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NASA Developing Small Nuclear Reactor For the Moon

CmdrTaco posted about 6 years ago | from the because-they're-nasa dept.

Moon 431

marshotel writes "NASA astronauts will need power sources when they return to the moon and establish a lunar outpost. NASA engineers are exploring the possibility of nuclear fission to provide the necessary power, and they are taking initial steps toward a non-nuclear technology demonstration of this type of system."

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Can't wait to see... (5, Funny)

Schnoogs (1087081) | about 6 years ago | (#24961725)

...GreenPeace launch their intergalactic spaceship to intercept NASA in orbit and all of the zero-g protesters.

Re:Can't wait to see... (3, Interesting)

William Robinson (875390) | about 6 years ago | (#24961849)

I know its a joke, but I am really interested to know what happens to the reactor after it is decommissioned (stop being useful).

Re:Can't wait to see... (5, Insightful)

ivan256 (17499) | about 6 years ago | (#24961969)

The same thing that happens to everything else we brought to the moon that we didn't also use to get people/objects back. It's going to sit there. It's not like it'll be hurting anybody/anything either.

Re:Can't wait to see... (5, Insightful)

gentimjs (930934) | about 6 years ago | (#24962299)

And if it ever became a problem, just use a big slingshot (or whatever) to hurl it off in the general direction of the sun .. the only reason we dont do this with nuclear waste now is that the cost-to-orbit sucks, but for a reactor on the moon or already in space, most of the cost is absorbed already.

Re:Can't wait to see... (5, Funny)

gnick (1211984) | about 6 years ago | (#24962483)

One big problem with putting a slingshot on the moon capable of achieving escape velocity. I read an analysis [wikipedia.org] on the topic several years back:

First we establish the means of hurling stuff off of the moon sufficient to achieve escape velocity. Soon we realize the potential of using that mechanism for mining and establish a mining colony. Miners realize that, after several years in 1/6 gravity, they cannot return to Earth and their resources are being irreversibly diminished because hurling ore at Earth is much cheaper than hurling water at the moon. Through the aid of an advanced computer, they decide to declare war and start "throwing rocks" at us.

Sure, moon culture may turn out to be pretty cool and incorporate some groovy polygamy, but nobody wants a rock war.

Re:Can't wait to see... (5, Funny)

Profane MuthaFucka (574406) | about 6 years ago | (#24962463)

The reactor is going to explode and contaminate the moon, turning it into a place where a human cannot survive without some kind of protective clothing. Clearly, this is unacceptable.

Re:Can't wait to see... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24962619)

I'm also interested in this nuclear non nuclear reactor

Re:Can't wait to see... (1)

SilentBob0727 (974090) | about 6 years ago | (#24962127)

Leela: When you were organizing this protest, did you realize that spaceships can move in three dimensions?
Free Waterfall, Sr.: No, I did not.

At least getting rid of the waste won't be hard (3, Funny)

HungryHobo (1314109) | about 6 years ago | (#24961735)

Unless the NIMBY crowd change to NIMOrbit

Re:At least getting rid of the waste won't be hard (3, Funny)

Hub_City (106665) | about 6 years ago | (#24961801)

Cmon, you never saw Space: 1999? It's a disaster in the making!

(On the other hand, there's Catherine Schell...)

Re:At least getting rid of the waste won't be hard (2, Interesting)

MindKata (957167) | about 6 years ago | (#24962373)

"Space: 1999? It's a disaster in the making"

The episode (and book) was called "Breakaway" ... http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Breakaway_(Space:_1999) [wikipedia.org] ... Safety is a good point, as the safety of this nuclear fission power station does seem to a big issue. Also if it fails and just needs replacing, (or servicing) its a major issue.

I would have thought Solar power would have been a better idea. There's many reasons for Solar, not least of which, if some panels fail, then others will still keep working, so its very fault tolerant, which is a big advantage over a nuclear fission reactor. Also solar can be made light weight (its even being developed on plastic). Also there isn't any limited area problems on the moon, so they can scale up to a multi-Mega watt solar power station. (Plus no atmosphere, so greater power output than on Earth). Plus solar panels have been used in space for many years, so its usage is very well understood.

While a nuclear fission reactor does have some uses, its limited on the moon unless just for the dark side, and even then operating a base on the dark side would be difficult due to comms limitations etc..

It still makes sense they will develop small nuclear fission reactors, but it also makes more sense to push forward solar power research. All of us can benefit from solar research, (and we need it on Earth), but there are limit short term gains from small fission reactors. (Well, other than the gains the companies seeking funding get for research into fission reactors).

Re:At least getting rid of the waste won't be hard (1)

amh131 (126681) | about 6 years ago | (#24962645)

The "dark" side of the moon is illuminated 14 days out of 28, so not really all that dark. Cue the Pink Floyd fans to enter the thread now.

