Beta
×

Welcome to the Slashdot Beta site -- learn more here. Use the link in the footer or click here to return to the Classic version of Slashdot.

Thank you!

Before you choose to head back to the Classic look of the site, we'd appreciate it if you share your thoughts on the Beta; your feedback is what drives our ongoing development.

Beta is different and we value you taking the time to try it out. Please take a look at the changes we've made in Beta and  learn more about it. Thanks for reading, and for making the site better!

NASA's Plutonium Supply Dwindling; ESA To Help

timothy posted more than 4 years ago | from the fire-up-x10-and-k25-again dept.

NASA 173

astroengine writes "NASA's stockpile of the plutonium isotope Pu-238 is at a critical level, causing concern that there won't be enough fuel for future deep space missions. Pellets of Pu-238 are used inside radioisotope thermoelectric generators (or RTGs) to generate electricity for space probes traveling beyond the orbit of Mars — solar energy is too weak for solar arrays at these distances. Blocked by a contract dispute with Russia to supply Pu-238 and the US Department of Energy that has not been granted funds to produce more of the isotope, NASA lacks enough of the radioisotope to fuel the future joint NASA-ESA mission to Europa. However, the head of the European Space Agency has announced that they have plans to commence a new nuclear energy program to alleviate the situation."

cancel ×

173 comments

Sorry! There are no comments related to the filter you selected.

Maybe the Muslims will help us out... (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32857686)

You know, since now NASA's #1 job is to make them feel good about themselves for stealing the alphabet from the Hindus who were using it 500 years before any god damned Muslim...

Re:Maybe the Muslims will help us out... (5, Insightful)

eihab (823648) | more than 4 years ago | (#32857858)

You have issues dude. I identify myself as Muslim and it's a creed, but science-wise "Muslims" (Middle East) have lost it (i.e. stop being mad about it).

Yes, Algebra and Algorithm are Arabic words traced to the amazing Mohammed Ibn Musa Al-Khawarizmi (who was "Persian" btw, yes, the people we intend to bomb), and f#@king YES, India was there first.

But that doesn't take from him (or his civilization/creed) the right to call the names.

(For the purposes of this post, I will interchange creed and civilization, even though they're far-far-FAR from being the same thing).

It's a phenomenon Neil Degrasse Tyson describes as "Naming Rights" (I'm no scholar, so maybe it has another name). But basically, when a nation/region excels and innovates, they get the right to name their discoveries and they effectively "own" them.

Why is the rest of the world using .hk, .uk and .whatever domains? Why is the US the only country that enjoys .gov, .mil and .edu without a trailing .us?

Because, this s$#t was invented here, and "we"* earned it.

Jupiter, Venus, Mars, Pluto.. all Greek mythology names, why? They were "it"** back in the day.

So, what happened to the Muslim world? Well, Al-Ghazali [wikipedia.org] decided to take them 300 years back into oblivion.

No scientist/mathematician/programmer/thinker/etc. would ever express prejudice. Empathy and sorrow for ignorance, maybe, but not hatred.

Now... where are we? We have racism (been to AZ lately?), prejudice (Muslim/Jew/*INSERT RELIGION* haters) and a whole lot more.

A lot of Americans do not believe in evolution or other scientifically proven facts. We kill our enemies for our "god-given" rights and we (the majority of us) want religion taught in school.

I wonder if GWB was our "Al-Ghazali", or maybe it will be Obama. Whomever it is, we must stop it and freaking move forward. Otherwise, we're fscked. We'll be the nation that our grandchildren and history talks about as "they invented XYZ, but muhahaha, look at them barbarians." And the elite nations at the time will nuke the ish out of them for being so backwards.

I want us to prevail, but with attitudes like yours and the extreme ignorance level the populace have, I'm afraid it's already too late.

I better start learning Chinese (Ni Hao) :(

And finally; to be on-topic; NASA needs to get some more of that "shiz-nit" :P

----
* I'm kind of one of you("us") now!
** A.K.A. The $h#t

Re:Maybe the Muslims will help us out... (3, Funny)

Panaflex (13191) | more than 4 years ago | (#32858210)

Don't care if it's off-topic, great reply man! Far too often we, as Americans, take our issues with policy and political leadership and smear it across whole swaths of culture and people. I take extreme issue with those that would cause others undue harm, especially terrorist and despot regimes, but for God's sake I don't hold their people/citizens entirely responsible unless they personally participate and prove that they deserve it.

 

Re:Maybe the Muslims will help us out... (5, Insightful)

eihab (823648) | more than 4 years ago | (#32858532)

Thanks! and I whole-heatedly agree with you!

I recently watched The Unthinkable [netflix.com] (if you haven't watched it, it's a great movie), and as to not spoil it for anyone, all I can say is that I was sitting at the edge of my seat and rooting for Samuel Jackson throughout the movie.

Bin Laden is an a$$hole, and the 72 virgins (myth) will be well-hung top-men scavenging his and his goons' cavities while slow-roasting them to perfection (yes I hate them as much as you do, probably even more so).

