Michio Kaku – long history of antinuclear activism

Did you know that Michio Kaku has been actively opposed to the use of nuclear energy for at least 16 years? He was so worried about the use of the technology that he participated in organized protests against NASA’s use of radioisotope thermal generators (RTGs) to provide a steady flow of power to the Cassini spacecraft. It’s difficult to think of a more benign, yet exciting, application that takes advantage of the incredible energy density available by tapping into atomic nuclei.

Here is a quote from a CNN article dated October 4, 1997 titled Dozens arrested in protest of plutonium-fueled space mission:

The Cassini rocket will be powered by 72 pounds of plutonium — the most ever rocketed into space. Protesters say that if the rocket explodes it could sprinkle deadly poison for hundreds of miles.

“Winds can blow (plutonium) into Disney World, Universal City, into the citrus industry and destroy the economy of central Florida,” said Michio Kaku, a protesting physics professor from New York. He claimed that casualties could run as high as a million people if there were an accident.

Anyone who understands the way that RTGs are designed and tested to ensure safety would recognize that claim as something that only the most adamant of antinuclear activists would accept as even remotely possible. Anyone who dreams of long distance space travel or enjoys the fruits of unmanned exploratory probes like Cassini would know that both of those would be impossible without tapping atomic energy.

Just imagine what we would not know if Kaku’s protests against the Cassini, with its plutonium powered RTGs, had been successful. The huge library of data and photographs that the unmanned spacecraft has collected over the last 16 years would not exist.

The Cassini mission would not have been the only one scrapped. Without plutonium powered RTGs, there would also have been no Rover missions to Mars. Any device landed on the red planet would have been essentially immobile and limited to whatever scraps of energy could be stored in a chemical battery or collected from a sun on a dusty planet where maximum available solar energy is already less than 60% of what it is on Earth.

Though Kaku’s history of antinuclear activity is not news to everyone–there is a RationalWiki page about him that mentions his anti-Cassini protests–I knew nothing about it until yesterday when an Atomic Insights contributor posted a comment with a link to the CNN article.

This helps to explain my long-standing confusion about Kaku’s apocalyptic post-Fukushima commentary. I’ve always wondered how a scientist could be so ill-informed about such an important technology, but now I realize that Kaku is just one more articulate antinuclear activist with a physics degree who’s scientific explorations had nothing to do with nuclear energy.

Though I can’t prove it now, I suspect that his activism helped launch his entertainment career. It has certainly increased his visibility during the past three years.