Re:At least getting rid of the waste won't be hard (2, Interesting)

Azaril (1046456) | about 6 years ago | (#24961949)

To me it almost seems a bigger problem.

If we assume that at some point were going to want to use the majority of the moon for something, be it rocket launches, mining, science experiments etc, we probably dont want amount of waste sitting around, either to prevent radioactive contamination, or if we populate the earth, the wrong hands being laid on it. On the other hand, to bury it to a reasonable degree would require a considerable amount of machinery which would be extremly costly to ship to the moon. So in a choice between a radioactive landfill site on what could prove to be useful land or dragging digging machinery to the moon with the reactor, it doesnt seem to me to be particularly easy.

Re:At least getting rid of the waste won't be hard (2, Insightful)

HungryHobo (1314109) | about 6 years ago | (#24962267)

thing is that it's the moon, there's no rain, no wind, no groundwater.
no need to bury it.
just find a crater a little out of the way and make it into a big pile.

If in future the prospect if the land being needed comes up then you just load it up into a truck and deal with it properly since that that point there would likely be more machinery around.

Hell,the place is already radioactive.

Re:At least getting rid of the waste won't be hard (2, Informative)

FooAtWFU (699187) | about 6 years ago | (#24962269)

Remember, though, this is the Moon. Unlike on the Earth, the waste isn't going to be blown around by the wind or leached out by groundwater and carried into drinking water supplies. There's not going to be some giant moonquake to destroy the structural integrity of the disposal site. Your biggest risk is being at the center of a new crater, and that's kinda low.

So give a guy a shovel - or whatever they'll be using to dig foundations for the lunar base - and put it in a hole a few feet deep, stick up a sign, and don't go near it if you don't have to. It's not like they have tons and tons of it that they can contaminate millions of square miles with it (this is a small reactor). And it's not like there aren't other environmental radiation hazards (radiation from stuff that the magnetosphere doesn't block).

Re:At least getting rid of the waste won't be hard (1)

rufty_tufty (888596) | about 6 years ago | (#24962279)

You do realise there is more land area on the moon than on earth? Plenty of space to leave things for a good time. If we get to the stage where the moon is getting full then we must have industry and living at least on the same scale as we have on earth, so burying the reactor shouldn't be a problem.

Re:At least getting rid of the waste won't be hard (1)

Vexar (664860) | about 6 years ago | (#24962311)

You've obviously not been on the moon before. The radiation is pretty bad up there. I suppose you are going to tell us we need to use wind or hydro power on the moon, then? Oh, wait, solar. yeah, that leaves half of the planet off-limits. Also, launching something the size of an office trashcan, versus an array of solar panels 45'x45', all of which are susceptible to micrometeorite and radiation damage. So what does that leave you? Hamster wheels? I can just see their spacesuits.

Re:At least getting rid of the waste won't be hard (1)

gnick (1211984) | about 6 years ago | (#24962595)

Oh, wait, solar. yeah, that leaves half of the planet off-limits.

There is no dark side of the Moon really... as a matter of fact it's all dark.

Re:At least getting rid of the waste won't be hard (1)

AKAImBatman (238306) | about 6 years ago | (#24962343)

So in a choice between a radioactive landfill site on what could prove to be useful land or dragging digging machinery to the moon with the reactor, it doesnt seem to me to be particularly easy.

You're needlessly concerned, methinks. The moon has a surface area of 37,930,000 km. NONE of that space is covered by large bodies of water. The amount of land on earth is 148,940,000 km. That gives the moon about 25% of the useful land that earth has. That's quite a bit!

Now consider the cost of developing the entire area of the moon. With launch costs easily reaching $10,000/lb, can we reasonably expect to ship enough materials to cover an area 25% the size of earth's usable land masses? The only way that much space would be used is for lunar colonies to become self-sufficient to the point of thriving colonization. We're talking generations upon generations of people, crops, and livestock. All housed in artificial structures. It took ~500 years for American soil to be populated to the point it is today. And that's with the creature comforts of Earth. Can we realistically expect that in such a harsh environment, a colony will thrive as well or better than the American colonization efforts?

What I'm saying is that with a mere smidgen of planning, there is more than enough space for landfills that will not interfere with other lunar activities.

Your mom (0, Troll)

xonar (1069832) | about 6 years ago | (#24961753)

Your mom is developing a small nuclear reactor for the moon

Dupe! (4, Funny)

PinkyDead (862370) | about 6 years ago | (#24961765)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space:_1999 [wikipedia.org]

Asking for trouble... 'cos this didn't work out too well for Moonbase Alpha.

Re:Dupe! (4, Funny)

Minwee (522556) | about 6 years ago | (#24961889)

True, but when NASA returns to the moon they're gonna party like it's Space 1999.