The stories that have been hitting Slashdot about censorship in Pakistan and other Islamic countries gathered quite a few "look at them backwards Muslims", instead of generating empathy about the sad state of these countries.

I should know, I lived in a couple of them growing up. People are afraid for their lives and cannot speak up. People can't discuss politics in coffee shops, because that guy smoking hooka is new and he might be from internal affairs, and if he marks you, your family won't even know what happened to you (Egyptian NSA-equivalent calls it "sending someone behind the sun").

America used to be the great nation everyone there talked about. It was wonderland, where you can criticize leaders and "be alive the next day". Where your creed and background did not matter, only what you knew and what you can do.

But somehow when we started meddling with their affairs, we became the villain. There's an Arabic saying that goes something like "Me and my brother would fight my cousin if he does us wrong, but if a stranger comes in, my cousin and I will team up".

The solution is _not_ to go into these countries with military force to "spread freedom", the solution is to stand up against tyranny with words, show them an example of democracy over here and not to co-operate with their regimes to oppress people.

Final words: Any kind of zealotry (religious/nationalistic/software) is ignorant, and I hope that I see a world without hatred before my time is up here. I doubt it, but I'm still an optimist inside and one can dream.

Re:Maybe the Muslims will help us out... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32858700)

Dude, as a Muslim, I find your criticism of Al-Ghazali to be grotesque. Al-Ghazali was probably the greatest thinker mankind has ever produced, and the implication that he took science backwards is just plain wrong. The dates alone don't add up, as many of the more modern developments from the Muslim world (Ibn Sahl's work on optics, Taqi al Din's engineering feats and many others) post-date Ghazali, and most subsequent scholars cite his work as being of the highest caliber.

Furthermore, having read Ghazali fairly extensively, I am in a position to say that Ghazali's work drew heavily on the scientific method to demonstrate the shortcomings of various philosophical principles vis a vis objectivity, as well as mathematics, which he was very comfortable with, and used as a yardstick against which to measure other truths. He did not "take Islam back 300 years". Quite the opposite, he added enormously to the understanding of the interplay between personal growth and understanding of the external world.

Finally, Montgomery Watt, a _Christian_ scholar who studied Islam extensively, called Ghazali "the greatest Muslim after Muhammad". I don't agree with him, but his words reflect the extremely high caliber of Ghazali's work. Personally, I think that only someone unfamiliar with Ghazali's work could possibly criticize him; I've never heard a coherent criticism of Ghazali that actually stands up to scrutiny. I doubt your criticism would even be accepted by any _non-Muslim_ scholar familiar with Ghazali's work.

In conclusion, you don't sound very educated in either science, philosophy or your religion. I suggest a spot of reading before firing that mouth of yours off any further.

Re:Maybe the Muslims will help us out... (1)

Ihmhi (1206036) | more than 4 years ago | (#32858530)

we (the majority of us) want religion taught in school.

Thankfully, that same majority in which intellectual dishonesty and ignorance is so pervasive is also laden with apathy. And even if the majority somehow got a bill through the Congress, I think a great deal of the freethinkers in America are relatively confident that the Supreme Court would quickly strike it down as unconstitutional on First Amendment grounds.

Recycle Nukes? (1)

binaryspiral (784263) | more than 4 years ago | (#32857688)

Pardon my ignorance and possible first post - but couldn't NASA just recycle some retiring nuke warheads for plutonium?

Re:Recycle Nukes? (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32857708)

Pardon my ignorance and possible first post - but couldn't NASA just recycle some retiring nuke warheads for plutonium?

Oh, yes, any moron in Slashdot is a rocket scientist.

No, they can't. Nukes have Pu-239 (the fissile isotope), and they need Pu-238 (the alpha emmiter).

Something stinks (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32857830)

Pu

Re:Something stinks (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32857860)

PhU!

Re:Recycle Nukes? (1, Funny)

JustOK (667959) | more than 4 years ago | (#32857840)

Isn't there Pu around Uranus?

Re:Recycle Nukes? (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32857920)

Pardon my ignorance and possible first post - but couldn't NASA just recycle some retiring nuke warheads for plutonium?

Oh, yes, any moron in Slashdot is a rocket scientist.

No, they can't. Nukes have Pu-239 (the fissile isotope), and they need Pu-238 (the alpha emmiter).

Apparently actual Slashdot rocket scientists are also assholes.

- Not GP, but a rocket scientist who thought it was a reasonable question.

Re:Recycle Nukes? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32858580)

Since you're an actual Slashdot rocket scientist, according to you you're an asshole? Amazing how you placed yourself in a mate-in-1 position with just two lines.

Re:Recycle Nukes? (1)

findoutmoretoday (1475299) | more than 4 years ago | (#32858706)

<quote><p>they need Pu-238 (the alpha emmiter).</p></quote>

Interesting (was a good question),  with an alpha emitter there is probably no need for heavy shielding.

Re:Recycle Nukes? (3, Interesting)

digitalunity (19107) | more than 4 years ago | (#32857752)

A more pressing question in my mind is why aren't there any private companies making it for NASA? Does the NRC prohibit private companies from producing it?

