world.

A battle has been underway against this PSEG program in the island’s Town of East Hampton which has included public protests and a lawsuit brought by Long Island Businesses for Responsible Energy and individual citizens. New York State Supreme Court Justice Andrew G. Tarantino, Jr. recently refused PSEG’s motion to dismiss the case. Irving Like, a noted environmental lawyer from Babylon, Long Island—author of the Conservation Bill of Rights in the New York State Constitution—represents the plaintiffs. The want to get PSEG to bury the electric lines—something that should be done all over the island rather than stick poles with a cancer-causing substance on them into the ground, just above the island’s sole-source water table, to hold lines that are vulnerable in hurricanes and other big storms.

PSEG, a private utility, is at the same time insisting that it’s not subject to local zoning and other laws. That’s been challenged by East Hampton in connection with PSEG’s activities at its substation in the town’s hamlet of Amagansett. New York State Supreme Court Justice Thomas F. Whelan recently ruled in favor of PSEG, a decision the town is appealing.

“Outrageous!” says East Hampton Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell about PSEG’s position. “PSEG demands a blank check to do what it wishes without local approval.” PSEG in his town “took a substation, did construction, put up barbed wire fences without screening—it resembles a nuclear plant site.”

And regarding nuclear power, a fundamental focus of LIPA was to lead in bringing safe, clean, renewable—and not nuclear—energy to Long Island. This was in keeping with its formation being instrumental in stopping LILCO’s plan to build many nuclear power plants on the island with Shoreham the first.

Another U.S. utility that’s been as bullish on nuclear power—and still is: PSEG.
In the 1970s, PSEG embarked on a plan to build a line of “floating” nuclear power plants in the Atlantic Ocean off New Jersey with the last just south of Long Island. Millions were spent before this scheme was jettisoned.

But PSEG recently received an “early permit” from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to add a third nuclear power plant to its two-nuclear plant Salem nuclear power complex—along the New Jersey coast some 125 miles southwest of Long Island.

New York State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele, Jr. of Sag Harbor, Long Island, who fought the Cuomo LIPA/PSEG deal, has vowed to continue to work on “true reform” of LIPA by returning it to the vision of being a democratically-run public utility. He says: “I have grave concerns about PSEG.”

Last month, Thiele and New York State Senator Kenneth LaValle of Port Jefferson on Long Island introduced the LIPA Ratepayer Protection Act. Under it, LIPA trustees would be elected “by the people of Long Island from eight districts of equal population,” says the measure.

Also last month, there was a public hearing on Long Island—one of a series being held through New York State—on the state plan to have 50 percent of the electricity used in New York in 2030 come from renewable power.

Praising the state for making “renewable energy a priority,” Janet Van Sickle of Montauk declared before a panel from the New York State Department of Public Service, “We owe our children and our grandchildren a sustainable future.”

Raacke of Renewable Energy Long Island testified that the state plan is a “huge step forward and a right step forward.” He, like other speakers, emphasized, too, the importance of off-shore wind energy in enabling Long Island to reach the goal of half of its electricity coming from renewable sources. Raacke said “we have a tremendous and abundant resource” in offshore wind. “We need to tap into that resource.”

“I love the ocean,” said Julie Burmeister of Bridgehampton of the Bridgehampton Citizens Advisory Committee and Southampton Town Sustainability Committee. And winds blowing out in the ocean are, she said, “the solution” to energy needs on Long Island, a 120-mile island east of New York City sitting in the sea. Its Nassau and Suffolk Counties have a combined population of 3 million.

Clint Plummer, vice president of development for Deepwater Wind, noted that his company, headquartered in Providence, Rhode Island, is now “completing” off Block Island, Rhode Island, east of Long Island, the first U.S. offshore wind farm. And, he continued, it is readying a project for an even larger wind farm southeast of Long Island. He said offshore wind “holds a very unique potential” for Long Island In the face of “population density” on shore. He also said offshore wind “solves” the island’s energy issue. Moreover, Deepwater Wind’s turbines are “over the horizon and out of sight.”