Yes! This can be a source of power! (4, Funny)

Spazztastic (814296) | about 6 years ago | (#24961791)

Now to implement The Alan Parsons Project!

Umm, water? (3, Insightful)

s31523 (926314) | about 6 years ago | (#24961821)

Don't you need water to make electricity with a nuclear reactor, and also to cool the core?

Re:Umm, water? (1)

thered2001 (1257950) | about 6 years ago | (#24961873)

No, I think other fluids can be used. I seem to remember sodium in a sealed system? (I'm probably wrong...as other posts will no doubt point out.)

Re:Umm, water? (4, Informative)

e2d2 (115622) | about 6 years ago | (#24961897)

I think it depends on the reactor type. Some can use liquid sodium, etc. Think "micro-reactor" similar to the proposals by the Japanese space program or Toshiba for small output, "4S":

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toshiba_4S [wikipedia.org]

Re:Umm, water? (1)

TapeCutter (624760) | about 6 years ago | (#24962443)

Speaking of reactor type, what the hell is a "fission surface power system", a google search that excludes "NASA" is not helpful. Is it another phrase for a pebble bed reactor? - I belive they can be made to arbritrary sizes but I'm no certainly no expert. Do pebble beds require a constant supply of coolant or can the coolant be in a closed loop?

Re:Umm, water? (2, Informative)

mea37 (1201159) | about 6 years ago | (#24961903)

That's how it's done normally, yes; and I assume this reactor will work that way (although I suppose capturing thermal energy and cooling the core are both tasks for which you could design a water-free approach if you wanted to).

Now, if only we had a way to transport a necessary material from here to the moon... but alas, we'll have to build the reactor entirely using materials already there...

(Ok, well, I think I'm funny anyway...)

FWIW, I'm pretty sure you could send a finite amount of water and just keep using it in a closed system.

Re:Umm, water? (1)

g0dsp33d (849253) | about 6 years ago | (#24962427)

It would be interesting to see if they could use the peltier effect to help cool it and add extra juice. I guess they would probably go for less efficient designs that weigh less though.

"That's no moon".

Re:Umm, water? (4, Funny)

explosivejared (1186049) | about 6 years ago | (#24961907)

A little known fact, there is no China on the moon. Therefore, you do not have to worry about the China Syndrome [wikipedia.org] . You can run a nuclear reactor any way you want.

Re:Umm, water? (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24961947)

If you RTFA, you will learn that "...it works by splitting uranium atoms in a reactor to generate heat that then is converted into electric power".

They will probably use an RTG-style reactor, which precludes the need of water. They've been used in space before, and aren't anything that extraordinary.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radioisotope_thermoelectric_generator [wikipedia.org]

Re:Umm, water? (3, Informative)

AKAImBatman (238306) | about 6 years ago | (#24962165)

An RTG is not a reactor. It does not "split uranium". In fact, RTGs don't use uranium as it's not radioactive enough. RTGs also produce a LOT less power than reactors. The last ones sent to the moon with the Apollo missions generated a mere 60 watts. These new reactors will work on actual nuclear fission and are intended to generate 40 kilowatts. A 600x increase in power output.

Re:Umm, water? (1)

evilviper (135110) | about 6 years ago | (#24962139)

Don't you need water to make electricity with a nuclear reactor, and also to cool the core?

The core needs to be cooled, but there is absolutely no reason water inherently needs to be used for that purpose. It just happens to be sufficiently cheap and abundant here on Earth that we use it.

Re:Umm, water? (1)

kvezach (1199717) | about 6 years ago | (#24962277)

Liquid sodium [wikipedia.org] , lead [wikipedia.org] or molten salts [wikipedia.org] can also work. Or take some of that Helium on the moon and run a gas-cooled reactor [wikipedia.org] .

Send Homer. (5, Funny)

Verdatum (1257828) | about 6 years ago | (#24961823)

Nuclear technician, spaceflight experience. Not as proficient as the inanimate carbon rod, but who is?

Confused on Nuclear waste (2, Insightful)

Lucid 3ntr0py (1348103) | about 6 years ago | (#24961827)

I often asked why we can't dump our waste into space ala Superman IV [wikipedia.org] .

The response is usually "Oh won't somebody think of the children if one rocket ever dropped!".

But apparently we can send it to the moon safely?

Could somebody, who perhaps knows more about the difference between uranium before and after it has been used, enlighten me as to why this would be safer?

Re:Confused on Nuclear waste (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24961939)

well, if the moon (and all of its nuclear waste) falls onto the earth, I'm pretty sure the radioactive bits won't be the first thing on people's minds.

Re:Confused on Nuclear waste (5, Insightful)

evilviper (135110) | about 6 years ago | (#24961981)

Getting anything into space, and all the way out of earth orbit, is monumentally EXPENSIVE.

Digging a big hole in the ground is monumentally CHEAP (at least in relative terms).

