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Developing Nuclear Power Plant Tech For the Moon and Mars

Soulskill posted more than 2 years ago | from the green-cheese-fission dept.

Mars 273

With his first accepted Slashdot submission, Zandamesh sends this excerpt from ZDNet: "On earth, nuclear reactors are under attack because of concerns over damage caused by natural disasters. In space, however, nuclear technology may get a new lease on life. Plans for the first nuclear power plant for the production of electricity to be used by manned or unmanned bases on the Moon, Mars and other planets have been unveiled at the 242nd National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society. 'The reactor itself may be about 1 ½ feet wide by 2 ½ feet high, about the size of a carry-on suitcase. There are no cooling towers. ... The team is scheduled to build a technology demonstration unit in 2012."

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Protesters (3, Insightful)

chill (34294) | more than 2 years ago | (#37241188)

While possibly a good idea, be prepared for the protesters. Specifically the group that complains every time a rocket blasts off carrying fissile material. What if it explodes on launch?

Also, expect a few wingnuts who complain about ruining the pristine landscape of the moon.

Re:Protesters (1)

geogob (569250) | more than 2 years ago | (#37241230)

What if it explodes on launch?

Not that this ever happens [slashdot.org] ...

Re:Protesters (4, Insightful)

chill (34294) | more than 2 years ago | (#37241406)

A more accurate link would have been this [wikipedia.org] .

I'm not arguing for complete negligence, but rather that this is an engineering issue that can be solved.

Re:Protesters (5, Informative)

LWATCDR (28044) | more than 2 years ago | (#37241634)

Very little. Uranium is actually natural. They will not "turn on" the reactor until it is far from earth. You can stand next to uranium all day long and it will not hurt you. The main problem is when it decays it produced Radon gas "again this is natural" which can cause lung cancer. So this as actually safer than an RTG and really very safe. The thing is that people will yell in fear first and then ignore research. BTW.
I do not work for NASA or any Aerospace firm and the launch pad is pretty near my home so it is sort of in my back yard so I have ZERO interest in down playing any danger.

Re:Protesters (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37241942)

Then again, you may not know what you talk about at all...

That uranium is "natural" is relevant. Besides, _enriched_ Uranium is what is used for nuclear plants, which is very different radiological properties.

Standing next to uranium may hurt you if you stand close enough (alpha-decay), but the issue here is whether an explosion will cause uranium dust, which is very dangerous for you:

http://web.ead.anl.gov/uranium/faq/health/faq28.cfm [anl.gov]

I am in favor of using nuclear power for space exploration, but saying that it is all natural and "it is really very safe" is not going to help.

Re:Protesters (2)

LWATCDR (28044) | more than 2 years ago | (#37242156)

What? Do you not know the difference between safe and harmless?
Anyway just more fear mongering.
Enriched uranium is not significantly more radioactive than natural uranium as long is it is sub critical.
A launch vehicle exploding will not convert reactor fuel into powder. Have you ever seen what is left after a rocket fails? It is pretty big chunks.

Combine the facts that very little uranium dust will be formed with the fact that it will not be near people AKA a few miles away and you have pretty harmless and nothing to fear. Well fear any more than any rocket. That is why they don't let people stand next to them.

Re:Protesters (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37242176)

which is very different radiological properties.

U-238 (the major component of natural uranium) has an alpha decay of 4.267 MeV, and a half life of ~4.5 billion years. U-235 (the fissile stuff we like) has an alpha decay of 4.679 MeV and a half life of 703,800,000 years, meaning U-235 is only about 6 times more radioactive, than something which is barely more radioactive than background radiation, to begin with.

Re:Protesters (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37241284)

While possibly a good idea, be prepared for the protesters. Specifically the group that complains every time a rocket blasts off carrying fissile material. What if it explodes on launch?

That is a serious threat that has to be dealt with.

Also, expect a few wingnuts who complain about ruining the pristine landscape of the moon.

I'd prefer the moon without nuclear contamination, so that there can be a safe moon base there. That doesn't exclude nuclear power, but there is a middle way of safety to choose between "wingnuts/protesters" and carelessness.

Re:Protesters (1)

Issarlk (1429361) | more than 2 years ago | (#37241632)

Yes, let's not risk contaminating the moon and spoiling the idylic environment it's surface offers to life.

