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Will NASA Ever Recover Apollo 13's Plutonium From the Ocean

samzenpus posted more than 2 years ago | from the clean-up-your-mess dept.

NASA 263

An anonymous reader writes "'Houston, we've had a problem,' said astronaut Jack Swigert on April 13, 1970. But the problem wasn't as simple as three astronauts potentially trapped in the void of space, 200,000 miles from Earth. The catastrophic risk came from the SNAP-27 radioisotope thermoelectric generator (RTG), a small nuclear reactor that was going to be placed on the moon to power experiments, carrying Plutonium 238 in Apollo 13's lunar module. As luck would have it, NASA had experience losing RTGs – a navigation satellite failed to reach orbit in 1964 and scattered small amounts of plutonium over the Indian Ocean. The SNAP-27 had been engineered to make it back to Earth intact in such an incident. The plutonium, like the astronauts, apparently survived reentry and came to rest with what remained of the lunar module in the Tonga Trench south of Fiji, approximately 6-9 kilometers underwater (its exact location is unknown). Extensive monitoring of the atmosphere in the area showed that no radiation escaped."

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No (5, Informative)

bsane (148894) | more than 2 years ago | (#38191818)

6Km under the ocean is probably the safest place for it.

Re:No (5, Funny)

Oswald McWeany (2428506) | more than 2 years ago | (#38191848)

Not if the mermen militarise the plutonium and use it against the land people.

They're vicious SOBs down there.

Re:No (4, Funny)

Oswald McWeany (2428506) | more than 2 years ago | (#38191912)

According to the Merman religion they get 17 sturgeons in the afterlife if the die whilst killing the land people.

Re:No (2, Funny)

Tsingi (870990) | more than 2 years ago | (#38192314)

I heard that the son of Neptune would come back and bring all of the devout merpersons to the great ocean know as seaven while bringing death and destruction to all who are not devout worshipers of Neptune.

Re:No (1)

Volante3192 (953645) | more than 2 years ago | (#38192378)

I'm more worried about the Russian water tentacles. If you think creating tsunamis willy-nilly is bad, imagine radioactive tsunamis!

Re:No (4, Funny)

Stele (9443) | more than 2 years ago | (#38192554)

I'd be more concerned about those Japanese tentacles. Much more.

Re:No (1)

trum4n (982031) | more than 2 years ago | (#38192974)

However, they do make decent movies....

Re:No (1)

identity0 (77976) | more than 2 years ago | (#38192564)

Oh but if the Undines from Yggdra Union [creativeuncut.com] could get a nuclear bomb, I'd totally welcome our new mermaid overlords.

Pu-238 is not fissile... (5, Informative)

KonoWatakushi (910213) | more than 2 years ago | (#38192632)

Not if the mermen militarise the plutonium and use it against the land people.

They're vicious SOBs down there.

This may be a joke, but it is worth pointing out that the Plutonium used in RTGs is not fissile, and can't be used to make bombs. Pu-238 [wikipedia.org] is only useful for RTGs. The isotope used in bombs is Pu-239, which is a common product of Uranium based reactors.

Producing Pu-238 is actually very difficult, as described in the above link. Unfortunately, the worlds supply is dwindling, and this endangers many upcoming space missions. One attractive option for creating more is to use Liquid fluoride thorium reactors [wikipedia.org] , where Pu-238 is one of many useful products [flibe-energy.com] created.

Re:No (1)

CohibaVancouver (864662) | more than 2 years ago | (#38192986)

They're vicious SOBs down there

*knew this was a one way ticket but you know i had to come*_______ *luv u wife*

(I know it's supposed to be in all caps, but the lame /. lameness filter won't let me quote properly.)

Re:No (5, Insightful)

Thud457 (234763) | more than 2 years ago | (#38191888)

6Km under the ocean is probably the safest place for it.

Putting it on the Moon would probably had been safer.

Re:No (4, Funny)

Mitchell314 (1576581) | more than 2 years ago | (#38192036)

And then it would have polluted the lunar wildlife. Should have been left in Utah, definitely much more barren there.

Re:No (1, Funny)

Z00L00K (682162) | more than 2 years ago | (#38192316)

In the hands of some Mormons then...