The people you've heard from, that are scared of sending radioactive material into space, are monumentally STUPID.

Also, fissile nuclear material is a highly valuable, relatively scarce, and non-renewable resource. It's more than likely that we'll need to dig that stuff up again in a century, and reprocess it. Quite a bit harder to do so if it's on it's way to Pluto.

Re:Confused on Nuclear waste (2, Funny)

morgan_greywolf (835522) | about 6 years ago | (#24962287)

Quite a bit harder to do so if it's on it's way to Pluto.

Why would they want to send it to Pluto? It's a Mickey Mouse planet!

Volume (4, Informative)

tpjunkie (911544) | about 6 years ago | (#24962039)

A 40kw reactor like they discuss in the article would use a small amount of uranium, probably less volume of radioactive material than used for the RTGs in the cassini probe. Whereas we have tons and tons of nuclear waste to dispose of, not just spent fuel rods, but reactor internals, coolant, and so on.

Re:Confused on Nuclear waste (1)

ivan256 (17499) | about 6 years ago | (#24962075)

It's not safer. It's equally as safe. I assume they're planning on ignoring the people who have the typical response, and instead trust that they've properly engineered their containment devices to properly withstand the launch vehicle blowing up.

Think of the data. Thinking of the children makes people irrational.

It's not really waste (5, Informative)

Neil Watson (60859) | about 6 years ago | (#24962329)

Nuclear waste is not really waste. It simply needs to be used in a different reactor. Storing this waste and doing nothing with it is really a waste.

Re:Confused on Nuclear waste (1)

Vexar (664860) | about 6 years ago | (#24962407)

Used Uranium is lead or something else. If it is still radioactive, you can still use it to run a different power plant, affectionately referred to as the nuclear fuel cycle. A breeder reactor "breeds" radioactive material, so rather than going down from Uranium to Lead, you go up from Uranium to Plutonium. I'm over-simplifying, because the process involves more elements, isotopes, and so forth, but if this interests you, I know you'll go get yourself a decent book on the subject (get the old ones, the new ones don't say as much).

Not solar? (4, Insightful)

tygerstripes (832644) | about 6 years ago | (#24961829)

I'm hoping someone can explain to me why the far better-established and easily-maintained option of Solar Power isn't first on the list.

I mean: negligible atmosphere, established support-structure (the ground), 100% predictable yield, negligible material costs after setup, and land-area isn't such a big issue... can't really think of a better case for it.

Re:Not solar? (3, Insightful)

Lando242 (1322757) | about 6 years ago | (#24961925)

How much would a solar array weigh that generated as much power as a small nuclear reactor? How much space would it take up on the craft vs same reactor? I don't know the answers but these are two questions that come to mind right off.

Re:Not solar? (1)

tygerstripes (832644) | about 6 years ago | (#24962025)

Good questions, I agree. Still, solar generation requires no additional material once it's going - how often would you have to supply fissile material to a fusion reactor? What if the launch is delayed/fails? Does that mean a moon-base full of people with bad haircuts and skin-tight body-suits will freeze to death? You could keep shipping solar arrays up along with the rest of the constructions, such that energy supply scales permanently with demand.

I appreciate there are issues with solar, but aren't they dwarfed by the issues around fission?

Re:Not solar? (1)

Tx (96709) | about 6 years ago | (#24962235)

how often would you have to supply fissile material to a fusion reactor?

Not very often, we'll probably be mining the moon for Helium-3 for our fusion reactors on earth in the future. But for now, we're talking about fission ;).

Re:Not solar? (3, Insightful)

R2.0 (532027) | about 6 years ago | (#24962251)

"how often would you have to supply fissile material to a fusion reactor?"

I think you are missing a sense of scale. Nuclear fuel is INCREDIBLY energy dense. Commercial reactors refuel about a third of their rods every 18 months (I think - it's been a while since I worked at a plant), and that is after running balls to the wall, 24/7, at full output, which is up around 1000 MEGAwatts. Navy ships refuel only after YEARS of operation, and a carrier sucks up WAY more energy than a moon base would.

I imagine an initial fuel load for a moon based reactor would be designed to last the life of the base without refuelling, and the fuel load would not be that big.

Re:Not solar? (1)

ckaminski (82854) | about 6 years ago | (#24962409)

Nevermind the fact that with your moon-based solar array, you'll be in near or absolute darkness for 10-14 days at a time, generating -ZERO- power. :-) So take that estimate of yours, double it, and add in 1,000 miles of power cable.

Re:Not solar? (4, Insightful)

evilviper (135110) | about 6 years ago | (#24962035)

I'm hoping someone can explain to me why the far better-established and easily-maintained option of Solar Power isn't first on the list.

I'm hoping people will RTFA before asking stupid question...

Returning to the moon is a dry-run for going to Mars. Mars is further away from the sun, and has lots of nasty dust storms.