What the state is calling a “50 by 30” plan, advanced by Andrew Cuomo, is formally titled a “Clean Energy Standard.” As the Department of Public Service explained in a statement: “Governor Cuomo directed the Public Service Commission to design and enact a new Clean Energy Standard mandating that 50 percent of all electricity consumed in New York by 2030 come from clean and renewable energy sources.” However, the next line in the statement is: “The proposed Clean Energy mandate also includes a proposal to support emissions-free upstate nuclear power.” That component of the state plan drew strong criticism at the public hearing.

“Nuclear energy is neither clean nor renewable,” testified Pauline Salotti, vice chair of the Green Party of Suffolk County. “No way should it be considered renewable.”

Raacke said New York should not seek to “prop up nuclear power” and spoke of the Shoreham “nuclear folly” that went on “for years” on Long Island and the successful struggle against it. He objected to a “revisit to that past in the plan.”

Otherwise, there was general support by those speaking in the hearing room. Jeff Kagan of Affiliated Brookhaven Civic Organization said “we’re all breathing bad air now” and that this is having a health impact. By utilizing renewable energy, there would be “cost-savings” by the avoidance of “medical impacts” of fossil fuel energy. However, said Kagan, the “devil is in the details” in the state plan.

The boosting of “upstate nuclear power” in the state plan follows Andrew Cuomo’s support for the continued operation of nuclear power plants in upstate New York despite his opposition to the Indian Point nuclear power plants downstate, 26 miles north of New York City, which he’s been demanding be shut down. He maintains the upstate nuclear plants are important for the economies in the communities where they are located.

The Syracuse Post Standard, in an article by Tim Knauss headlined “Cuomo’s Renewable Energy Plan Includes Boost for Upstate Nuclear Plants,” quotes Syracuse attorney Joe Heath, counsel to the Onondaga Nation, as opposing this. Said Heath: “We should…not think that nukes are the answer.”

The upstate nuclear plants that Cuomo is backing—and that his plan claims produce renewable energy—include the long-troubled Nine Mile Point and FitzPatrick nuclear plants in Scriba, although the current owner of FitzPatrick wants to close it this year because, says Entergy, it is not financially viable to operate.

Cuomo has taken an emphatic stand against the closing of FitzPatrick saying that the state would “pursue every legal and regulatory avenue in an attempt to stop Entergy’s actions and its callous disregard for their skilled and loyal work force.” He has been joined on this by New York Senator Chuck Schumer whose spokesperson, Angelo Roefaro, was quoted in the New York Times as saying this “would be awful for the local economy and to hundreds of loyal and effective workers” at the nuclear plant.

Meanwhile, the Long Island newspaper Newsday in an editorial charged the LaValle-Thiele bill was “election-year fodder” even though both have been overwhelming re-elected time and again. Newsday scoffed at the provision in the measure to “let voters elect” LIPA trustees. It claimed the measure was “utterly unworkable.” Newsday had crusaded incessantly in its editorials for the Shoreham nuclear power plant—stopped by a democratic process and groundswell.

The inclusion of nuclear power in the New York State renewable energy plan is drawing national attention. “Cuomo is mistaken to squander his political clout on beating the dead horse that nuclear power has become in the State of New York,” says Paul Gunter, director of the Reactor Oversight Project for the organization Beyond Nuclear.

“Hitting on state taxpayers to pay for steadily rising nuclear costs while wind and solar energy are less and less expensive makes no sense in a 21st Century economy,” declares Gunter. “It’s time to offer retraining to the nuclear work force to install renewable energy, expand state-of-the-art energy storage systems like Tesla’s PowerWall and make energy efficiency and conservation part of every home, business and industry in the state.” Moreover, says Gunter, the inclusion of nuclear power in the state plan would take resources away from true clean, green energy.