Re:No (1)

Gilmoure (18428) | more than 2 years ago | (#38193016)

Not to mention getting all that radiation out into space. Why can't Earthlings keep their pollution on Earth?

Re:No (5, Funny)

EyelessFade (618151) | more than 2 years ago | (#38192136)

What? And let it fall in the hands of the zombie Nazis?

Re:No (2)

uigrad_2000 (398500) | more than 2 years ago | (#38192236)

What? And let it fall in the hands of the zombie Nazis?

We all know that zombie Nazis only exist in Norway [imdb.com]

Re:No (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38191916)

Look at the xkcd author/diydrones ieee article. Rovs are just an ethernet adapter/fiberoptic media converter hooked up to an arduino + rc plane motors + rc plane lithium polymer batteries and cast in epoxy.

An rov that could recover this rtg would cost less than $500 and the Auv/uuv necessary to do the sonar surveys would be nearly as trivial. I was thinking about writing a science fiction book about an expedition to recover this rtg and use it as the real life equivilent of the "Red Skull's" blue cube in Captain America.

This was when I thought it was deeper in the tonga gulf...

Re:No (4, Informative)

Andy Dodd (701) | more than 2 years ago | (#38192060)

No, a ROV that works at shallow depths is easy. One that will work with the pressures sustained at the depths this thing is lying at is a WHOLE other story.

For example, at these kinds of pressures, the epoxy will crush, which will crush the battery. Similarly, any cameras are likely to have their optics destroyed by pressure differentials unless specifically designed for deepwater operation.

Re:No (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38192250)

Regardless of your complete misremembering of an article written by the highly esteemed author of an internet comic, something tells me that an RC plane motor is probably not sufficient to lift a lunar excursion module from 6km underwater.

Re:No (3, Funny)

Tsingi (870990) | more than 2 years ago | (#38192346)

Regardless of your complete misremembering of an article written by the highly esteemed author of an internet comic, something tells me that an RC plane motor is probably not sufficient to lift a lunar excursion module from 6km underwater.

What if you used a counterweight?

(its nuke-you-ler)

Re:No (3, Funny)

Ukab the Great (87152) | more than 2 years ago | (#38191974)

Plus it can be reworked into the plot of any Back To The Future reloads where Marty gets stuck in the 70's

Or.... In One Word (2)

theshowmecanuck (703852) | more than 2 years ago | (#38192798)


GODZILLA!

Re:No (1)

0123456 (636235) | more than 2 years ago | (#38192118)

6Km under the ocean is probably the safest place for it.

Think of the fish-children!

Re:No (4, Funny)

compro01 (777531) | more than 2 years ago | (#38192278)

Don't you mean Sea Kittens?

Re:No (4, Insightful)

gplus (985592) | more than 2 years ago | (#38192244)

From TFA:
"The plutonium was in an oxide form about one-tenth of a millimeter in diameter contained in fuel capsule, which itself was inside a graphite and ceramic fuel cask." - Leonard Dudzinski, a NASA program executive.

Is this another example of a NASA guy who doesn't understand metric units, or is the plutonium RTG really just a sphere not much wider than a hair?

Re:No (4, Insightful)

cruff (171569) | more than 2 years ago | (#38192376)

My guess is that the unit is made up of multiple pellets of that composition from which the heat of decay is used to generate electricity. The Curiosity rover is said to use 4 kg of Pu 238 to power it.

Re:No (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38192962)

Nope. The pellets are much much bigger -- on the order of inches/centimeters per side, roughly cylindrical, and with diameter ~= length. There's a single stack in the capsule -- I wanna say this RTG used 4 pellets, but I could be way off, it's been over a decade since I looked this shit up.

(Oh to relive those years as a young man and a "space nutter" as they call us, blissfully ignorant that the political bullshit that would eventually arrest our manned space program, and decimate out robotic explorations, was already well underway.)