Re:Protesters (1)

slater.jay (1839748) | more than 2 years ago | (#37241738)

I'd prefer the moon without nuclear contamination, so that there can be a safe moon base there.

A bit of nuclear contamination on the moon isn't going to make a huge difference to safety, considering that you'd end up getting fried by solar radiation anyway sans shielding.

Re:Protesters (3, Insightful)

TheRaven64 (641858) | more than 2 years ago | (#37241844)

I'd prefer the moon without nuclear contamination

This makes about as much sense as standing next to the mouth of a volcano and complaining that your neighbour's barbecue is making you too hot.

Re:Protesters (1)

neokushan (932374) | more than 2 years ago | (#37241862)

Isn't space full of radiation as it is?

Re:Protesters (1)

newcastlejon (1483695) | more than 2 years ago | (#37241934)

I'd prefer the moon without nuclear contamination, so that there can be a safe moon base there. That doesn't exclude nuclear power, but there is a middle way of safety to choose between "wingnuts/protesters" and carelessness.

Safe?

A moon base will need shielding from cosmic rays, which I know aren't the same as gamma or beta radiation, but it's a start. It'll also need to be airtight - natch - so that ought to take care of alpha radiation and fallout too.

Just what danger does an external nuclear reactor pose to people inside a moon base anyway? Not much, I'd bet, but the reactor might well be inside anyway so the problem of uglying up the lunar landscape is the same as a base using any other means of power generation. Hell, a load of solar panels would do more to spoil the view than anything else.

For my two-penneth, it wouldn't surprise me if we had practical fusion power by the time we had a permanent moon base. I'm not saying we will, just that it's not beyond the realms of possibility.

Re:Protesters (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37241320)

Without risk, you receive no reward. I'm sick and tired of pussies holding back scientific and economic progress because a butterfly might be harmed or a minnow might have to swim farther. We are an aggressive, dominating species and that is what got us into the position we are currently in. Sitting on our asses and smelling the flowers will do nothing but corrupt us and start our downward spiral. We need to push forward using the same philosophy and tools we used to get here.

Re:Protesters (0)

coldfarnorth (799174) | more than 2 years ago | (#37241696)

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Re:Protesters (1)

Beelzebud (1361137) | more than 2 years ago | (#37242244)

Yeah if only we had more non-thinking tough guys, the world would be so much better! Who needs pussies who think about stuff?

Re:Protesters (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37241376)

Yeah, because the pristine landscape of the moon hasn't already been smashed to bits by giant lumps of rock crashing into it over the past several million years.

Re:Protesters (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37241540)

The NIMBY crowd's already quick to jump on the article. Just look at the first comment [zdnet.com] . There's not enough aluminum on this planet to make a hat big enough for them.

Re:Protesters (1)

toastar (573882) | more than 2 years ago | (#37242108)

Dumb Question time:

Would a real controlled fission reaction work or mars? How about the moon?

Re:Protesters (2)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 2 years ago | (#37242278)

While possibly a good idea, be prepared for the protesters. Specifically the group that complains every time a rocket blasts off carrying fissile material.

The number of such protesters has been steadily decreasing over time and is now essentially zero. Heck, Curiosity is within a few weeks of launching and nobody (of those who protest, file lawsuits, etc...) seems to have even noticed.

Nuclear on the moon? (0)

SirGarlon (845873) | more than 2 years ago | (#37241206)

In order to get a reactor to the moon you have to launch it on a rocket, and rockets do not have a really great safety record. The risk/benefit trade-off of launching nuclear fuel through our atmosphere does not seem to be worth it, not when solar energy on the Moon is a readily available alternative.

Re:Nuclear on the moon? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37241360)

Please explain how this would power the dark side - the side that contains the most interesting geology as well as optimal lighting conditions for deep space telescopes.

Re:Nuclear on the moon? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37241438)

Since there isn't a "dark side", I imagine you would just use batteries during the dark times.

Re:Nuclear on the moon? (1)

nschubach (922175) | more than 2 years ago | (#37241620)

The article mentions why solar was ruled out. Battery weight was one of them.

Re:Nuclear on the moon? (1)

TheRaven64 (641858) | more than 2 years ago | (#37241870)

Night on the moon lasts for about two weeks. This means that, during the two weeks of sunlight, you'd have to generate and store enough power to last you two weeks, on top of the power that you were using normally. That's going to require a lot of batteries...

