Chile: Plutonium from Fallen Russian Satellite?

The Anarchives (
Fri, 22 Nov 1996 17:01:26 +0000 (GMT)

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Date: Wed, 20 Nov 96 11:02:36 CST
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Subject: Chile: Plutonium from Fallen Russian Satellite?

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November 20, 1996
Environmentalists Warn Of Radioactive Leakage
TEXT: Navy Commander-in-Chief Jorge Martinez Busch Tuesday
ordered a Chilean Navy ship to look for traces of plutonium in an
area southeast of Easter Island where a Russian satellite fell to earth
in Chilean territorial waters last Sunday.
"We are not really sure exactly what it is that fell into the
ocean," said Martinez, "but we do know where it entered the ocean.
It could have been just a piece (of the satellite), or a whole section."
The decision to send a vessel to the area comes after Chilean
environmentalists Monday urged the government to form an
emergency plan to avoid possible nuclear contamination from the
Manuel Baquedano, director of the Political Ecology Institute,
IEP, said the plutonium 238, contained in the Mars 96's four small
generator batteries, is the most dangerous substance for human
health and world ecosystems.
"Just half a gram dissolved in the drinking water is enough to
poison half the population of Santiago," Baquedano warned.
The IEP wants the government to demand international
assistance to locate the satellite, which fell in an area where the
Pacific Ocean reaches its greatest depths. If the plutonium-bearing
batteries shattered upon entering the earth's atmosphere, a toxic
cloud would have dispersed the substance in space. In the event
that the generators were destroyed upon impact with the ocean,
waters could become contaminated, and all fishing activity must be
Government officials confirmed that the National Nuclear
Energy Commission, the air force, and the navy have been asked to
determined the precise location, circumstances and eventual effects
upon the environment of the fallen Mars 96 rocket.
Russian officials said the plutonium is protected within
containers that passed resistance tests at temperatures of 2,500
Celsius. Affirmations that a radioactive leakage occurred and might
endanger the ocean environment and the Pacific food chain are
"needless speculation," they say.
Despite assurances from Russian officials, Chilean astronomer
Arturo Gomez, of the Cerro Tololo observatory, says the concerns of
environmentalists are not unfounded. Even if the plutonium is
stored in hermetically sealed containers, the scientist believes the
velocity of the crash could affect those seals.
Baquedano is indignant that neither officials from the United
States nor the Russians thought to warn Chileans that mechanical
failure would send the satellite falling into Chilean waters near
Easter Island. When previously it was thought that the satellite's
course would bring it over Australia, warnings were issued that the
rocket could crash there.
"Are the lives of Australians worth more than those who live
on Easter Island?" Baquedano asked.

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