Re:No (4, Informative)

canajin56 (660655) | more than 2 years ago | (#38193006)

The fuel is divided into 151g pellets, 4 per iridium capsule, and those capsules are contained in a graphite and ceramic cask. A 151g pellet should have a total volume of 13 cubic centimeters assuming that they get pretty close to theoretical density when sintering them. That would be a sphere with diameter about 3cm, but they are cylindrical not spherical. About 4cm height by 1cm radius (200 times greater diameter than indicated). The fuel capsules have vents so that the alpha decay products (helium gas) don't rupture anything, so perhaps those are 0.1mm thick and he read the wrong number from the tech sheet. Still, the size of individual pellets doesn't matter as much as how many there are total (24).

Re:No (1)

Z00L00K (682162) | more than 2 years ago | (#38192332)

I agree - and what they can do is to cover it with some additional material to make sure that it doesn't get far when it starts to leak.

Re:No (1)

Rude Turnip (49495) | more than 2 years ago | (#38192498)

That didn't keep the Decepticons down for long.

Re:No (3, Funny)

Mikkeles (698461) | more than 2 years ago | (#38192684)

I'd bet on YES. That way I break even or win. Betting on NO allows only break even or lose.

Why would they? (5, Insightful)

jandrese (485) | more than 2 years ago | (#38191846)

It would take a lot of effort and money to disturb this sleeping dog. Why go to the trouble?

Re:Why would they? (3, Funny)

Dan East (318230) | more than 2 years ago | (#38191878)

At the rate things are going, that might be cheaper and easier than procuring it from Russia.

Re:Why would they? (1)

vlm (69642) | more than 2 years ago | (#38192044)

At the rate things are going, that might be cheaper and easier than procuring it from Russia.

At the rate things are decaying, its gonna be about half U234 anyway, so they've got a substantial purification job up ahead if they wanna reuse it.

Re:Why would they? (5, Insightful)

drhemi (414356) | more than 2 years ago | (#38192006)

Because people believe the media's saber rattling and they believe Ralph Nader who said that plutonium is “the most toxic substance known to mankind.” Even though it isn't. It's just too bad Ralph didn't accept Dr. Bernard Cohen's challenge to ingest equal amounts of caffeine to plutonium.

Basically it's a "Won't somebody please think of the children!" kind of response and the government loves to keep idiots happy.

Re:Why would they? (1)

nharmon (97591) | more than 2 years ago | (#38192172)

I believe the offer was to inhale an equal amount of plutonium as any anti-nuclear critic would ingest of caffeine.

Re:Why would they? (5, Informative)

dcw3 (649211) | more than 2 years ago | (#38192470)

This is on Cohen's wikipedia page:

When Ralph Nader described plutonium as "the most toxic substance known to mankind", Cohen, then a tenured professor, offered to consume on camera as much plutonium oxide as Nader could consume of caffeine,[17] the stimulant found in coffee and other beverages, which in its pure form has an oral (LD50) of 192 milligrams per kilogram in rats.[18]

Re:Why would they? (1)

Deadstick (535032) | more than 2 years ago | (#38192650)

Swallow the oxide, not inhale.

rj

Re:Why would they? (2)

arth1 (260657) | more than 2 years ago | (#38192422)

Also, the total amount of radioactive and poisonous substances on the earth actually go down as we speed up the fission process.
And depositing it that inaccessible is far less of a concern than, say, the radon gas seeping up through your average basement or well, or the Uranium being mined.

Re:Why would they? (4, Informative)

Waffle Iron (339739) | more than 2 years ago | (#38192796)

Because people believe the media's saber rattling and they believe Ralph Nader who said that plutonium is “the most toxic substance known to mankind.” Even though it isn't. It's just too bad Ralph didn't accept Dr. Bernard Cohen's challenge to ingest equal amounts of caffeine to plutonium.

You do realize that this RTG is powered by Pu-238, which is *completely* different from the Pu-239 found in fission reactors?

Pu-239 is mildly radioactive. Maybe you wouldn't have ill effects from eating chunks of the ceramic oxide and pooped them out within a day or two. (Notice that he didn't offer to eat it in a bioavailable form. That's kind of like claiming that chlorine is always safe because it's in table salt.)

Pu-238, OTOH, is hundreds of times more radioactive, and it glows red hot. That's a whole other ball of wax.

So please, before you go around accusing people of being idiots, get your own facts straight.