I'm sure somewhere in the US exists a company with the technical expertise and equipment to make it. And when I'm pretty sure companies are still willing to cash government checks... I guess I don't understand "shortages" in synthesized isotopes. I heard a while back there is another isotope synthesized in Canada that we have to buy because there isn't enough in the US or something like that. I don't get it.

Re:Recycle Nukes? (2, Insightful)

darkpixel2k (623900) | more than 4 years ago | (#32857788)

And when I'm pretty sure companies are still willing to cash government checks... I guess I don't understand "shortages" in synthesized isotopes. I heard a while back there is another isotope synthesized in Canada that we have to buy because there isn't enough in the US or something like that. I don't get it.

There are several situations like that in the US. Sure, private companies could make synthesized isotopes. We have the brainpower and tools to do it. Unfortunately we have ming-numbingly huge government red tape that gets in the way. Fines, fees, inspections, reports, surveys, permits, clearences, investigations, and on and on and on. I mean--you don't really expect the government would just /let/ someone start manufacturing nuclear anything for any reason, do you?

Re:Recycle Nukes? (1)

Ethanol-fueled (1125189) | more than 4 years ago | (#32857824)

you don't really expect the government would just /let/ someone start manufacturing nuclear anything for any reason, do you?

Uh, Bechtel makes Nucular reactors [bmpc.com] . Now connect the dots [radioproject.org] and think for a minute. What is more powerful than the U.S. Government? The energy companies! [msn.com] Ding ding DING!

Re:Recycle Nukes? (1)

timmarhy (659436) | more than 4 years ago | (#32857854)

what a load of crap. do people actually believe your nonsense????

Re:Recycle Nukes? (1)

darkpixel2k (623900) | more than 4 years ago | (#32858174)

what a load of crap. do people actually believe your nonsense????

What crap? Are you saying the government doesn't have volumes of regulations, requirements, and permits to obtain, produce, handle, sell, and/or export nuclear material?

Re:Recycle Nukes? (2, Informative)

darkpixel2k (623900) | more than 4 years ago | (#32858166)

Uh, Bechtel makes Nucular reactors [bmpc.com]

Yeah--and they have legions of people devoted to dealing with the bureaucratic red tape required by the DoE and other federal agencies. And yeah, that includes lobbyists too.

Re:Recycle Nukes? (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32857790)

Maybe because it's not "synthesized", it is obtained by irradiation of Np-237, which itself comes from spent nuclear fuel.

This is way more complicated to obtain than, let's say, Co-60 or Cs-137.

That's what I'd call "synthetized" (1)

Nicolas MONNET (4727) | more than 4 years ago | (#32859136)

It's created as a result of deliberate human intervention instead of being found as-is in nature. It's synthetic.

Re:Recycle Nukes? (5, Informative)

Wyatt Earp (1029) | more than 4 years ago | (#32857796)

We only made it in the US at Hanford and Savannah River, both of those are shut down now.

It's very toxic, very hard to work with and very flammable and very much controlled, so thats why no private companies are in the market to produce it.

To produce Pu-238 you produce a ton of weapons grade plutonium, do we really need more of that crap churned out?

http://www.fas.org/nuke/intro/nuke/plutonium.htm [fas.org]

Re:Recycle Nukes? (2, Interesting)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 4 years ago | (#32858244)

yes to all. At the least, we need more RD

Re:Recycle Nukes? (1)

Ihmhi (1206036) | more than 4 years ago | (#32858538)

Can the weapons-grade plutonium be refined into something safer or less... weapons-grade?

Re:Recycle Nukes? (2, Informative)

Wyatt Earp (1029) | more than 4 years ago | (#32858612)

Yes, it can be used as Pu-239 in a reactor.

Re:Recycle Nukes? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32859214)

do we really need more of that crap churned out?

Who gives a shit? This retarded idea is the reason why NASA's running out of plutonium and the reason why nuclear power is still so massively, massively inefficient in the US. When you produce Pu-239, it doesn't instantly fucking teleport into empty warheads sitting in Iranian stockpiles. You can produce it and then burn it in a reactor. If you produce it on a reactor site, you don't even have to worry about transport. There is no reason not to be producing it if any utility can be derived from that production.

Re:Recycle Nukes? (3, Insightful)

Charliemopps (1157495) | more than 4 years ago | (#32857914)

It's fucking plutonium. You can't just make it. Hippies freak shit when we try to build an oil refinery, much less refine nuclear material. They'll start screaming about us irradiating space or some shit and no one will make a damned thing.

Re:Recycle Nukes? (4, Insightful)

Macrat (638047) | more than 4 years ago | (#32858162)

It's fucking plutonium. You can't just make it. Hippies freak shit when we try to build an oil refinery, much less refine nuclear material.

But for some reason they don't mind turning on the lights in their home with electricity provided by coal fired generators that put more radioactive particulates in the air than any nuclear plant could.

Re:Recycle Nukes? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32858202)

My hippy home is powered by a mix of nuclear power and hydroelectric plant.