Re:Nuclear on the moon? (1)

kanweg (771128) | more than 2 years ago | (#37242350)

Think a little bigger, a couple of moon bases. You create an electricity grid. The moon isn't that big. If you're gone live near one of the poles, the necessary length is much shorter.

On the moon, sunlight is pure and unadulterated. No atmosphere, no pesky clouds. No problem with less light at higher latitudes.

Bert

Re:Nuclear on the moon? (1)

rubycodez (864176) | more than 2 years ago | (#37241902)

there is a "dark side", and it's everywhere......you do realize that the length of the average "day" and "night" on the moon is two weeks? the batteries needed will be bigger than a nice little nuclear reactor

Re:Nuclear on the moon? (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37241366)

not when solar energy on the Moon is a readily available alternative.

Maybe for Earth, but solar energy is not viable for long-term use on a world in which night lasts for two weeks.

Sending a bunch of solar cells to the moon is easy. It's launching the batteries that's the dealbreaker at current launch costs. If you need lots of baseline power in a small package, nuclear's the only viable tech.

Ditto for Mars - not just because it's further away, but because soft-landing a lot of mass on Mars is arguably more difficult than landing on the Moon. Not just due to gravity, but Mars' atmosphere is dense enough to burn up a spacecraft, but not dense enough to avoid the requirement for colossal parachutes or really fancy retro-rocket landing systems.

Re:Nuclear on the moon? (4, Insightful)

RockClimbingFool (692426) | more than 2 years ago | (#37241420)

Solar power is hardly "readily available" on the moon, unless Bob's Discount Solar Panels has relocated their manufacturing complex on the moon.

Solar panels have weight. I am going to guess that the kilowatts per pound for solar doesn't come anywhere near nuclear.

Solar panels degrade over time. You then have to launch all new panels. The reactor mass for nuclear would stay on the moon, you just send up more fuel.

You're concerned about losing it on launch? First, launch it over the ocean, like we do for pretty all US launches. Second, these reactors are pretty small. You can put launch abort systems on them. You can encase it in a lot of shielding. More than enough to survive a ballistic ocean crash.

Even if you do lose the thing, it is a small reactor. It will have a limited amount of fissionable material. You could dump it in the ocean and it would affect no one.

Re:Nuclear on the moon? (3, Insightful)

0123456 (636235) | more than 2 years ago | (#37241692)

In order to get a reactor to the moon you have to launch it on a rocket, and rockets do not have a really great safety record.

The reactor doesn't start up until it's in place, so it's relatively safe until then. Plus if the launcher fails after the first minute or so it ends up at the bottom of the ocean.

The Russians have put reactors into space before, and I believe NASA did launch one before they settled on RTG and solar.

Re:Nuclear on the moon? (1)

LWATCDR (28044) | more than 2 years ago | (#37242012)

No you are wrong.
Do you know how much naturally accuring uranium is in the ocean? The answer is many tons. If you eat sea salt on your food you are eating Uranium along with Boron and Strontium, Uranium is natural and is found in many places all over the earth. A few kg of uranium falling into the sea or burning up in the atmosphere would be as close to harmless as modern math can get you. Unless you get hit by a piece. That is assuming they use uranium like most other reactors use. Spent fuel is dangerous if not contained. If they do not "turn on" the reactor until it is on the moon it will be very close to harmless.
Second, solar is not readily available on the moon. Maybe you have never looked at the moon but it doesn't get continuous sun light. In fact it is in darkness for about 50% of the time. Anything left on the moon will have days of no light lots of cold to deal with.

Why do people post in authoritative, fear and ignorance so quickly. I would love to see someone post, "is there any increased danger to doing this", verses this type of fear mongering.

Good luck launching it (0)

ShadyG (197269) | more than 2 years ago | (#37241216)

The same people that won't allow a reactor anywhere near their backyard will never allow a launch with radioactive materials onboard. It's a political non-starter, unless they can come up with some really creative spin that avoids using the words "nuclear", "radiation", "reactor", etc.

Re:Good luck launching it (2)

NotQuiteReal (608241) | more than 2 years ago | (#37241486)

It's a political non-starter

You are assuming, of course, that it would be launched from a country whose political leaders give a damn about that sort of thing. Last time I looked all of the places that cave to NIMBY whiners don't have any money to launch such a thing, so it is a moot point.

Re:Good luck launching it (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37242196)

NotQuiteReal (608241)

I passed on AOL. I skipped Myspace. I am ignoring Facebook. Anonymous Internet user for over 20 years...