Re:Why would they? (4, Insightful)

dotancohen (1015143) | more than 2 years ago | (#38192456)

It would take a lot of effort and money to disturb this sleeping dog. Why go to the trouble?

Sleeping dog? You mean dead dog. The RTG was out of useful power 5 years after it was made. That was 40 years ago. The thing is now a uranium-contaminated rock that would be harder to purify than the raw materials from the ground.

Re:Why would they? (1)

cellocgw (617879) | more than 2 years ago | (#38192674)


It would take a lot of effort and money to disturb this sleeping dog. Why go to the trouble?

Because it might possibly, you know, lead to the production of beta-hemoth (sorry I don't know the sekrit coding to write a "beta" there).

Re:Why would they? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38192816)

Haha, I thought you meant it would be cheaper to find some of the soviet unions RTGs like this one http://www.bellona.org/english_import_area/international/russia/navy/northern_fleet/incidents/31767

But you meant to buy it.

Oh give me a break (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38191852)

Fuck you NASA,
Fukushima http://enenews.com

terrorist may want it (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38191860)

terrorist

Re:terrorist may want it (1)

GigG (887839) | more than 2 years ago | (#38191952)

And if they can find it and retrieve it from 6km down they have earned it.

Slow news day I see (nt) (-1, Offtopic)

Monkey-Man2000 (603495) | more than 2 years ago | (#38191876)

nt

Yes, but only as political camoflauge (2)

fortapocalypse (1231686) | more than 2 years ago | (#38191920)

Keepin' it in their back pocket to recover when a distraction is needed from some other larger screw-up.

There was concern at the last minute! (5, Informative)

k6mfw (1182893) | more than 2 years ago | (#38191926)

In the early 1970s book "The Flight That Failed" by S.F. Cooper mentions as the spacecraft was approaching earth, someone (I think from the AEC) said they need to consider where the RTG will land. Ugh, there was already enough going on as crews were powering up the command module, a looming storm in the landing area, spacecraft attitude close to gimbal lock as it positions for re-entry. All this when many had very little sleep, then this guy brings up the RTG. Interesting book as it was written years before the fame brought on by the movie, also lots of esoteric details for techies.

You have got to be kidding me (5, Interesting)

trout007 (975317) | more than 2 years ago | (#38191938)

You mean radiation can't penetrate 6,000 meters of water? If you look at the decay chain of PU 238 they are all solid until you get to radon. And at 6000 m of water the pressure is enough to keep it a liquid and too dense to bubble up.That means all of the decay products will sit there in the water and decay protected by an equivalent shielding of 1000 ft of lead.

Re:You have got to be kidding me (1)

Dynedain (141758) | more than 2 years ago | (#38192018)

1000m of lead does not move (easily). Water does.

Re:You have got to be kidding me (4, Insightful)

Zorpheus (857617) | more than 2 years ago | (#38192148)

Are you worried about 3.8kg of Plutonium dilluted in the ocean?

Re:You have got to be kidding me (1)

MightyMartian (840721) | more than 2 years ago | (#38192290)

Maybe there's some aspect of radioactive decay I don't understand. I'm really unclear here. So what if the water moves? Obviously you have some greater knowledge than I on the subject, so do please elaborate on how the movement of water affects its ability to absorb decay products?

Re:You have got to be kidding me (1)

neonKow (1239288) | more than 2 years ago | (#38192402)

I think the point is that lead can be used to isolate the radioactive material and will stay localized, but if the water is irradiated, it spreads.

Re:You have got to be kidding me (2)

MightyMartian (840721) | more than 2 years ago | (#38192446)

And gets heavily diluted. It would take an awful lot of plutonium to cause any long term hike in the radioactivity in a body of water the size of an ocean. This relatively small amount of material, at those depths, is probably safer than any man-made facility could ever be at containing the material.

Re:You have got to be kidding me (1)

David_Hart (1184661) | more than 2 years ago | (#38192686)

You mean it won't burn a hole through the earth's crust and cause all sorts of science fiction type disasters??? awwww....

Re:You have got to be kidding me (1)

residieu (577863) | more than 2 years ago | (#38192822)

So what if the irradiated water spreads? It's not dangerous.