That said, they do have a lot of stupid coal plants they should mothball, and I'd be glad for them to do it, but nobody listens to me. Despite the fact that they have permitted plants up for nukes.

Re:Recycle Nukes? (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32858342)

It's fucking plutonium. You can't just make it. Hippies freak shit when we try to build an oil refinery, much less refine nuclear material.

But for some reason they don't mind turning on the lights in their home with electricity provided by coal fired generators that put more radioactive particulates in the air than any nuclear plant could.

Hippiecrits.

Re:Recycle Nukes? (2, Funny)

camperdave (969942) | more than 4 years ago | (#32858362)

But for some reason they don't mind turning on the lights in their home with electricity provided by coal fired generators that put more radioactive particulates in the air than any nuclear plant could.

Hippiecrits.

Brilliant!

Re:Recycle Nukes? (1)

JavaBear (9872) | more than 4 years ago | (#32859014)

Where's the "Thumbs Up" button when you need it?

Re:Recycle Nukes? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32859310)

It's fucking plutonium. You can't just make it.

I'm sure that in 1985 plutonium is available in every corner drugstore, but in 2010 it's a little hard to come by.

Re:Recycle Nukes? (2, Informative)

unkiereamus (1061340) | more than 4 years ago | (#32858368)

At a guess, what you're talking about is Molybdenum-99, which is a parent isotope of Technetium-99, which is a beta emitter used extensively in radiopharmaceuticals. While it is mined in the US, Canada has much bigger deposits (as do a few other places).

Re:Recycle Nukes? (1)

PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) | more than 4 years ago | (#32858956)

A more pressing question in my mind is why aren't there any private companies making it for NASA?

Maybe the Boy Scouts can help out . . . ? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Hahn [wikipedia.org]

I mean, they help old ladies over the street, and good stuff like that . . . maybe there is a merit badge for producing Pu-238 for NASA . . . ?

There is no "market" for it (1)

Nicolas MONNET (4727) | more than 4 years ago | (#32859130)

You can't buy it on the private market because there is no market for it. This shit's only useful when you don't risk poisoning anyone, and when you can't use solar panels or any form of fossil fuel. In other words, it's only useful when you're as far away as Mars, and there isn't much commercing done about there.

Re:Recycle Nukes? (1)

Yehooti (816574) | more than 4 years ago | (#32857804)

Pu-238 is the isotope used for RTGs. 239 is the isotope used for weapons. Different type, so that wouldn't work, as much as it would be neat if it would.

Re:Recycle Nukes? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32857924)

What I can't find, and might be somewhat useful for a debate on the matter, is a table of the various isotopes of the elements and the decay heat of each.

If you're curious, you may want to look at "Preparation of Pu238 Metal" at DOI 10.1021/i260012a011 (unfortunately, subscription required)

I wonder if the former soviet republics and occupied countries wouldn't mind selling us abandoned RTGs on the cheap?

Re:Recycle Nukes? (2, Informative)

Iron Condor (964856) | more than 4 years ago | (#32858370)

What I can't find, and might be somewhat useful for a debate on the matter, is a table of the various isotopes of the elements and the decay heat of each.

You may have heard of that newfangled thingee called "google". When I send the words "table of nuclides" into it and hit the button "I feel lucky", it ports me to http://atom.kaeri.re.kr/ [kaeri.re.kr] , which appears to have all the data you're asking for.

Solution Right Here (3, Funny)

Saeed al-Sahaf (665390) | more than 4 years ago | (#32857702)

I have a chili recipe that produces a - er - "slurry" so radioactively hot, it could be used to power spacecraft...

Re:Solution Right Here (4, Funny)

PPH (736903) | more than 4 years ago | (#32857822)

You wouldn't by any chance have fed any of this chili to a black hole [slashdot.org] ?

Re:Solution Right Here (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32857928)

It's considerably safer to put plutonium in orbit than your chili. Think reeaally carefully about what you want in your drinking water if the satellite de-orbits. :-P

Re:Solution Right Here (1)

Saeed al-Sahaf (665390) | more than 4 years ago | (#32858108)

It's considerably safer to put plutonium in orbit than your chili.

It's really *not* the chili, it's the resulting output.

Actually... (4, Informative)

sznupi (719324) | more than 4 years ago | (#32857704)

NASA is launching quite soon a spacecraft to Jupiter [wikipedia.org] relying on solar panels. And the ESA spacecraft part of mentioned joint mission will also rely on solar panels [wikipedia.org] . Seems they have improved quite a bit / I wouldn't be too surprised at seeing, eventually, some mission to Saturn relying on them.

Not saying that we don't need RTGs, we do of course (for further missions or more complex ones; using solar panels whenever possible saves RTGs for those...), but part of the premises of TFS is not terribly accurate.

Re:Actually... (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32857764)

Even on Mars, the MER rovers use RHUs (radioactive heating units) to keep the electronics warm during the Martian night and winter. Ditto for most any mission going beyond the Earth's orbit, especially for landers (which see night).

