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Coming To a War Near You: Nuclear Powered Drones

samzenpus posted about 2 years ago | from the what-could-possible-go-wrong? dept.

The Military 202

An anonymous reader writes "American scientists and engineers are researching a new generation of UAV's that would be nuclear-powered. Why do this? They would have the capacity to stay over a target area for months and only be limited by the ordinance they could drop on a potential foe. They would be similar to a nuclear attack submarine but not limited to the amount of food on-board. The article notes: 'The blueprints for the new drones, which have been developed by Sandia National Laboratories – the U.S. government's principal nuclear research and development agency – and defense contractor Northrop Grumman, were designed to increase flying time "from days to months" while making more power available for operating equipment, according to a project summary published by Sandia,' the paper reported."

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202 comments

Re: (0, Offtopic)

moneybabylon (2226376) | about 2 years ago | (#39592019)

First! (to crash)

Re: (0, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39592057)

wish Rob Malda was back. This new Slashdot management are a bunch of corporate fucks.

Malda had a sense of humor about trolling and flamebait I didn't come to respect until soon before he left. He understood that even n-word posts have their place in a wide diversity of posts, some infuriating, some funny, some trollish, some informative, etc. Far as I can tell he felt like the mod system would handle it, and it does, and that people are adults who don't need to read anything they dislike.

Not this new batch. They look like they came from some idiotic marketer's focus group or something. Say something they dislike just once, BAM, the banhammer, no anon posting for XX hrs. They love using it. They remind me of a school principal who thinks zero tolerance is the answer to everything. Bunch of bureaucratic fucks. Go ahead and have your petty revenge on me for telling the truth, assholes.

Guess I'll be banned some more. They're like the idiot who has only a hammer and thinks everything is a nail. I bet they wake up each morning, look in the mirror, and say "how come they don't respect you?"

Administrator, I respected Rob Malda. Adminstrator, you're no Rob Malda.

Re: (5, Insightful)

squidflakes (905524) | about 2 years ago | (#39592083)

Uhhh, you do realize that slashdot is group moderated by users with excellent karma, right?

Re: (2)

Eponymous Hero (2090636) | about 2 years ago | (#39592095)

i was moderating with positive karma. and it's funny (both ha ha and strange) how much trolling you can get away with and maintain it.

Trolling (5, Funny)

busyqth (2566075) | about 2 years ago | (#39592221)

Trolling is what makes slashdot a worthwhile site. But good trolling isn't just saying offensive or outrageous things to provoke an angry response. That's lame. Good trolling is writing something that seems serious, and yet at the same time somehow flawed. Then, given the nature of the kind of people who read slashdot, you get a bunch of responses from people who want to show their intellectual superiority by pointing out the factual errors, or the ridiculousness of the argument, or whatever the flaw was. You can keep it going for a while by making ignorant counter responses. Eventually the trollees figure out they're being trolled and get disgusted. Everyone else who was just reading along finds it all hilarious and enjoyable.

Re:Trolling (4, Informative)

causality (777677) | about 2 years ago | (#39592479)

you get a bunch of responses from people who want to show their intellectual superiority

You left one out: misunderstanding your argument because they're dense and have problems with reading comprehension, and then talking down to you like you're an idiot because of what they falsely think you said. Then launching personal attacks, or splitting hairs, or selectively quoting you when you point out what was right there in black-and-white because that's actually easier for them than admitting they made a mistake. That's a popular one.

It's the unintentional straw man approach. It's ... the autostraw.

Re:Trolling (3, Funny)

similar_name (1164087) | about 2 years ago | (#39592775)

You left one out: misunderstanding your argument

I think you're the one that misunderstands.

you're an idiot

Right back at you. Look I liked Automan too but it only had like 7 episodes. Nice strawman.



:p

Re:Trolling (3, Insightful)

causality (777677) | about 2 years ago | (#39592899)

You left one out: misunderstanding your argument

I think you're the one that misunderstands.

you're an idiot

Right back at you. Look I liked Automan too but it only had like 7 episodes. Nice strawman. :p

Haha that's a good one. Plausible!

Re:Trolling (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39592735)

Fuck off.