LOL

Re:Good luck launching it (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37241594)

I'd imagine it'd be as simple as launching it from outside the U.S. There are some burgeoning space programs on the far side of the world, all we need to do is hitch a ride w/China on their upcoming moon flights.

Re:Good luck launching it (1)

LWATCDR (28044) | more than 2 years ago | (#37242028)

Actually not really. The people that live near the Cape will be fine with it. The protesters tend to come from out of town. As someone that lives near the cape and has for my entire life I can say. IMBY.

Solar Power (2)

mfh (56) | more than 2 years ago | (#37241252)

If they would just cover Mars where the Sun shines, with Solar power facilities, they would generate as much energy, if not more, and they wouldn't have to worry about any messy nuclear waste or negative press. So the interesting part of this discovery is that back in the 1950's when there were all the sci-fi movies about Martians attacking us and sending probes up our you-know-whats, the reality is we will be likely sending an army of robots to Mars to do our bidding!

Re:Solar Power (4, Funny)

coldfarnorth (799174) | more than 2 years ago | (#37241476)

That DOES sound easier than sending suitcase sized devices to places where we actually need power.

Re:Solar Power (1)

mfh (56) | more than 2 years ago | (#37241702)

Look, we have all these resources in space but no method of harvesting them. A power plant on Mars might not sound like a viable option to you, but in the grand scheme of things, it's a necessary human development if we intend on colonizing space. If we don't intend on colonizing space well then we'd better learn about getting along and maximizing our resources so that we can continue to thrive as a species. My bet is that we are being totally stupid if we ignore the resources in space. Darwin is right!

Re:Solar Power (2)

Hijacked Public (999535) | more than 2 years ago | (#37241790)

A power plant on Mars...necessary human development if we intend on colonizing space

Which is we they want to fly a nuclear plant up there.

we'd better learn about getting along and maximizing our resources so that we can continue to thrive as a species

This is the exact problem nuclear solves, better than any other current technology. Which is why it is the best option for powering a moonbase.

Re:Solar Power (2)

coldfarnorth (799174) | more than 2 years ago | (#37242256)

I'm not disagreeing with your statement that good power generation on Mars is necessary for colonization, but a) it has downsides:
- Solar cells do not produce much power per unit of mass.
- The available sunlight is substantially weaker, due to the increased distance from the sun
- Getting accumulated power off planet is still a difficult problem.

b) it's a solution to a different problem than we are really discussing. The problem that these suitcases are designed to address is this: where do you get power while you are building bigger and better things, and there is no easy power source available.

Cheers!

We need this on Earth (0)

roman_mir (125474) | more than 2 years ago | (#37241254)

We talked [slashdot.org] about it, we need technology like this here, on earth. We need private sector to get heavily involved and to make a nuclear plant that can be used in a car, in a truck, in an airplane and in a house.

Everything needs to go nuclear - if you care about the environment for real, this is the only way to go. Government subsidized systems cannot be scaled down to this level, we need private money and private hands in this and until the FUD about nuclear power stops we won't get this.

Of-course if they do design a power plant this small for other planets, the next logical step is to use it on this planet instead.

Re:We need this on Earth (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37241430)

The thing is nuclear power is not truly clean. There is waste from it (spent fuel rods) and these rods need to be dealt with. The problem with these rods are that they are highly radioactive and have a long half life so they must be stored and we have storage issues now with only power plants think the problems if every car had a nuclear plant in it.

Re:We need this on Earth (1)

newcastlejon (1483695) | more than 2 years ago | (#37242320)

Nuclear power as employed now is not truly clean, but doesn't mean it can't be if new reactor designs were built.

The problem with nuclear power as I see it is that if there's ever an accident the response is "Don't build any more power stations!" instead of "Build newer*, safer stations and decommission the old ones."

*i.e. basic designs that aren't older than I am. If you want a car analogy, try this: carburettors could only take the automobile so far; to make progress we had to ditch the whole concept and move to fuel injection. The results were much cleaner and more efficient than the old method could ever have been.

different design points (1)

nten (709128) | more than 2 years ago | (#37241458)

The lack of air means they are going to have trouble dumping heat. From the picture I'm guessing big radiative heatsinks will be used. The temperature gradient will be much less than could be easily obtained on earth via water or even convective cooling. I am not a nuclear engineer but having had thermo I suspect that this difference in heat dumping ability would work its way back into the reactor design as well. I also remember from thermo that heat engines are always more efficient as they get bigger, so the size and weight constraints this design has would make for a very wasteful use of our resources here on earth.

