The Week That Was
March 24, 2001


This interview with Fred Singer counters, point by point, a defamatory pamphlet published against him by Ozone Action/Greenpeace. We were able to obtain a number of copies of their "A Fred for all Seasons," a slick, 16-page brochure and are using it for fund raising.

The Week That Was March 24, 2001 brought to you by SEPP


[This will be an occasional feature on the SEPP web. It is contributed by Prof. John Brignell and <> He is the author of an important and highly informative book "Sorry, Wrong Number! The abuse of measurement," which we strongly recommend]

As Americans have recently observed, one of the symptoms of election fever is an outbreak of gesture politics, those little meaningless offerings designed to placate some vocal minority or other. Token environmental gestures figure among the most banal of them all. Nothing will ever quite match the absurdity of the great "no stand-by" campaign, by which the populace were urged to save the world by turning off the tiny trickle of electricity that kept their TVs ready for action. It was, of course, conceived by Al Gore, but seized upon with alacrity by his British clone, John Prescott.

Anyway, with an election in the offing, it is now the turn of Britain, which was subjected to an impassioned speech by its Prime Minister, who pledged L100 Million to the development of renewable energy sources. This was intended to pacify the environmentalists and give a sop to industrialists, who would be able to sell the environment-friendly technology to the rest of the world. British snake-oil is best!

In contrast, Simon Jenkins (The Times, March 7) laments the desecration of the beautiful and ancient landscape of coastal Wales by ranks of ugly windmills that generate a footling amount of power but uphold the green credentials of the Government. Still, who cares about the environment as long as the environmentalists are kept happy?

An environmental report from Liberty Matters News Service, March 13, 2001


Last November, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued a moratorium on new listings of alleged endangered species claiming their resources were being drained fighting lawsuits from environmental groups. The Washington Post reported "the move has inflamed disputes over tactics within the environmental movement. It also spotlighted a serious budget quandary for Congress and the Bush administration, and reopened long-running debates about the costs and benefits of the Endangered Species Act."  Interior Secretary Gale Norton, who now oversees USFWS, once argued in a brief before the Supreme Court that the law is an unconstitutional infringement of private property rights. In her new position, Norton says she will enforce the law but suggested that she will not use the heavy-handed enforcement of past administration because this alienates landowners. USFWS claims that much of their budget and time is being spent on responding to and complying with the barrage of litigation filed by green groups trying to force the designation of critical habitat for species, while the USFWS believes it is more important to spend their resources on ensuring more species are listed. The green groups are suing to overturn the moratorium.


The Earth Liberation Front has promised to step up its activities to free Mother Earth from the chains of civilization. The shadowy group says it is responsible for a fire in Tulare County, California, that burned a warehouse containing large quantities of genetically engineered cottonseeds. The e-mail message stated, in part, "…this seed will no longer exist to contaminate the environment, enrich a sick corporation, or contribute to its warped research programs." Local authorities have not yet determined if the group is really responsible, but ELF spokesmen say the group's involvement in terrorist acts is often discounted, and later found to be true. ELF also announced it has spiked trees in the Umpqua National Forest's Judie Timber Sale, near Eugene, Oregon. Officials have been unable to confirm the boast because crews have not been able to reach the area, due to heavy snow cover.

Tree spiking is a particularly heinous act of terrorism, because of dangers posed when loggers attempt to cut the trees and again, in the sawmills where spikes and nails can seriously harm both workers and equipment. The FBI continues to investigate the incidents but have yet to make any arrests.


The frog police always get their man, as John J. Zentner will attest. Mr. Zentner, a California environmental consultant, pleaded guilty to relocating 60 red-legged frogs and 500 tadpoles from a development site to a safe pond, where they are thriving. The federal department of [In]Justice demanded Mr. Zentner spend 10 days in the cooler and pay a $10,000 personal fine, in addition to the $65,000 extorted from his company. A local judge reduced his penalty to 200 hours community service. The feds charged that Mr. Zentner moved the frogs to save his clients the huge expense involved in construction delay. Zentner's attorney observed that if his client merely wanted to expedite construction…¦"There was obviously a blatantly wrong alternative, which was to allow the frogs to be bulldozed into oblivion." On March 6, 2001, U.S. Fish and Wildlife designated a staggering 4.1 million acres of the state of California as critical habitat for the frog made famous from an 1865 short story by Mark Twain entitled "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County." A new layer of regulations now exist across 4 percent of the state, including 2.8 million acres of private land even though the frogs don't live there - it's "potential" habitat. Homebuilders are going to challenge the federal government in court, claiming there is a drastic need for more housing and the habitat designation will reduce housing construction by 5 percent and take a $2.2 billion bite out of the Bay Area economy.

For more on this story, go to <>

SOLAR SAILING - from a Russian submarine

Solar sailing has been given a "shot in the arm" by Cosmos 1, a small (30 meter diameter) solar-sail test spacecraft, jointly sponsored by The Planetary Society and Cosmos Studios, which is being built by the Babakin Center in Russia. Here is a link to the Cosmos 1 web page:

Cosmos 1 will be launched into orbit in October, and a suborbital test of two of Cosmos 1's "sail blades" will be conducted next month. Both launches will use a very low-cost launch vehicle: Volna, which is a converted submarine-launched ballistic missile. Both vehicles will be fired from a Russian submarine in the Barents Sea.


Scientists at Ben-Gurion University (Beer-Sheva, Israel) have shown that an unusual nuclear fuel could speed space vehicles from Earth to Mars in as little as two weeks. Standard chemical propulsion used in existing spacecraft currently takes from between eight to ten months to make the same trip. Calculations supporting this conclusion were reported in a recent issue of Nuclear Instruments and Methods in Physics Research A (455: 442-451, 2000) by Prof. Yigal Ronen et al.

In the article, the researchers demonstrate that the fairly rare nuclear material americium-242 (Am-242) can maintain sustained nuclear fission as an extremely thin metallic film, less than a thousandth of a millimeter thick. In this form, the high-energy, high-temperature fission products can escape the fuel elements and be used for propulsion in space. [Obtaining such fission-fragments is not possible with the better-known uranium-235 and plutonium-239 nuclear fuels; they require large fuel rods, which absorb fission products.]

To meet the challenge of a light nuclear reactor, Ronen examined one element of reactor design, the nuclear fuel itself. He found that of the known fission fuels, Am-242 is the front-runner, requiring only 1 percent of the mass (or weight) of uranium or plutonium to reach its critical state. His study examined various theoretical structures for positioning Am-242 metal and control materials for space reactors. He determined that this fuel could indeed sustain fission in the form of thin films that release high-energy fission products. Moreover, he showed how these fission products could be used themselves as a propellant, or to heat a gas for propulsion, or to fuel a special generator that produces electricity.

"There are still many hurdles to overcome before americium-242 can be used in space," Ronen says. "There is the problem of producing the fuel in large enough quantities from plutonium-241 and americium-241, which requires several steps and is expensive. But the material is already available in small amounts." In addition, actual reactor design, refueling, heat removal, and safety provisions for manned vehicles have not yet been examined. "However, I am sure that americium-242 will eventually be implemented for space travel"

SEPP comment: Ad Ares! On to Mars!



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