Opposition to Cassini Launch

The latest example of anti-nuclear hysteria involves NASA's Cassini mission to Saturn ("Cassini Foes Organize in Effort to Stop Launch," Sept. 22), with 72 pounds of plutonium in an on-board power source. This radioactive material has been packaged with great care to avoid release, even if the rocket blows up.

To put in perspective the "danger," consider that radioactive uranium and thorium exist naturally within volcanic ash and magma. How much of these radioactive elements has been dumped into the atmosphere in finely divided form, for everyone to breathe, as a result of the eruptions of Mount St. Helens (1980), Pinatubo (1991) and Soufriere Hills (1997)?

Answer: Much, much more than 72 pounds.

T.A. HEPPENHEIMER

Fountain Valley

* Re the plutonium-powered Cassini spacecraft to be launched in October: NASA assures us that there is only "a million to one" chance of an accident.

Were those the odds on the Challenger launch?

MIRIAM LUDWIG

Santa Monica

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