Re:Not solar? (1)

morgan_greywolf (835522) | about 6 years ago | (#24962643)

Returning to the moon is a dry-run for going to Mars.

Yeah. I've wondered about that. Going to the moon is a A LOT easier than going to Mars. Mars is wayyyyyy far away compared to the moon (you can see this for yourself in Google Sky or Stellarium). It'll take many months to get there. Also Mars is a far more hostile an environment than the moon ever thought of being. Violent dust storms, high amounts of solar radiation, sand dunes that cover up large crevasses that could swallow a man.

I dunno. Do they really think that returning to the moon is going to be a lot like going to Mars?

Re:Not solar? (5, Informative)

actionbastard (1206160) | about 6 years ago | (#24962045)

Except for the fact that it would be dark at your moonbase for nearly two straight weeks at a time, solar power would be great.

Re:Not solar? (4, Funny)

camperdave (969942) | about 6 years ago | (#24962223)

That's why you supplement the solar power with wind power. Haven't you watched any of those greenie off-the-grid shows?

Re:Not solar? (2, Funny)

dkf (304284) | about 6 years ago | (#24962511)

That's why you supplement the solar power with wind power. Haven't you watched any of those greenie off-the-grid shows?

I know what, you could supplement it with wave power from the Sea of Tranquility.

Re:Not solar? (1)

tbfee (1115043) | about 6 years ago | (#24962079)

Because one lunar night is fourteen Earth days long. That's one good reason, anyway. Of course most of NASA's planned human exploration of the Moon would probably be nearer one of the poles to facilitate better solar power options - but they're not perfect.

Re:Not solar? (4, Informative)

delt0r (999393) | about 6 years ago | (#24962085)

Night time on the moon is kinda long (weeks). What do you do then? Batteries that can store weeks worth and PV arrays that run at over 2x capacity are not really going to work all that well. Well not as well as a 24/7 nuke plant.

Re:Not solar? (2, Funny)

SilentBob0727 (974090) | about 6 years ago | (#24962213)

Night time on the moon is kinda long (weeks). What do you do then?

Really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really long wires.

Re:Not solar? (1)

Thelasko (1196535) | about 6 years ago | (#24962313)

Night time on the moon is kinda long (weeks). What do you do then?

Yup, but I thought that was why NASA was planning on setting up the moon base on one of the poles.

Re:Not solar? (1)

SirLoadALot (991302) | about 6 years ago | (#24962539)

There are highlands in the polar areas that receive 100% sunlight that would make excellent solar outposts. That obviously limits the surface area being used, and may involve large power lines, but odds are that lunar outposts would be up near the poles anyway, because there are also areas there that are in 100% darkness that may be attractive for mining water.

Re:Not solar? (2, Insightful)

delt0r (999393) | about 6 years ago | (#24962625)

The problem with these locations are just like high latitudes on earth. The sun is very low in the sky limiting collection without some kind of very tall structure.

Re:Not solar? (4, Insightful)

Dan East (318230) | about 6 years ago | (#24962089)

The ISS has an acre of solar panels, and they can be designed incredibly light-weight because they are in microgravity. Panels on the moon would require vastly more infrastructure to support them, which would increase the weight and bulk considerably.

Re:Not solar? (1)

Nymz (905908) | about 6 years ago | (#24962113)

I'm hoping someone can explain to me why the far better-established and easily-maintained option of Solar Power isn't first on the list.

I mean: negligible atmosphere, established support-structure (the ground), 100% predictable yield, negligible material costs after setup, and land-area isn't such a big issue... can't really think of a better case for it.

You answered your own question by acknowledging the source of power with the words "after setup". I think it's safe to assume that NASA plans to use that power source to do a bit of "setup" themselves. Pandering is only a source of power for politicians.

Re:Not solar? (1)

onion2k (203094) | about 6 years ago | (#24962123)

I can think of a least three possible reasons - cost, size, and maintainance. It's possible that solar would simply cost too much to develop something that can generate enough power for a moonbase. Related to that, it's possible that the size of solar panels you'd need would be too big to get on to the moon. Lastly there's the question of maintainance; moondust would kill the productivity of a panel. Astronauts roaming around, landers delivering things, and meteor strikes could potentially throw up enough dust to affect the power levels to some degree that might damage the moonbase. Going out and sweeping the panels wouldn't really work, you'd have to actually remove the dust properly.

You also have to consider the frequency of lunar eclipses, though a bank of batteries would sort that out.

Re:Not solar? (1)

jonatha (204526) | about 6 years ago | (#24962145)

With very few exceptions, any place on the moon you put your solar power station will be in the dark two weeks out of every month.

Re:Not solar? (1)

Tumbleweed (3706) | about 6 years ago | (#24962207)

I'm hoping someone can explain to me why the far better-established and easily-maintained option of Solar Power isn't first on the list.