I do however think that we need to have next-gen nuclear plants in our array of power sources.

Re:different design points (1)

Mashiki (184564) | more than 2 years ago | (#37241492)

Space is cold. So very cold. There's no problem dumping heat, rather there's the problem of dumping heat and not destroying your heatsinks and bleeders because of the extreme hot/cold ratios.

Re:different design points (1)

amliebsch (724858) | more than 2 years ago | (#37241636)

Hmmm, this is a common misconception. Space is not "cold" in the way that, say, your freezer is cold. Space is very cold but its specific heat is extremely low due to the general lack of mass. Convection and conduction cooling are essentially impossible, leaving radiation the only real way to dump heat. This can turn out to be more of a challenge than you might think.

Re:different design points (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | more than 2 years ago | (#37241662)

Space is cold, but without an atmosphere heat transfer does not work very well. Vacuum can't well take heat away. No particles to transfer heat to mean convection and conduction are right out, radiation is not a fast way to shed heat.

Re:different design points (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37241740)

That's why we're installing the golden ceiling fans, to generate the wind.

Re:different design points (1)

Chris Mattern (191822) | more than 2 years ago | (#37241714)

Space is cold. So very cold.

Uh, no. No, it's not. In fact, since space is an almost-perfect vacuum, it's difficult to characterize it meaningfully as having any temperature at all. And since vacuum is an excellent insulator (how do you think your thermos works?) it's really hard to dump heat.

Re:different design points (1)

Pope (17780) | more than 2 years ago | (#37241808)

Pfft! Just stuck a fan over the heatsink.

Re:different design points (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37241752)

You're dumb. So very dumb. Why is it you stupid fucks are so quick to weigh in with your total ignorance on a subject?

Re:different design points (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37241560)

Design the cooling system with a cooling system that circulates coolant through a long narrow spike underneath it. Drill a hole into the rock underneath where the reactor will be installed, shaped to fit the spike very closely. Lower the spike into the hole. Then inject a suitable thermal transfer medium into the gap between the spike and the rock. Conductive cooling. No radiation cooling needed, if you do it right.

what kind of rock (1)

nten (709128) | more than 2 years ago | (#37241650)

I wondered about this, but I'm concerned that the rock types might not be very conductive, or even have a very high specific heat in the absence of water. Pumice for instance would make a terrible heat sink.

Re:what kind of rock (1)

nschubach (922175) | more than 2 years ago | (#37241810)

Not to mention the fact that we'd have to send another team of deep well drillers up to put holes in things. The last mission had tremendous loss of manpower and equipment. Although, somehow Bruce Willis survived and came back to Earth to continue his film career.

Re:We need this on Earth (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37241510)

There is not going to be a nuclear car. Period.

I mean seriously, haven't you ever heard of car crashes? Haven't you heard of retarded people already stealing radioactive sources and spreading them around because "they were looking for scrap"??

Cars have to go electric, with its advantages and disadvantages. What we need is more nuclear power plants to supply these electric vehicles *safely* and efficiently, not having radioactive sources driving around and getting salvaged by retards or worse.

PS. What is great for continuous power over 50 years for the Moon or Mars, is not exactly efficient and great for Earth. Conventional nuclear power plants are more efficient due to economies of scale - they provide massively larger amount of power when connected to even larger grid.

Oh great (2)

bigredradio (631970) | more than 2 years ago | (#37241278)

So, in case of an accident we remove the possibility of nuclear radiation poisoning, but now we have the threat of General Zod, Ursa, and Non.

not satisfied with black holing one planet (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37241294)

no wonder the aliens might be miffed, & should be feared along with everything else. taking out the solar system, one reactor/space quake at a time? we could do better. the never ending corepirate nazi chosen ones military-industrial holycost just keeps making less & less sense every minute. a royal pain in the galaxy?

Re:not satisfied with black holing one planet (1)

marcosdumay (620877) | more than 2 years ago | (#37241906)

That is a pretty big back yard you have. Doing the lawn must be tiresome.