Re:Trolling (2)

turing_m (1030530) | about 2 years ago | (#39592879)

So your contention is basically that there is a hypothetical large contingent of people who read slashdot - a site that is "New for Nerds, Stuff that Matters" - just for the humor? And that seemingly obtuse and thick headed people aren't just well... being obtuse and thick headed? Sorry, I just don't buy it. Hanlon's Razor and all.

Re: (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39592243)

Uhhh, you do realize that slashdot is group moderated by users with excellent karma, right?

Uhh, you do realize that reading comprehension is a good thing, right?

Hint: he talked about being BANNED. If you don't know what that means, you had an opportunity to ask. Instead you make something up that is not what he was talking about because it's more familiar to you. You must be American. For bonus points, you're probably obese too.

Hint 2: BANNED means you try to make a post and you get a message telling you that your IP address/subnet is not allowed to post anonymously and that logged in posts may be banned too. How you could confuse that with moderation is a miracle of reading comprehension FAIL.

WHAA WHAA WHAAAAAAA (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39592147)

Awww, did da widdle trolly-wolly get his bum-bum spanked?

Come back when you're potty-trained, threadshitter.

Re: (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39592847)

Make the admins ponies and watch viewership soar.

I for one.... (3, Funny)

JoeMerchant (803320) | about 2 years ago | (#39592027)

Welcome our nuclear powered flying overlords.

Re:I for one.... (1)

Marxist Hacker 42 (638312) | about 2 years ago | (#39592277)

My only question, is why use nuclear power when you can go lighter than air instead?

Re:I for one.... (3, Insightful)

scarboni888 (1122993) | about 2 years ago | (#39592417)

I suspect lighter than air technology has less capability for transferring wealth from the poor to the rich and therefore is a non-starter / invalid to the successful continuation of the status quo.

Re:I for one.... (4, Insightful)

causality (777677) | about 2 years ago | (#39592585)

I suspect lighter than air technology has less capability for transferring wealth from the poor to the rich and therefore is a non-starter / invalid to the successful continuation of the status quo.

You know, one of the most insidious and diabolical tricks the rulers ever pulled was (through the media they own) to make into a popular notion something so close to the truth of the matter, that the person who accepts it as truth will never see what's actually going on.

Don't let the concern about wealth and wealth envy distract you. It's not about transferring wealth. The people who make things happen already have enough wealth to secure a high standard of living for the next 20 generations of their descendants. They have wealth in effectively limitless quantities.

It's about power. It's about transferring more and more power from the masses to the ruling elite. Money is involved only because money is a form of power; it is economic power. Old-style slaves had to be fed and housed; economic slaves will feed and house themselves. That's why it is not just money.

It is also increasingly intrusive government, declining privacy, demonization of things like guns that are also a form of power, demonization of things like drugs that tend to alter conscious enough to make people see things differently and not through the media-defined lenses, attacks on the family and on religion because those demand loyalty to something other than the state, control of the education system so that childhood immaturities extend well into adulthood, conditioned helplessness instead of independence, obsession with group identity and ignorance of individuality, promotion of left/right either-or thinking, unreasonable laws and burdensome tax codes, marginalization of the tiny minority who can see what's wrong with this, etc.

You really, really want to put a population under your thumb, you subject them to a blitz by throwing all of these at them at once. Then you supply them with charismatic, popular, almost Messianic leaders who claim to understand them. They fall for that one every time, as though telling the truth required slick presentation and the great speaking skill to sway the crowds.

Re:I for one.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39592891)

If you honestly think that guns are going to make a difference you might as well use one on yourself. The fact of the matter is that the guns that people have and know how to use aren't going to be useful against any military in the world at this point.

Re:I for one.... (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39592965)

"demonization of things like guns that are also a form of power"
How so when the NRA is one of the nation's biggest lobbying groups and most of Congress is in their pocket? Soon they will push to allow prisoners to have guns.

"burdensome tax codes"
Sorry you have to pay to maintain a society. Even at a poker game everyone has to ante up whether they win or lose.

"attacks on...religion"
Organized religion has been on a quest for power itself for thousands of years. Don't make it look like a victim.

"obsession with group identity and ignorance of individuality, promotion of left/right either-or thinking...Messianic leaders who claim to understand them"
Like in religion?

