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Reply #20: Just for the record, RTG's have crashed into earth. [View All]

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NNadir Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Dec-27-05 07:48 PM
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20. Just for the record, RTG's have crashed into earth.
Edited on Tue Dec-27-05 07:52 PM by NNadir
The most famous RTG to have crashed on earth is the one on the lunar module from Apollo 13.

Far from wiping out live on earth, it has never been detected. It was designed for accidental re-entry and upon re-entry did exactly what it was designed to do: Sink without leaking.

Here is a list of RTG devices launched by the United States:

Note that a few others have reentered the atmosphere. One was designed to burn up in the atmosphere and did so. Apparently, according to some of the posters here, everyone in Florida was killed in this catastrophe.

For the record as well metric ton quantities of plutonium were deliberately injected into the atmosphere in nuclear tests, most of which occurred before 1962. The US inventory alone so released was 3.4 tons; the Soviets, the British, the French and the Chinese all added far more. Most of this has now immobilized because plutonium doesn't form many soluble compounds. While no one would argue that this was a happy thing, it is very clear that the myth of plutonium toxicity characterized by this nonsensical raving is hardly supported by these events. Much of this plutonium was released in Nevada. Not a hair on the precious head of Wayne Newton seems to have been damaged by this event. Las Vegas is much bigger than it ever was, as is the downwind state of Utah, Utah having the 4th highest life expectancy in the nation. More broadly, life on earth did not come to end because of this dubious activity.

I note that the neptunium-237 from which the plutonium-238 in RTG's is made is probably the only commonly soluble actinide known. Moreover the neptunium-237 has a half-life of over 2 million years, whereas plutonium-238 has a half-life of 87 years. Almost all of the neptunium in question was in fact made from naturally occurring uranium-235, which would have involved 11 nuclear decays were it not launched into space. Therefore one who is complaining about the alleged "risk" of the RTG is merely a person who is demonstrating that he or she is lacking even the most primitive sense of risk analysis. An undeveloped or non-existent sense of risk analysis characterizes most commentary of this type on the subject of nuclear subjects. I note that such ignorance can be fatal - fear of things radioactive rationalized the Iraq war in many (poorly educated) minds, just as it is slowing the necessary adoption of nuclear power to fight the real crisis of global climate change.

Plutonium fear is mostly urban myth and is typical anti-science fear mongering and luddite ideology. Much of the popularity of this shit about plutonium comes out of foetid little brain of the paranoid Repuke nut case, Ralph Nader, who is the originator of the lie that plutonium is the most toxic substance known. (Given the number of people who have died in Iraq, I think Ralph is a good deal more toxic than plutonium ever will be.) For the record, Nader knows exactly zero about the subject of science.

In fact, I have yet to meet a person who worried incessantly about plutonium who actually knew any chemistry and physics worth respecting. I will tell you a fact: Unless the world begins to use plutonium on a much larger scale than it already does, there is a fairly substantial probability that life on earth will largely consist small thermophilic organisms who don't launch spacecraft. This may not be a very large probability but it is certainly much much much much larger than the putative risks of plutonium, all of its isotopes, and all of its technologies, included.
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