Re:not satisfied with black holing one planet (1)

rubycodez (864176) | more than 2 years ago | (#37241978)

you're silly, a reactor could melt into slag on the moon and it would make no difference, the rad levels on the moon can reach tens of severts. That's thousands of REM for us old-schoolers, lethal dose. same as standing on refueling deck of a running reactor, you'd be dead in minutes

Getting it there (1)

Baloroth (2370816) | more than 2 years ago | (#37241298)

Yeah, most environmentalists won't care about operating a nuclear reactor on Mars (some will of course. Loonies are loonies), but many (very, very many) will bitch and moan to no end about launching nuclear material on rockets in case they explode. Right now it isn't so much of an issue (because, well, most people don't know we do it and we don't do it often) but if it enters public consciousness you can expect a massive backlash against it, and no set of statistics about how safe the rockets are will stop it, just like no set of statistics convinces them nuclear reactors are one of the safest power sources in existence and cause far fewer health issues than coal (hell, even solar has more deaths than nuclear, simply because of rooftop installations. source [nextbigfuture.com] )

I'm not saying launching massive amounts of nuclear material on rockets is necessarily a good idea, but no matter how safe it'll never get off the ground once people hear about it. So unless we start mining Uranium or Thorium off planet, don't expect this to become a widespread source of power on Mars anytime soon.

Re:Getting it there (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37241908)

Thorium is available [lunarpedia.org] in-situ.

"Space: 1999" (0)

carlhaagen (1021273) | more than 2 years ago | (#37241358)

Didn't you just love this series?

Just wondering... (1, Funny)

Syberz (1170343) | more than 2 years ago | (#37241412)

There's already quite a bit of radiation in space, couldn't that be somehow harvested to provide power?

Re:Just wondering... (1)

nschubach (922175) | more than 2 years ago | (#37241830)

I'm no expert, but I don't believe the amounts are enough to generate any useable amount of power... also you'd have to somehow build antennas of various lengths to capture that radiation.

Re:Just wondering... (2)

LUH 3418 (1429407) | more than 2 years ago | (#37241946)

Just like there's alot of heat all around us on earth, which is kinetic energy. Not a physicist, nor an engineer, but I think we have no way to harvest energy unless there is a potential difference between two nearby locations. To get power from a nuclear reactor, for example, you need to use the heat to turn water to steam... However, this would't work if the entire environment around the reactor was already at 2000 degrees, and the water was already superheated steam. Same with a stirling engine, you need a temperature difference, so that you can harvest the energy transfer that occurs between the different potentials.

It should be said though that solar cells are akin to harvesting radiation in space. It's just that the radiation you harvest happens to be in or near the visible spectrum. I don't think the wattage of the invisible radiation in space is anywhere near as "bright" as that of visible, UV and infrared light, though.

Re:Just wondering... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37242016)

It's called solar, and we already use it in many satellites

Re:Just wondering... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37242138)

Solar Panels?

Re:Just wondering... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37242226)

Solar cells are quite commonly used for this purpose. As others, including the article pointed out, there are limitations with this approach.

Cooling towers? In a vacuum? (1)

TWX (665546) | more than 2 years ago | (#37241450)

I don't see how traditional cooling towers would work for anything in a vacuum, as they're designed as heat exchangers against ambient air, and use convection to draw fresh air in for dumping waste heat into, exhausting it out the top...

If anything, they'd need to do a geothermal-style ground-loop system, where they drill several boreholes, plumb them with loops, and then fill in the extra space with the regolith they originally bored out. Use the ground as a heatsink for the hot water from the secondary exchanger, possibly switching between several ground loops depending on how well the heat dissipates and how quickly a given area is saturated.

On the other hand, if this technology can be developed, then we'll have the vaunted suitcase nuke [wikipedia.org] always talked about, albeit with a significantly different function than normally ascribed...

Re:Cooling towers? In a vacuum? (2)

bigredradio (631970) | more than 2 years ago | (#37241498)

FTFS:

There are no cooling towers. ...

Re:Cooling towers? In a vacuum? (1)

TWX (665546) | more than 2 years ago | (#37241618)

Yeah, I got that part. I was marveling that anyone would even reasonably expect cooling towers, AT ALL in a vacuum. Slashdot is a fairly educated crowd, and I'd figure that most readers would know that they wouldn't work.

Re:Cooling towers? In a vacuum? (1)

Sockatume (732728) | more than 2 years ago | (#37241760)

It's from the article, where they discuss how different this reactor is from the public stereotypes of a nuclear reactor.