An orbiter can conceivably be pointed to the sun, but the solar constant is pretty low. Jupiter is 5 AU away from the sun, so the solar constant is 1/25th of Earth: a monster 40 Watts/square meter. Compare this to radiation cooling to cold sky which is about 100W/square meter. Better have pretty good insulation, which takes volume and mass, both in short supply on a spacecraft.

Juno has enormous solar panels, which raise all sorts of practical problems.

You've got to decide whether you want to burn your mass allocation on solar panels or on science instruments.

Re:Actually... (1)

TooMuchToDo (882796) | more than 4 years ago | (#32857826)

I'd actually be interested in testing laser transmission of power to remote spacecraft. Need to test it anyway for powering motors on a space elevator, no? Might as well start on the harder part first (huge distances, targeting, etc).

Re:Actually... (4, Informative)

Chris Burke (6130) | more than 4 years ago | (#32857886)

It'd have to be one damn beefy laser, since at the distances we're talking, even a very tightly focused laser beam has diverged to a huge diameter. A ridiculously harder problem than hitting a space elevator climber. Tens of thousands of kilometers, vs about 600 million kilometers at the closest. I don't think it's practical at this time to beam power from earth to Jupiter. Solar power would be way stronger than anything we could provide.

Re:Actually... (2, Informative)

sznupi (719324) | more than 4 years ago | (#32857844)

Uhm, yeah, nobody said about missions which have to survive nights (or even all orbital ones)

Your comparison of received and radiated energy glances over the fact that body of spacecraft is quite compact vs. solar panels being secondary structures outside of it. Juno most likely still has radiators to get rid of waste heat.
The decision to use solar panels was a practical one - you shouldn't use at will RTGs which are in very short supply, if there's alternative available for given science objectives (one that would make much more frequent missions feasible, too)

Re:Actually... (2, Interesting)

Jon Abbott (723) | more than 4 years ago | (#32859270)

Still, it is important to point out that Juno [wikimedia.org] is the first attempt at traveling to Jupiter using solar panels instead of RTGs... That is quite an engineering feat in and of itself. The story poster's statement of solar energy being too weak for solar arrays beyond the orbit of Mars will likely be disproved by Juno in the coming years.

Re:Actually... (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 4 years ago | (#32857916)

Not saying that we don't need RTGs, we do of course (for further missions or more complex ones; using solar panels whenever possible saves RTGs for those...), but part of the premises of TFS is not terribly accurate.

Well, yes they are. Juno (the NASA probe) could settle for solar panels and a somewhat reduced science mission precisely because solar cells have improved - but it still takes a large and heavy array and makes considerable impact on operations. They'd much prefer to use RTGs, but the fuel simply isn't available. To use the inevitable Slashdot automobile analogy, it's like settling for a compact when you really would prefer a sedan.
 
I should not in passing that this isn't a new situation, as the plutonium isotopes used in RTGs is a by product of nuclear weapons processing - which ended with the end of the Cold War. We've known this is going to happen for some time.

Joint missions? (0)

Yaos (804128) | more than 4 years ago | (#32857732)

NO! No I say! This just proves that America can't do everything, it just proves how weak we are and how strong they are that we are working with them. Strong people don't need to work with anybody else, only weak people do. Just need to get that out of the way before the other 200 posts saying the same thing.

Re:Joint missions? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32858034)

you're just claiming the other end of that same dichotomy you're complaining about. if they can do it, we should be able to as well.

Re:Joint missions? (2, Insightful)

camperdave (969942) | more than 4 years ago | (#32858182)

Actually, it looks like Russia is taking the lead in the Space Race again. The US has practically lost its ability to launch astronauts, and now its ability to power its probes is in jeopardy.

Solution to the problem is simple... (5, Funny)

OSDever (792851) | more than 4 years ago | (#32857738)

They just need to construct additional pylons. Problem solved.

Re:Solution to the problem is simple... (1)

phantomfive (622387) | more than 4 years ago | (#32858286)

lol I love that suddenly references to slashdot are popping up all over again, now that SCII is coming out

Re:Solution to the problem is simple... (1)

Jesus_666 (702802) | more than 4 years ago | (#32858902)

Unfortunately, that does nothing to help the fact that NASA is also running out of Vespene gas.

Missed Opportunity? (2, Insightful)

Slack0ff (590042) | more than 4 years ago | (#32857746)

Seems like the US is passing on, or simply overlooking an opportunity to create a new small industry, making what is sure to be a product with increasing demand.

Re:Missed Opportunity? (2, Funny)

bsDaemon (87307) | more than 4 years ago | (#32857794)

NASA is just holding out until they can buy what they need from Iran.

Re:Missed Opportunity? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32858746)

"Buy" ? Surely you mean "liberate".

Re:Missed Opportunity? (3, Insightful)

Wyatt Earp (1029) | more than 4 years ago | (#32857808)

The US was in on the industry, remember the entire Nuclear Weapon Complex the US had/has from Savannah River to Oak Ridge to Pantex to Rocky Flats to Los Alamos to Hanford?

Plutonium is a pain to produce, clean up and deal with.