Re:You have got to be kidding me (1)

Christian Smith (3497) | more than 2 years ago | (#38192858)

I think the point is that lead can be used to isolate the radioactive material and will stay localized, but if the water is irradiated, it spreads.

Assuming the irradiated water absorbs the neutrons, won't it just be more dense than the surrounding water, and simply sink? Should keep it pretty local. Any containment breach of the Pu or decay products should similarly sink. Unless this thing is sitting on a hydrothermal vent, I'd doubt any living matter will even get close to it to be affected.

Re:You have got to be kidding me (1)

bmo (77928) | more than 2 years ago | (#38192066)

radon

Indeed. Radon is a bigger risk in your basement.

--
BMO

Re:You have got to be kidding me (2)

Oswald McWeany (2428506) | more than 2 years ago | (#38192358)

Radon

Kills sea bugs... dead

Re:You have got to be kidding me (4, Funny)

SnarfQuest (469614) | more than 2 years ago | (#38192502)

Radon

Kills sea bugs... dead

Sea kittens, you senseless clod!

Re:You have got to be kidding me (1)

Kamiza Ikioi (893310) | more than 2 years ago | (#38192458)

Heck, why not just dump it all in the ocean, then?

I'm sensing a flaw in an ocean dumping theory. Is it a problem of quantity?

Re:You have got to be kidding me (1)

tp1024 (2409684) | more than 2 years ago | (#38192604)

What's worse: 3.8kg of Pu-238 in the ocean or 4.5 billion tons of Uranium, several million tons of Radium, Lead-210 and further decay products already there?

Pu238 not for bombs (5, Informative)

advid.net (595837) | more than 2 years ago | (#38191944)

The Plutonium 238 is suitable for RTG (radioisotope thermoelectric generator) but not for bombs.

Maybe this info will spare us most "nuke" posts (terrorist jokes, etc).

Re:Pu238 not for bombs (0)

vlm (69642) | more than 2 years ago | (#38191996)

The Plutonium 238 is suitable for RTG (radioisotope thermoelectric generator) but not for bombs.

Maybe this info will spare us most "nuke" posts (terrorist jokes, etc).

No, the purpose of the whole subject is to scare us, thus control us. Keep them anxious!

Actually 238 would make a halfway decent "dirty bomb" mostly because of the fear of plutonium, the general public thinks there is only one isotope of Pu, if they do any thinking at all beyond "radiation = bad"

Re:Pu238 not for bombs (1)

bmo (77928) | more than 2 years ago | (#38192038)

Maybe this info will spare us most "nuke" posts

Surely you jest. I have lower expectations. I was not surprised at post #38191852.

--
BMO

Re:Pu238 not for bombs (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38192218)

and nuclear reactor, to me, implies that you're causing nuclear reactions that wouldn't naturally occur. The RTG uses Pu 238's natural decay, so i wouldn't call it a nuclear reactor. If people have the slightest common sense they'de be wondering what is Russia doing about its RTGs that are scattered all over (and being plundered for scrap metals at big risk to people's health) and not what the US should be doing about a RTG in a deep ocean trench that nobody's ever going to come close to.

Re:Pu238 not for bombs (1)

Rashdot (845549) | more than 2 years ago | (#38192248)

Maybe this info will spare us most "nuke" posts (terrorist jokes, etc).

How about Godzilla overlord jokes?

Re:Pu238 not for bombs (4, Insightful)

dotancohen (1015143) | more than 2 years ago | (#38192390)

The Plutonium 238 is suitable for RTG (radioisotope thermoelectric generator) but not for bombs.

Maybe this info will spare us most "nuke" posts (terrorist jokes, etc).

Furthermore, RTGs are not nuclear reactors as the summary states.

Furtherfurthermore, why is this news now and not 40 years ago?

Re:Pu238 not for bombs (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38192872)

We didn't have slashdot 40 years ago.