(Although as we all know, cooling towers are hardly unique to nuclear reactors.)

Re:Cooling towers? In a vacuum? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37241948)

"Slashdot is a fairly educated crowd, and I'd figure that most readers would know that they wouldn't work."

Really? THIS Slashdot, or another, secret one? As soon as you get outside of software, the average Slashdotter is as clueless and ignorant as any average person. Worse yet, since they are good in one tiny field of knowledge that happens to be technical, the Slashdotter now feels compelled to bring up every delusion, fantasy or sci-fi series as if it were settled, real engineering.

Space Elevators! 3D printing of food! Space is so so cold! See the stupidity?

So if you know of another Slashdot, kindly link to it.

Re:Cooling towers? In a vacuum? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37242000)

I think you are figuring wrong. Slashdot has a nice group of subject matter experts for most of the topics they post, but the general population here isn't really all that sharp.

Re:Cooling towers? In a vacuum? (2)

w1nt3rmute (2165804) | more than 2 years ago | (#37242266)

Isn't it something like -200 degrees F outside of direct sunlight in space? I'm not an engineer, but do you really need anything more than passive cooling of circulating coolant and a big reflector?

SCV ready?? (1)

rodrigoandrade (713371) | more than 2 years ago | (#37241474)

I was going to post a witty Starcraft reference, but how are we going to *safely* extract and enrich (or ship in a rocket) uranium in outer space?

Worse than on Earth? (0)

undulato (2146486) | more than 2 years ago | (#37241516)

Even if you get your nuclear stuff to another planet or moon and you set up your power station what happens when there's an accident? On Earth the conditions can be controlled (eventually) or the area quarantined and while weather comes into play with either distribution or dampening of material distribution, in no or little atmosphere there is an opportunity for nuclear material to travel far further. Is this really any easier or safer if there are plans for humans to ever be on that body again?

Re:Worse than on Earth? (1)

0123456 (636235) | more than 2 years ago | (#37241722)

Is this really any easier or safer if there are plans for humans to ever be on that body again?

You do realise that space is so full of radiation that any long-term base on the Moon or Mars will probably need to be buried a few feet under the ground, right?

Re:Worse than on Earth? (1)

undulato (2146486) | more than 2 years ago | (#37241818)

Is this really any easier or safer if there are plans for humans to ever be on that body again?

You do realise that space is so full of radiation that any long-term base on the Moon or Mars will probably need to be buried a few feet under the ground, right?

So what's worse - your default space radiation or some enriched nuclear fuel lying around or able to find its way inside your systems? One you know you have to deal with - the other you potentially have to deal with and it's way messier and much less predictable.

Re:Worse than on Earth? (1)

0123456 (636235) | more than 2 years ago | (#37241838)

So what's worse - your default space radiation or some enriched nuclear fuel lying around or able to find its way inside your systems?

The radiation from nuclear fuel is negligible compared to the radiation from solar flares which can kill you in a few minutes.

Radon on Mars? (0)

sgt scrub (869860) | more than 2 years ago | (#37241530)

They are looking for Radon gas on Mars. They are doing it to detect water but there is a better use. Radon detection is used to find Uranium. It is kind of the hard way of doing it but... If there are deposits of Uranium on Mars this would stifle the doom sayers that believe shielded containers of radioactive material (that have been used for years to send radioactive material into space) are not safe.

http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn3968-radon-leaks-could-reveal-water-on-mars.html [newscientist.com]

http://www.earthexplorer.com/2009-11/Detecting_Deeper_Deposits_of_Uranium.asp [earthexplorer.com]

Space rocks. (1)

AndyAndyAndyAndy (967043) | more than 2 years ago | (#37241538)

No atmosphere = no natural disasters my ass.

About time. (1)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 2 years ago | (#37241704)

This is exactly what is needed. Not just for space, but to help restart American innovation.No, lets do more like this.

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Gee, that's great. (2)

kaizendojo (956951) | more than 2 years ago | (#37241728)

A nuke plant the size of a CARRY-ON SUITCASE. I don't see any problems with that getting into the wrong hands...

Re:Gee, that's great. (2)

Sockatume (732728) | more than 2 years ago | (#37241874)

A nuclear reactor isn't a nuclear weapon. It's no more dangerous - and a good deal less covert - than a lead suitcase full of nicked nuclear fuel.