Re:Missed Opportunity? (3, Interesting)

TooMuchToDo (882796) | more than 4 years ago | (#32857834)

Also, at the time they were producing Plutonium, it was taking almost 10% of the power the country was generating at the time.

Re:Missed Opportunity? (4, Interesting)

modecx (130548) | more than 4 years ago | (#32858270)

That in itself doesn't say very much, does it?

Have you ever seen a typical home that hasn't been touched since the late 40's-50's? It had a refrigerator, a radio everyone huddled around, a single light bulb and one outlet in each room (there being very few rooms to begin with), if you were fortunate--two outlets if you're very lucky. They didn't have central air, or big screens TVs and computers humming along all day, burning through thousands upon thousands of kWh.

I see that 10% number float around from time to time. Don't know where it comes from, or if it's remotely accurate at all--but if I had to guess: should we undertake *ALL* of that energy research and weapon building today, it would be dwarfed compared to the country's power bill for A/C alone.

Re:Missed Opportunity? (1)

compro01 (777531) | more than 4 years ago | (#32858094)

There are a couple problems with that.

1. The only efficient manner in which to make useful quantities of Pu-238 is by irradiating Neptunium-237, which is found in "spent" reactor fuel in low quantities (~0.7%). This process takes quite awhile. If we started irradiating the Neptunium right now, we wouldn't see any usable amounts of Pu-238 for at least 5 years.

2. Creating Pu-238 also results in greater quantities of Pu-239, which is the type you'd use in a nuclear weapon. This is a security concern for obvious reasons.

Re:Missed Opportunity? (2, Interesting)

Slack0ff (590042) | more than 4 years ago | (#32858280)

All that could be true enough, I'm no expert. However, looking at it from outside I see that there is a demand for the product. Until we find another viable method of powering these missions there will be a continuing demand. Wouldn't it make sense to produce it in country under our regulations rather than importing it? Would importing it be any cheaper/safer?

Civ IV (4, Funny)

Aeonite (263338) | more than 4 years ago | (#32857832)

Cultural Victory? Nope.
Diplomatic Victory? Nope.
Space Race Victory? Nope.

That leaves Domination Victory and Conquest Victory.

Decisions, decisions.

Re:Civ IV (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32859052)

We've still got until 2050 to win a space race victory, minus about 10-20 years for travel at a portion of the speed of light. The only missing tech from the tech tree is fusion. We should have that any day now, right?

Anyone check with Israel? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32857876)

I hear they got the hookup, and they kinda owe us. Just sayin'.

The best way for ESA to help... (0, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32857964)

The best way for ESA to help would be to take what NASA has left and put it to Actual Productive Use by a civilized, rational people instead of in the hands of a budding theocratic dictatorship.
The sooner America no longer has access to space, the safer the rest of the us will be.

Re:The best way for ESA to help... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32858140)

ok my turn. says the person who probably has western european 'multiculturalism' shoved so far up his ass that he sees the islamic ghettos in his own (or neighboring) countries as bastions of freedom.

NASA had another option in 1981 (4, Interesting)

PinkyGigglebrain (730753) | more than 4 years ago | (#32857976)

Maybe they could use a Radioisotope Photoelectric Generator [google.com] instead, at least for power, and save the Pu238 just for heating. From my understanding of it, limited since the only article (from 1981) I've ever read about it was the one I linked to, a RPG can use any gamma ray emitting isotope and will have full power for a period equal the half-life of the isotope used. And IIRC there are still several reactors in the US that can generate isotopes.

Never heard anything more about it, anyone else know more?

Re:NASA had another option in 1981 (4, Informative)

compro01 (777531) | more than 4 years ago | (#32858118)

Using a gamma emitter (rather than an alpha emitter like Pu-238) means you need A LOT more shielding (and thus more weight and volume) to prevent it from screwing with the electronics and instruments.

Re:NASA had another option in 1981 (4, Interesting)

PinkyGigglebrain (730753) | more than 4 years ago | (#32858388)

Good point, but considering that the electronics are alerady radiation hardened against gamma ray, alpha particles and cosmic rays of much higher power I would really be surprised if much extra shielding would be needed. From another article I came across after posting it mentions that by selecting the right isotope its possible to get useful power and only need a .5cm lead shield for it to be safe around people. Since it would be in space you might be able to just shield the probe side of the RPG.

I'm sure that given some thought a workable solution could be found. I'd still like to know if anyone has heard of any work being done or did it get buried for some reason?

Re:NASA had another option in 1981 (3, Insightful)

khallow (566160) | more than 4 years ago | (#32858442)

Good point, but considering that the electronics are alerady radiation hardened against gamma ray, alpha particles and cosmic rays of much higher power I would really be surprised if much extra shielding would be needed.

That depends on how much the RPG contributes to the radiation environment of the spacecraft. Keep in mind that it is a nearby source that will be irradiating the rest of the spacecraft for the life of the mission.

Re:NASA had another option in 1981 (1)

thatskinnyguy (1129515) | more than 4 years ago | (#32858170)

Why? They became comfortable with designing a system around something specific. If they were to have to use another gamma emitter like Uranium, Cesium or any number of any things, it would mean that they would have to do some work.