Re:Pu238 not for bombs (1)

donscarletti (569232) | more than 2 years ago | (#38192562)

Well, put it this way, it is a hell of a lot easier to turn that Pu-238 into Pu-239 through bombardment in a small reactor than it would be to isolate a useful quantity of U-235 from anything you're likely to be able to find outside of weapons, including fuel rods. I'm not saying it would be easy, but excluding fissile isotopes, that would be by far the next most convenient isotope for making a type weapon, that lets face it, is really, really hard to make. Sure, you or I could not turn it into weapons grade 239, but we couldn't make a multi point hollow pit implosion mechanism either. Gun types are simpler, but getting that U-235 is next to impossible, unless you have hundreds of tonnes of uranium and some gas centrifuges lying around.

Re:Pu238 not for bombs (1)

tp1024 (2409684) | more than 2 years ago | (#38192884)

But it is impossible to prevent the Pu-239 from being further transmuted into (non-fissle) Pu-240 (or fissioned) before a sufficient amount of Pu-238 has been turned into Pu-239 to get the weapon-grade Plutonium (IIRC with at least 93% Pu-239)

Re:Pu238 not for bombs (1)

SnarfQuest (469614) | more than 2 years ago | (#38192836)

Doesn't matter. The news media will still publish their stories about how a single molecule of plutonium is sufficient to kill 30,000 people. Facts aren't important here. Publishing lurid tales of mass destruction is what they consider important.

RTGs aren't nuclear reactors (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38191984)

RTGs aren't nuclear reactors. They rely on the decay heat of the Plutonium 238 to generate electricity. There is no fission reaction taking place in an RTG.

Of course, that's not to say that Plutonium isn't nasty in and of itself.

Will the US Military ever... (5, Interesting)

stox (131684) | more than 2 years ago | (#38192056)

find that Mark 15 H-Bomb they misplaced somewhere near the coast of Georgia?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1958_Tybee_Island_mid-air_collision [wikipedia.org]

Re:Will the US Military ever... (1)

vlm (69642) | more than 2 years ago | (#38192164)

find that Mark 15 H-Bomb they misplaced somewhere near the coast of Georgia?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1958_Tybee_Island_mid-air_collision [wikipedia.org]

Fissile enriched U is much easier to detect than non-fissile Pu-238.

Also, I don't think there was or is any consensus on what capsule if any was loaded into the casing. Lots of coverup and secret secret BS activity and falsified stories and documents. At this point, I donno if anyone really knows for sure what was lost.

Oh, great! (0)

kaizendojo (956951) | more than 2 years ago | (#38192082)

Now *anybody* with an extended deep sea vehicle, a few million dollars and a highly trained crew willing to risk their lives can get at it.

Nice going, slashdot!

Re:Oh, great! (1)

marcosdumay (620877) | more than 2 years ago | (#38192354)

A few million dollars?! You must make that more realistic. Try a few hundred million dollars.

Re:Oh, great! (1)

afidel (530433) | more than 2 years ago | (#38192978)

BS, the ROV Tiburon was only $6M and is MUCH more complex than you would need for a simple retrieval mission. Hell, they use ROV's for work on deep water drilling platforms all the time, they rent in the range of $10k per day plus technician travel and fees.

wtf? (3, Insightful)

iocat (572367) | more than 2 years ago | (#38192114)

Wow, that's a really poorly written article. From TFA:

The catastrophic risk came from the SNAP-27 radioisotope thermoelectric generator (RTG), a small nuclear reactor that was going to be placed on the moon to power experiments, carrying Plutonium 238 Apollo 13’s lunar module.

What does that even mean? Anyway, if it was in the LEM, did the LEM even survive rentry? Since it had no heat shield, etc.? Is the LEM still attched to the CM during re-entry even? Pretty sure it's not.

Re:wtf? (5, Informative)

0123456 (636235) | more than 2 years ago | (#38192230)

Anyway, if it was in the LEM, did the LEM even survive rentry? Since it had no heat shield, etc.? Is the LEM still attched to the CM during re-entry even? Pretty sure it's not.

The LEM was attached to the CM until just before re-entry; the SM was separated from the CM before the CM separated from the LEM, since the LEM was providing most of the life support and the SM was just dead weight. The LEM was not designed for reentry and burned up, but the RTG itself was designed to survive accidental reentry intact and is probably sitting on the sea-bed somewhere.