Okay, genius, what do the astronauts do when there's a cloudy day on the Moon?

Sheesh. You should really think about these things before you post.

Re:Not solar? (1)

jellomizer (103300) | about 6 years ago | (#24962229)

14 days of darkness. 14 days of light. That is a lot of heavy batteries to send into space.
Vs. Earth 12 hours of darkness and 12 hours of light (average)

Why do you assume they can't use both? Why doesn't anyone assume that there could be a slew of power sources that can be used. Having Nuclear Energy doesn't mean we can't have Wind or Solar (on earth). Some places are not conducive for Wind or Solar so Nuclear is a good option. All those Nuclear Energy opponents seem to thing if we give Nuclear a green light that it will be the only source of energy we can use? Nuclear has the advantage that it can be placed anywhere and it is easy to ship fuel. That is one reason why the electic car still hasn't taken off but getting closer. It is an issue of portability. It is expensive to store electriciy and slow to recharge batteries. If you are going to drive to a different state and then need to wait an hour to charge your car, you won't be happy.

Re:Not solar? (1)

Vexar (664860) | about 6 years ago | (#24962487)

Do the math on 14KW. Also, don't forget it has to fit inside what amounts to an 8x8 cubicle. I say the atomic waste can fits better. I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that the space required for the array to yield 12 Kw is 45' by 45'. Perhaps less mass than the atomic waste can, but certainly not less volume!!! Besides, those cells are fragile like eggshells and require careful packing and engineering. When people's lives are at stake, they need something that is reliable and simple. Space programs are all about fault-tolerant systems and redundancy.

Re:Not solar? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24962541)

Unless you landed at one of the poles, you will have to sit through two weeks of darkness every month.

Also, you'll need to keep your batteries heated to maintain their performance (requiring even more PV cells and more batteries to run the heaters.)

That can add up to a lot of mass really quickly.

Re:Not solar? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24962651)

Solar power uses the sun, which is only up during the day. But the moon only comes out at night, so obviously you can't use solar power on the moon.

AWESOME FP (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24961837)

won't be shouting can 8o longer be have the energy ARE JUST WAY OVER

Resupply? (1)

bencollier (1156337) | about 6 years ago | (#24961839)

Does anyone have any idea how often the lunar outpost would need to be resupplied with fissile material? I guess the risk analysts will be plugging that frequency, and that with which rocket launches fail/explode into a risk equation along with the cost of cleaning up a load of uranium(?) dust in Florida.

Re:Resupply? (1)

tinkerghost (944862) | about 6 years ago | (#24962189)

Most earthbased systems are on a 6-10 year refueling schedule. It's also not like a truck where you suddenly run out of gas, the heat output of a reactor is going to taper off over the course of several weeks/months following a very predictable schedule.

Re:Resupply? (1)

Taibhsear (1286214) | about 6 years ago | (#24962335)

IIRC there is a large amount of fissile material already on the moon. You just need a reactor up and running first to power all the tools to mine for more fuel.

Obvious? (1)

neokushan (932374) | about 6 years ago | (#24961845)

Maybe this is just a tad obvious to me, but surely being on the moon and without having that pesky earth atmosphere getting in the way, Solar power would be a better choice?

I know they're not very efficient and all, but satellites have been using solar power for years and it's not like the Moon is lacking the space for it. Hell, you don't even have to deal with things like leaves, rain and such getting in the way - there's no bloody wind on the moon.

Re:Obvious? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24961957)

it's not like there is dust on the moon or anything...

Re:Obvious? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24961959)

Figure out a way to tide over the two weeks worth of lunar night, and you might be on to something there...

14-day nights (2, Informative)

peter303 (12292) | about 6 years ago | (#24962065)

You'd need a great battery technology to survive a two week night. Split hydrogen for fuel cells?

Re:Obvious? (1)

Pitr (33016) | about 6 years ago | (#24962185)

I was thinking the same thing, then I thought of some reasons why it might not work.

First, there's still meteorites and such which could potentially be much more damaging than the elements on earth. You've seen pictures of the moon's surface. Imagine really bad hail all the time.

Then there's the fact that you won't always have exposure to the sun wherever your moon base is. I don't know what the longest period of "night" is on the various parts of the moon, but I'm sure it's significant to the point that batteries won't cut it.

Now that's not to say solar power wouldn't be a good suppliment, especially if we have durable enough material that it's low maintenance, but I doubt you can use it as a primary power source.

Re:Obvious? (1)

morgan_greywolf (835522) | about 6 years ago | (#24962379)

Then there's the fact that you won't always have exposure to the sun wherever your moon base is. I don't know what the longest period of "night" is on the various parts of the moon, but I'm sure it's significant to the point that batteries won't cut it.

