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Ronnie Sookdheo

A Danger to Mankind

(February 1978)

From Militant, No. 392, 10 February 1978, p. 2.
Transcribed by Iain Dalton.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

“SATELLITE FALLS THROUGH WINDOW OF HOUSE AT SOUTHEND.” This was front page news in most newspapers a couple of years ago when a piece of broken-up satellite fell out of the sky.

Imagine the consequences if a nuclear-powered satellite did the same to a major city. This awful possibility became a reality two weeks ago when the nuclear-powered Cosmos 954 satellite crashed, fortunately on the barren wastes of Canada.

Why did this accident, which by all accounts did not even kill a wolf, arouse so much fear and hostility? Why such prominent publicity? The accident, apart from providing a glimpse for the first time of the frightening and horrendous activities of two super powers in space, underlies the insane and irresponsible policies that are being perpetuated and which have resulted in over 4,500 satellites permanently orbiting the planet.

Many of them are nuclear-powered and considered so dangerous that they are ‘parked’ at orbits of 800 miles when they are considered of little use. They will remain at this height for several hundred years until their radiation becomes harmless.

Moreover, in deliberately suppressing the news of the fate of the satellite until it was about to crash, the super powers demonstrate the bizarre extent they will go to in keeping their people in total ignorance. Both powers knew since about November last year that the satellite was going to crash and release deadly radiation that would contaminate huge areas and lead to either increased mortalities or cancer.

Also the satellite posed a double threat. In its decent to earth the heat generated by friction would vaporise the 110 lbs of enriched uranium fuel and form a radioactive cloud that would not only poison the air but take an astonishing 713 million years to become harmless! More importantly, the intense heat could cause the fuel to become critical – that is the least quantity of nuclear material needed to produce an explosion – and explode as a nuclear bomb! American scientists have now admitted that if the satellite had failed one phase later in its decaying orbit, it would have plunged into New York at the height of the morning rush hour!

Not the First

This has not been the first accident involving nuclear satellites. To date three have crashed and released toxic radioactive waste, in one case increasing the atmospheric radiation – itself present from earlier weapons testing – by as much as 3%.

The most serious accident, which provides a preview of the enormity of such a disaster, was when a disabled American nuclear bomber jettisoned its two hydrogen bombs near the Spanish port of Palomares. One bomb fell on shore, burst open and spilled radioactive material over a wide area. Thousands of tons of plutonium-contaminated soil were dug up. Some was transported to America for disposal and some packed in drums and dumped in the Atlantic. The other bomb fell into the sea and took months to locate and salvage.

Since this accident reports have been received that both powers are developing ‘killer satellites’; this has been called the ultimate weapon. Such a vehicle would carry an explosive charge which would detonate when close enough to another orbiting satellite. If such a satellite experienced the same difficulties as Cosmos 954, the nuclear material intended as bombs would detonate at some point in its passage down. The magnitude of the disaster in terms of people killed and long-term pollution would be unimaginable.

Life Endangered

This is the terrible danger that lies in store for mankind if this insanity continues. The development of nuclear weapons capable of annihilating whole populations and the poisoning of the atmosphere would inevitably lead to the extinction of all life. Every year has witnessed a new form of fiendish weapon capable of wreaking greater havoc than the one before, and always its development has been a closely-guarded secret known only to a handful of bureaucrats or capitalists.

This was highlighted by the frenzy of activity initially, between Washington and Moscow and later Washington and NATO countries. President Carter, in an attempt to allay public fears and soothe the anti-nuclear campaigners, has called for a revision of the 1967 outer space treaty which calls for exploration of outer space for peaceful means only.

But there is only one solution to this madness. Take control of science and technology out of the hands of the capitalists in the West and the bureaucrats in the East through the establishment of a Socialist World Federation.

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