Re:wtf? (1)

iocat (572367) | more than 2 years ago | (#38192288)

Cool thanks.

Re:wtf? (1)

bmo (77928) | more than 2 years ago | (#38192252)

The CM came back with the LEM. If you remember, it was the lifeboat for 4 days.

It was jettisoned before reentry. But it certainly did enter the atmosphere over Fiji and burn up.

--
BMO

Re:wtf? (1)

Cramer (69040) | more than 2 years ago | (#38192372)

In a normal flight, the LEM doesn't come back to Earth. In this case, it was a lifeboat for the return to Earth. It was cut loose prior to reentry. The CM came back pretty much as normal from that point.

The LEM fell out of orbit -- uncontrolled re-entry. It did not survive intact. However, the SNAP-27 in one of it's payload modules most likely did, as it was designed to do so. The thing is, no one was paying close attention to the LEM as it de-orbited -- not that anyone could have spotted/followed the SNAP-27 in that mess.

Risk vs. Hydrogen Bombs set off in the atmosphere? (4, Interesting)

Gavin Scott (15916) | more than 2 years ago | (#38192234)

We used to just set off fission and fusion bombs in the air and on the ground, so I would kinda think the long term risk from a small amount of PU238 at the bottom of the ocean is not all that much in the grand scheme of things, especially since it may be completely contained.

Oh, and there may be a few people still walking around with similarly plutonium-powered pacemakers in their chests...

http://www.theodoregray.com/periodictable/Samples/094.3/index.s12.html [theodoregray.com]
http://www.orau.org/ptp/collection/miscellaneous/pacemaker.htm [orau.org]

G.

Is it the right kind (isotope) of Pu? (3, Interesting)

wisebabo (638845) | more than 2 years ago | (#38192240)

I always wondered whether or not recovering this would be viable, but I wasn't sure since I know next to nothing about nuclear physics if this plutonium (Pu) could be used to make a bomb. Still, I guess it could be used for a dirty bomb.

When Cassini was launched I figured that (if the plutonium was the right kind), Saddam Hussein (remember him?) might be very interested in getting a hold of the 70(!) lbs. of Pu on board. Cassini was scheduled to do a flyby (gravitational assist) using the earth, passing overhead at an altitude of 800 miles I think, and it would be easy to redirect it so that it would instead impact the earth almost anywhere, say for example the Iraqi desert. Since the RTGs carrying the plutonium were specifically designed to handle the most horrific accidents like an explosion on launch or reentry, I figured that all Saddam had to do was get control of Cassini.

He (or rather his minions) wouldn't need to control Cassini for a long period of time. All that would have to be done would be to make the appropriate course correction WHILE USING UP ALL THE FUEL. Then even if NASA (or most likely by then the CIA) wrested control back of Cassini, they could only watch helplessly while Cassini plummeted back to earth into Saddams greedy little hands (and into a James Bond like action movie as MI-6 tried to recover it).

I actually knew the senior flight control engineer on Cassini at the time and asked him if anyone had offered him a couple of million dollars to make this happen. He laughed and said of course not and there were safeguards to prevent this from happening but then told me not to tell anyone about this idea. (Maybe he was afraid of someone making him an offer he couldn't refuse). Now that Cassini is safe orbiting Saturn, New Horizons is out of the inner solar system and MSL is on its way to Mars I guess it's okay to talk about it now! (All these probes have plutonium filled RTGs).

Anyway, the other point that the summary makes is that with undersea technology now getting robust and cheap enough for non-governments to afford it, there are other nuclear prizes in the deep sea. Like what about the Thresher which even if it wasn't carrying nuclear warheads, certainly had a huge amount of nuclear fuel in its reactor? Or even more to the point how bout the nuclear sub the CIA tried to lift in the 70s using Howard Hughes and the Glomar Challenger as a cover? That sub WAS carrying nuclear warheads and that was the part of the sub they were unable to recover. (There are lots of other nukes lost at sea, I'm sure Google or Wikipedia can enlighten you).

So if Al-Qaeeda starts developing undersea technology, you know what they're after. Or maybe they'll just use it to smuggle drugs like the south american drug cartels are doing.