Right. Two weeks. They can't even come up with a decent gaming laptop that lasts for more than 1.5 hours, what makes anyone think that they could up with a battery to run for TWO WEEKS!

this idea is lunacy (2, Funny)

circletimessquare (444983) | about 6 years ago | (#24961861)

you have to be a lunatic to put fission on the moon. it seems once a month i encounter some sort of hairbraned scheme like this. i wish there were a silver bullet solution to these sort of moonbat ideas

KabOOM! (1)

paulhar (652995) | about 6 years ago | (#24961867)

What could possibly go wrong at launch time?

Queue song in iTunes playlist: The Weather Girls "It's raining highly radioactive nuclear material... Hallelujah!..."
 

O noez! (0, Redundant)

David Gerard (12369) | about 6 years ago | (#24961875)

Did no-one learn the horrible lessons of Space:1999? This can only lead to terrible haircuts, flared uniforms and 50-cent special effects.

Re:O noez! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24962321)

Movie != Reality.

Stop responding to actual science with fictional stories!

Design from scratch? (2, Insightful)

Intron (870560) | about 6 years ago | (#24961909)

Why not just buy one from the Russians? They've been using them for 30 years.

Re:Design from scratch? (1)

evilviper (135110) | about 6 years ago | (#24962395)

Why not just buy one from the Russians?

Russian space technology tend to be simple, inefficient, based on the oldest technology they can get away with, and remains unchanged pretty much as long as they aren't forced to improve it.

Russian tech is really the complete polar opposite of NASA tech, so such exchanges very rarely work out.

All that radiation from the sun... (1, Interesting)

erroneus (253617) | about 6 years ago | (#24961963)

...and no way to harvest it? I have to say they may not be thinking out of the box enough... and by box, I mean the earth and atmosphere. The moon has unfiltered access to the sun's energy. They should consider ways tap that. "Solar cells" are just one way and while there have been improvements, there's a long way to go. But there are all sorts of other radiation... and is there a fluxing magnetic field around the moon like there is on earth? If so, perhaps Tesla's suppressed technology might render some assistance in that regard.

Re:All that radiation from the sun... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24962433)

Let me suggest this thought - while researchers are chasing down "outside the box" technologies (a couple of your suggestions more closely resemble CRACKPOT in their quality), NASA can ALSO be using tried, tested and true nuclear power to get us one step closer to the stars.

Doing more than one thing at once?!? That's unpossible!

They relay useing NAQUADAH REACTORs and just sayin (1)

Joe The Dragon (967727) | about 6 years ago | (#24962029)

They relay useing NAQUADAH REACTORs and just saying nuclear as a cover up also Homer Simpson will be on the mission.

Critical mass... (1)

srussia (884021) | about 6 years ago | (#24962031)

...in a unit "about the size of an office trash can". Assuming Uranium-235 and spherical configuration has a diameter of 17cm. That would be for uncontrolled fission. Now add neutron reflectors and damping mechanisms... That's one big office trash can.

Goodbye Earth, Goodbye Moon (1)

jacksinn (1136829) | about 6 years ago | (#24962137)

When the Large Hadron Collider smashes those particles we won't have to worry about the moon - it'll be packed in nice and tightly with us in the beautiful black hole. :p

Re:Goodbye Earth, Goodbye Moon (5, Insightful)

FooAtWFU (699187) | about 6 years ago | (#24962429)

Assume, for a moment, that the LHC destroys the Earth by turning it into a black hole. Know what would happen to the moon?

The Moon would be unaffected. It's just as happy to orbit a 5.9736*10^24 kg black hole as it is to orbit a 5.9736*10^24 kg planet.

Black holes are just gravity, people. The only difference between them and anything else with mass is that you can get closer before you hit the event horizon than you could get before you hit the surface.

obIMAO (1)

adavies42 (746183) | about 6 years ago | (#24962339)

Nuke the moon! [thoseshirts.com]

We can't destroy the Environment of the moon! (1)

jameskojiro (705701) | about 6 years ago | (#24962345)

Why would we want to destroy the barren radioactive wasteland surface of the moon by shipping more radioactive stuff to the surface and moving in humans who will transform the barren lifeless wastland into tunnels and cave that can support life. How dare we.

Of course if we setup huge enough moon colonies and emigrated everyone from the earth to the moon then the earth could go back to being a pristine environment, ripe for life that could someday evolve intelligence again.

You wanna save the environment of earth? Move everyone off the earth to solar colonies and moon colonies, problem SOLVED once and for all!

Sub critical assembly? (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24962349)

The problem with solar on the surface of the Moon, is that daytime is 2 weeks and nighttime is 2 weeks. What happens if your backup store fails and it is night?