Where did the balls in America go? A challenge like this used to be trivial. Don't have a certain kind of gamma emitter? No problem! Build a better mousetrap!

Have you ever read "Foundation" by Asimov? (3, Interesting)

mcrbids (148650) | more than 4 years ago | (#32858234)

At the beginning, where Isaac describes the slowly decaying Galactic civilization; that's what the United States reads like more and more.

The signs are everywhere: Leadership that's seriously out of touch with the people; infrastructure that's still good but getting worse; dwindling education, increasing racial tension and population segregation; etc.

We remember the good old days, and the good old days WERE brighter. Technology overall still advances, but what's not advancing is our position in it. Thanks to a distinctly anti-intellectual culture and an increasing distrust of "da gubbmint" combined with a ridiculous war, our economy is in a shambles, our regulations are a mess, and our population often seems more interested in "being heard" than listening long enough to identify the problems.

I find it sad to see our nation on the decline.

Re:Have you ever read "Foundation" by Asimov? (2, Insightful)

PinkyGigglebrain (730753) | more than 4 years ago | (#32858438)

Didn't like the "wrap up" in "Foundation and Empire" much but the original books are great, and it did all tie together well.

I noticed the signs back in the 80's, I could see the US was near its peak and have been watching its slow glide down. Just like every "Great Nation" since earliest history, Aztec, Inca, Greek, Nubia, Mesopotamia, Babylon, etc., etc..

It only declines when you talk about a decline. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32858840)

Everyone wants to blame the lack of progress at a miscegenation of the population and market, but what it all boils down to is such a self-centered country as the United States only failed recently when all the risk-management and debt collections tried to integrate slave labor and foreign interests into the country so as to elleviate much of the failures that accompanied progress. What you see today is a military industrial complex (as defined by Pres. Dwight D. Eisenhower) separate itself from the pretend "free market" maintained by the civilian debtor nation. Basically what it means is the United States progressed, foreign countries continually try to cash-in on leaked progress, investments don't turn-out, so the United States bifurcates into a productive admiralty-rule self-sufficient military government at the expense of a failing populous that it only pretends into existence as a decoy to isolate enemies pursuant to the Trading With The Enemy Act (which civilians violate every day when they buy foreign-made electronics). Everything isn't real, it's all simulated: television, depressed immune system from bad water and food, the immediate response by courts over disagreements is to drug and fatigue everyone into compliance, police constantly harassing freemen for not enfranchising their family and property into the State-charter, and the Illuminati Freemasons in the Catholic Church are controlling everyone's lifestyle through municipal corporations. It's Hell on Earth, and we are taught to believe we're in Heaven on Earth.

Re:NASA had another option in 1981 (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32858306)

Why not just use a beta- (electron) emitting isotope, and skip the fission (and need for containment, heat radiation and shielding of gamma particles) all together?

GREAT SCOTT!!! (2, Funny)

Reed Solomon (897367) | more than 4 years ago | (#32857982)

We've got 5 more years, someone at NASA better be working on Mister Fusion. And hovercars.

Re:GREAT SCOTT!!! (2, Funny)

nebaz (453974) | more than 4 years ago | (#32857998)

What happened? I remember in 1985, Plutonium was available in every corner drug store, but in 2010, it's a little hard to come by.

Re:GREAT SCOTT!!! (1)

Andrew916 (1108769) | more than 4 years ago | (#32858186)

LOL, Ministers! In America we call them Czars.

Notta Problem (1)

Tablizer (95088) | more than 4 years ago | (#32858036)

I'm sure N. Korea or Iran would be happy to sell us some.

I have the solution! (1)

sea4ever (1628181) | more than 4 years ago | (#32858040)

Can they use uranium instead? I have this friend that might be able to loan them his Uranium PU-32 explosive space modulator..

Re:I have the solution! (1)

sea4ever (1628181) | more than 4 years ago | (#32858066)

Pu-36* sorry. Apparently I didn't proofread that properly.

Reactors (2, Insightful)

rossdee (243626) | more than 4 years ago | (#32858086)

Shouldn't we be building breeder reactors that make Plutonium? It might help with global warming by retiring some caol fired power plants.

Re:Reactors (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32858808)

The sort of fuel cycle you would want to run in a breeder reactor does not allow for Plutonium separation, so no.

However, we should be building those reactors anyway, to consume the vast quantities of existing nuclear "waste." They would of course consume any leftover Plutonium as well, if we did choose to separate more.

Fast breeder plutonium reactors = sick joke (2, Insightful)

dbIII (701233) | more than 4 years ago | (#32859090)

The last one that was designed in 1968 and shut down about three years ago was an incredibly expensive French white elephant built with the idea that Uranium was going to run out quickly. There are better ways to make the stuff, as seen by what the military use to make it and by what ambitious developing nations use to make it (eg. Egypt, Indonesia and a long list of others with CANDU reactors).
I don't know why NASA doesn't just buy some left over stuff from the UK, France, South Africa, Israel, Egypt, half of Eastern Europe or as part of a non proliforation deal - North Korea.
There is a lot of plutonium of various isotopes out there. It's only the politics of pretending there isn't that get in the way of NASA getting some (plus stupid counterproductive sabre rattling in the direction of Russia - the cold war is over guys!).