Re:Is it the right kind (isotope) of Pu? (1, Funny)

bmo (77928) | more than 2 years ago | (#38192318)

So if Al-Qaeeda starts developing undersea technology

What the FUCK am I reading?

--
BMO

Re:Is it the right kind (isotope) of Pu? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38192648)

So if Al-Qaeeda starts developing undersea technology

What the FUCK am I reading?

--
BMO

Oh modern day man, leave your intellect on the doorstep.
I think modern civilization was some kind of evolutionary error, maybe we really shouldn't have evolved from our simian cousins.

Re:Is it the right kind (isotope) of Pu? (1)

bmo (77928) | more than 2 years ago | (#38192910)

After us, it will be the turn for Dogs and Dogkind.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/City_(novel) [wikipedia.org]

--
BMO - and I even have the audiobook

Re:Is it the right kind (isotope) of Pu? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38192528)

The plutonium in a RTG is about as useful for a fission bomb as the plastic in your toothbrush is for plastic explosives.

Would make a pretty nasty dirty bomb but there's a lot more readily-available stuff out there.

Anyway, that was a masterfully crafted troll in the old tradition of trolling.

Re:Is it the right kind (isotope) of Pu? (1)

tp1024 (2409684) | more than 2 years ago | (#38192652)

No. You're looking at Pu-238 not Pu-239.

Re:Is it the right kind (isotope) of Pu? (1)

tgeek (941867) | more than 2 years ago | (#38192838)

Speaking of the K9 and the Glomar Challenger, have a look at the documentary on the efforts to raise it: Azorian: Raising of the K9 (or something like that - it is or was available on Netflix streaming). Very interesting look at the engineering marvel it was to even attempt to bring the sub up from over 3 miles -- all the while in secrecy.

Re:Is it the right kind (isotope) of Pu? (1)

tgeek (941867) | more than 2 years ago | (#38192906)

Oops, that should be "K129" rather than "K9".

Not a "Reactor" (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38192302)

This is a Radioisotope Thermal Generator (RTG) see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radioisotope_thermoelectric_generator (wikipedia). It produces heat via radioactive decay. It is not in any way, shape, or form, a "reactor." It cannot go critical, there is no neutron production, and no fissile material even remotely relevant for nuclear bomb production. Pu238 (active ingredient) decays via alpha emission. The alpha particles are completely contained by anything including a birthday balloon. The plutonium itself is (by design) contained by a steel vessel, and they've demonstrated that those don't have trouble with splashdown and extended submersion.

The biggest danger it posed was hitting somebody on the head when it fell.

Even Now... (1)

chemindefer (707238) | more than 2 years ago | (#38192414)

Something new is stirring itself there, something enormous and hideous.

Christmas Shopping (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38192482)

Shopping for a teenage girl : This is a great website if you need some ideas ...

  http://www.squidoo.com/top-10-christmas-gifts-for-teen-girls

The Mars-96 Plutonium 238 is MUCH more worrisome (3, Interesting)

Squidlips (1206004) | more than 2 years ago | (#38192618)

The Russian Mars-96 probe never left orbit and dumped 200 grams of Plutonium 238 over Bolivia, none of which has been recovered...at least no one is talking about it. Some of this Plutonium 238 was in ground penetrators that were designed to survive atmospheric entry and impact so it is probably still out there unless someone has quietly snatched it up. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mars_96#Fate_of_the_plutonium_fuel [wikipedia.org]

This isn't the one that worries me (4, Informative)

afabbro (33948) | more than 2 years ago | (#38192646)

Rather, it's the SNAP reactor buried in an avalanche at the headwaters of the Ganges river.

Autumn 1965 [isu.edu]

"a small leak" (1, Informative)

sgt101 (120604) | more than 2 years ago | (#38192712)

The snap-9a accident was not a small leak.

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

Indeed NASA (in the 1995 Cassini FEIS)[35] indicated that the SNAP-9a plutonium release was nearly double the 9000Ci added by all the atmospheric weapons tests to that date.[40][41]

1 pCi exposure typically will kill in 10^-8 of cases, but there were 9000^12 pCi dispersed by SNAP9. You can take any view you like about how many of them have actually been exposed to humans.

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