A reactor the size of an office trashcan, sounds very much like a Canadian SLOWPOKE (which is 16 kW thermal). Which is a subcritical assembly. It requires a reflector and a moderator to become critical, and is inherently safe. The amount of uranium in the core is less than what is required to make a bomb, quite a bit less. SLOWPOKEs can go decades between refueling. This NASA idea is a bit bigger at 40 kW thermal. The core is "just another piece of metal" until it is made critical the first time. Getting it into space isn't a problem. Once it has been started, you probably do not want to bring it back to Earth. However, to dump an old core into the Sun from the Moon is probably a much safer prospect than getting rid of nuclear waste from Earth by dumping it into the Sun (which people have proposed in the past). It is probably better just to leave it on the Moon if you need a new core in 30 years or whatever. I would expect that refueling is the same, just put in a new core. Much more like disposable batteries than the refueling of a power reactor on Earth.

Interstellar mushroom cloud! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24962371)

I always wondered how an explosion in space might look like or even a nuclear one! - Of course it won't be a mushroom cloud like in the movies as the mushroom is created through the air and dust rushing back into the partial vacuum created by the explosion in the first place.

Unlike conventional explosives a nuclear explosion won't require oxygen either, so this is gonna be a really BIG badaboom, also due to the lack of any air friction. A lot of the radiation would make it to earth as well until partially absorbed by the atmosphere.

The humanist in me hopes this question, even though it's an interesting one, will never be answered (except in theory), but the realist in me is quite sure people will bring their wars into space once they start colonizing it - we just seem to never learn our lessons.

non-nuclear demo? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24962375)

What does a non-nuclear demonstration of a nuclear power plant demonstrate exactly?

A note of reality injected here (3, Insightful)

Simonetta (207550) | about 6 years ago | (#24962451)

Please allow me to inject a note of reality here.

There is a serious possibility that the Americans will not be establishing a lunar base in the next twenty years. Regardless of the technology or science available.

The problem is one of money. Basically the US government is broke. It runs huge deficits. This didn't make any difference in the past when there was no other place but America for super-wealthy people and governments to put their money. That has changed.

What has also changed is that oil has gotten incredibly expensive. Cheap oil allows the economy to grow. A growing economy allows huge expensive social programs like pensions and medical care to people over 60, moon projects, massive government bureaus, and permanent endless war on the other side of the world.

When the economy stops growing, house prices stop rising, and the sources of easy credit dry up, serious choices have to be made. Everything can't be afforded: some things must be abandoned. This is reality in 2008. It's not 1967 anymore.

The moon projects are easy targets. Although these projects are popular among the young and educated, these projects are expendable. There are no voters on the moon. There's no oil there. There's no one there who can be shaken down with atomic bombs to be persuaded to buy USA Treasury bonds to finance the endless deficits.

It's easy for the NASA administrators to hold press conferences and announce grandiose plans. It's easy to put big budget programs into future federal budget projections. But the coming years, when the true extent of the bankruptcy of the US government becomes apparent, these space programs might be quietly dropped. This is reality of the 21st century. Again, it's not 1967 anymore.

Already developed? (1)

buddhaunderthetree (318870) | about 6 years ago | (#24962553)

Didn't the Russians/Soviets already develop a reactor for use in microgravity environments? I could have sworn I read about it in the 80's.

Great Idea (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24962609)

Nuclear fission is extremely scalable. Plans already exist for reactors down to 1MW or lower, using extremely small amounts of fuel (relative to the amount of raw material needed to get 1MW of Solar power on the Moon). One thing I wonder about is getting rid of the waste heat. Current designs require massive heatsinks: usually large bodies of water and/or cooling towers. I don't imagine having a huge radiating heatsink (i.e. the method of removing heat from satellite electronics, black body radiation I think...) would be very doable, though I really don't know about that.

As for the refueling, typical refuel cycles for plants here in the US are usually 18 to 24 months, and even then, only 1/3rd of the fuel is replaced. If we can't get a refuel ship up there in that time they can simply reduce power usage until it is possible. Someone mentioned concern about how much fuel would be needed. To that I would like to point out that if the US started reprocessing the nuclear waste, we would have enough to last hundreds of years, plenty of time to get a working fusion reactor design (fuel for which is plentiful on the Moon, look up radioactive Helium-3).

As for the waste issue, the amount of radiation from the waste from a reactor on the moon would be so dwarfed by the cosmic radiation already present, I don't think it will be a major issue. If reprocessing of the fuel was utilized, the waste could be put in a crater and be radioactivly neutral within 20 years. Coincidentally, reprocessing would drastically reduce the amount of refueling necessary, as somewhere on the order of 95% of 'spent' fuel can be reused for 'new' fuel using current techniques.

And for a funny sidenote, I would be very worried about putting a massive solar array on the Moon, as those things are kinda reflective, so not to mention the whole death ray effect of giant mirrors in space, but look at this. [xkcd.com]

With all that momentum transfer we could alter the orbit of the Moon and all of the relating effects like tide!

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