Re:Fast breeder plutonium reactors = sick joke (1)

quokkaZ (1780340) | more than 4 years ago | (#32859276)

You are quite wrong. The Russian BN-600 sodium cooled fast breeder has been in operation since 1980. The larger BN-800 is being built in Russia and a joint venture has been established to build two in China.

India plans to bring it's first domestically designed fast breeder reactor on line in 2011. With plans for 4 more by 2020.

There are a number of projects in the US to develop small modular fast reactors - US Dept of Energy SSTAR being one of them.

Breeder reactors (fast uranium or possibly thermal molten salt thorium) will be the future of nuclear electricity generation. Give it a couple decades.

Time to buy from Canada (1)

Deliveranc3 (629997) | more than 4 years ago | (#32858272)

Yea you've fucked us over for years and we've found something the international community will protect us against you on.

But we're magnaminious, and we have the second largest supply in the world.

And the moral high ground :P

Iran (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32858328)

Why not just call Iran or North Korea? they must have a bunch of Pu-238 if they are making Pu-239

Does the US still have working atomic bombs? (3, Interesting)

Animats (122034) | more than 4 years ago | (#32858496)

There's a real question as to whether the US still has working nuclear weapons. [defense.gov] Much of the production capability was shut down years ago. For over a decade, the US had lost the capacity to make nuclear "pits". They used to be made at Rocky Flats, which shut down in 1993. Los Alamos now has a limited production capability for new nuclear pits, but no pit made there has been tested in an actual detonation. The complete ban on nuclear testing, even underground, means there's some doubt about whether new physics packages actually work. Current practice is to build duplicates of designs from the 1970s.

One of the non-radioactive materials for H-bombs is out of production, and attempts to make more of it have not been successful.

There's also a tritium shortage. Tritium, with its short half-life, has to be replaced periodically. That's getting to be a problem.

The second team is building these things today. Early atomic bombs were designed by Nobel prizewinners. Today, the people involved are far less qualified and not very motivated. Almost everybody who ever designed a bomb that went off has retired. There's a proposal to design a "dumber bomb" with a very long shelf life, but without testing, nobody really has confidence that would work.

Re:Does the US still have working atomic bombs? (1)

dbIII (701233) | more than 4 years ago | (#32859108)

Of course there are, the previous government even put a lot more money into developing new weapon designs.

Critical level (5, Funny)

Arancaytar (966377) | more than 4 years ago | (#32858566)

NASA's stockpile of the plutonium isotope Pu-238 is at a critical level

They've got a critical amount of Pu-238 and they want more?

Civilian vs. Military demand for RTGs (3, Insightful)

nojayuk (567177) | more than 4 years ago | (#32859198)

The US has been using up its existing stockpiles of Pu-238 to build RTGs for a mixture of civilian deep space projects and black intel operations such as non-solar-powered stealth spy satellites and seabed-emplaced submarine monitoring stations. The Russians agreed to sell the US some Pu-238 under a licence that prevented it being used for military functions but they shut that down when it became obvious the US was reallocating most if not all of its home-grown stockpile to the military side of things. Like oil Pu-238 is fungible and the Russian supply of Pu-238 was effectively enhancing US military capabilities.

Recycle RTGs used in Dismantled Nukes (1)

peach4964 (1232864) | more than 4 years ago | (#32859220)

Perhaps it's too small of quantity to be of use but why not recycle the PU-238 from the RTG's used in nuclear weapons? We've retired/dismantled several thousands of nukes that used RTG's. The RTG production is now under the Sandia National Labs & they should know whether these RTGs could be of any use to NASA's problem.

No big deal... (2, Insightful)

argStyopa (232550) | more than 4 years ago | (#32859378)

...you don't need Plutonium to make Muslims feel good about themselves, right?

I mean, since this is possibly NASA's FOREMOST mission:
"When I became the NASA administrator -- or before I became the NASA administrator -- (Obama) charged me with three things. One was he wanted me to help re-inspire children to want to get into science and math, he wanted me to expand our international relationships, and third, and perhaps foremost, he wanted me to find a way to reach out to the Muslim world and engage much more with dominantly Muslim nations to help them feel good about their historic contribution to science ... and math and engineering,"

They reassigned it to black projects (3, Interesting)

Dr La (1342733) | more than 4 years ago | (#32859478)

http://www.space.com/news/nasa_plutonium_020724.html [space.com] menioned in 2002

Earl Wahlquist, associate director of the Department of Energys Space and Defense Power Systems Office, said July 23 [2002] that 7 kilograms of Plutonium 238 slightly more than half of the U.S. inventory is being reassigned for use by an undisclosed national security agency.

The agency in question is probably the NRO. So basically, it has gone from NASA into the NRO black space project.

Load More Comments
Slashdot Login

Need an Account?

Forgot your password?