Re:Gee, that's great. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37241918)

A nuke plant the size of a CARRY-ON SUITCASE. I don't see any problems with that getting into the wrong hands...

How is this any more dangerous than packing a suitcase full of radioactive materials and explosives?

mining is the first step (2)

0111 1110 (518466) | more than 2 years ago | (#37241734)

Before we even think about a permanent lunar settlement we need to think about lunar mining to extract iron, aluminum, copper, and uranium ore.

Then we need to work on solar (parabolic or fresnel) furnaces to melt the ore and process it into metal. The lack of oxygen will make some of the traditional smelting techniques more difficult however. We may have to live with metals with inferior properties because we have to invent a whole new metallurgy up there.

Having a working nuclear reactor there in the beginning would make everything a lot easier. I don't know if photovoltaics could supply enough power for things like earth (regolith) moving machinery.

In the beginning we could limit ourselves to collecting the loose regolith with solar powered bulldozers, backhoes, and more specialized mining equipment. For the heavier minerals underneath we'd have to wait for a higher power density solution.

While I am a fan of this (1)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 2 years ago | (#37241990)

I think that we should do some more R&D into using beta- emitters. In particular, if there is a lot of nuclear waste that can provide this power. And heat can be use for local heating. The big issue is that neutrons are emitted and have to be dealt with. However, if this is done, then we are looking at a nice way to provide power for even VASIMR, and perhaps for ships, larger earth movers, etc.

Suitcase-sized nuclear plants (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37241996)

I think I remember something about those in Snow Crash...

Space Quakes! (1)

DarthVain (724186) | more than 2 years ago | (#37242068)

You just wait until the space quakes hit, and all that radiation is released, contaminating space with radiation for years to come.

That said, this is very old news. This type of thing has existed and has been in use for half a century. However these are pretty low powered devices (unless this is supposed to be different), that only produce like 500W of power over a period of 80 years or so. So depending on what you plan on using these for power at these "bases", it is not like they are going to power everything. Perhaps they mean the idea is to use multiple of these, which might make sense for redundancy reasons.

Real merit of TFA (1)

AchilleTalon (540925) | more than 2 years ago | (#37242086)

The real merit of TFA is it state for the large audience there is no energy source out there strong enough to sustain human life beyond nearer planets. So, we can conclude that old dream to colonize the space beyond the solar system is extincted once and for all, provided a trip to the nearest solar system is a 40000 years journey and even if we can manage to protect the life from the cosmic rays on an hypothetical ship, we still have the energy problem to sustain life, even in hibernation state.

Also, is there a benefit to export energy sources from Earth to Moon and Mars in an hypothetical scenario where we believe something worth to be exploited there?

Don't we have an energy problem here in the forthcoming years? On a small scale, that may be acceptable for the stake of science, on a large scale for resources digging it is a completely other matter.

RTG or not? (2)

hackertourist (2202674) | more than 2 years ago | (#37242202)

TFA is remarkably light on details. The ZDnet article refers to the SNAP-10A satellite, which had a 45 kWt reactor that produced 650 watts of electrical power via thermoelectric converters, which is not much for a device that's about the same size as this new proposal. If they want to produce 40 KWe from a small package, some other technology may be needed.

Reticulating Splines (2)

Alternate Interior (725192) | more than 2 years ago | (#37242224)

This is beginning of something far more important than nuclear power: Microwave Transmission.

Didn't the soviets already do this? (2)

wisebabo (638845) | more than 2 years ago | (#37242250)

No I don't mean did they put one of these on the moon (and certainly not mars, I don't think any of their landers made it).

No, I mean didn't they have a bunch of high powered satellites in earth orbit that used reactors (NOT just RTGs, they wouldn't produce enough power). I believe they were radar satellites that scanned the oceans looking for American carrier groups to kill. (The U.S. really has a HUGE advantage in its many bases and allies worldwide, this is something that required the soviets to create satellites like this. It is an advantage that will also take the Chinese a very long time, if ever, to match). In fact didn't one of their satellites COSMOS I think it was, crash in Canada spewing plutonium all over the place and costing millions to clean up?

That said, if the design is sound (the spacecraft malfunctioned not the reactor right?), wouldn't it be easy to adapt their zero-gee design to work on the moo or mars? Should actually be easier, gravity will let convection work and (on mars) the thin atmosphere will help the purely radiative cooling.

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