Re:I for one.... (2)

amicusNYCL (1538833) | about 2 years ago | (#39592469)

Maybe because you can't power an infrared camera array and laser sighting with a hot air balloon. They also tend to be a bit slow, and easy to shoot. In fact, if the military was proposing a hot air balloon surveillance platform with a multi-month endurance, I would be asking "why use lighter-than-air when you can go nuclear instead?"

Re:I for one.... (1)

lorenlal (164133) | about 2 years ago | (#39592485)

Because lighter than air doesn't have the enjoyable experience when something goes terribly wrong.

What's the fun of a weather balloon popping when you can have radioactive material spread over a wide civilian range when someone thinks to shoot it down?

Re:I for one.... (2)

element-o.p. (939033) | about 2 years ago | (#39592703)

Clever. If the drone stays airborne, the enemy has valuable intel. If you shoot the drone down, your enemy no longer needs the intel because you've just detonated a dirty bomb over your own people.

Re:I for one.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39592557)

They do have lighter than air surveillance being researched. While they can stay in the air for long periods of time, they come with drawbacks:
1) Larger size is easier to see, even at high altitudes.
---> once it's spotted it's next to useless for surveillance
2) Slower than the nuclear or gas powered equivalent.
---> not a problem when relating to purely surveillance, but when combat and ground support are involved this is a huge issue with only 1 solution, more blimps or use other aircraft for combat support.

I suspect the research will be halted once the anti-nuke crowd catches wind of this and spins up. They just need to remind everyone of previous nuclear aircraft tech (terrible radiation polluters) and that top secret drone we lost to Iran. Maybe even add a "what if" situation where this thing crashes into a stream/river that leads to a major source of water.

Re:I for one.... (2)

ravenshrike (808508) | about 2 years ago | (#39592759)

Lighter than air is slow? Not to mention you'd still need a months long power source for energy intensive computer systems.

Re:I for one.... (2)

zlives (2009072) | about 2 years ago | (#39592539)

how about a nuke powered "mothership" that can deploy drones that use rechargeable batteries

Re:I for one.... (4, Funny)

Dahamma (304068) | about 2 years ago | (#39592785)

Yes! And they could keep the nuclear-powered mothership floating in the ocean instead of the air so that it could hold a lot more cargo and have a larger landing surface.

Re:I for one.... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39592971)

what could possibly go wrong?

Disincentive (5, Funny)

busyqth (2566075) | about 2 years ago | (#39592031)

I suppose this would provide some disincentive for shooting them down too:

Should I shoot it down and stop myself from getting attacked with an air-to-ground missile, or should I not shoot it down and stop myself from getting a lungful of plutonium dust. Hmmm... choices, choices...

Re:Disincentive (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39592179)

More like, should I even bother shooting it down because this thing's power plant is so beefy its got heavier armor then a tank. Me using a stinger is just going to piss it off. even an AMRAAM wouldn't be enough.

also, since the powerplant isn't reliant on oxygen, it could hang out in u2 altitudes where nothing short of an act of god could take it down.

If the thing was vtol capable and carried nukes it would be a nightmare straight out of scifi

Re:Disincentive (1)

Khashishi (775369) | about 2 years ago | (#39592443)

I dunno, the invaded country might find some good use for already enriched uranium. Then again, it would be very advantageous to bring it down electronically than to shoot it down.

Re:Disincentive (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39592569)

More like, "should I shoot it down to get at the yummy nuclear fuel".

But like other have said, this was just a study. It was and will never be an approved real project.

Re:Disincentive (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39592789)

"Social Security numbers will never be used as personal identification."
"Our uav's will never carry weapons."
"We will never develop uav's that are nuclear powered."
"We will never put tactical nuclear weapons in our nuclear powered uav's."
.
.
.
"We will never augment our peacekeeper tree limbs with shaped flint axeheads."

Downed drone plan? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39592045)

So when these inevitably are downed for some reason (e.g. technical malfunctions, enemy interference, etc), what's to stop the enemy from reverse engineering the technology and gaining "nuclear secrets"?

In all other cases where we implement nuclear technology, there's not a huge risk of it falling into enemy hands. So how will they address these concerns for a drone?

Re:Downed drone plan? (5, Insightful)

causality (777677) | about 2 years ago | (#39592341)

In all other cases where we implement nuclear technology, there's not a huge risk of it falling into enemy hands. So how will they address these concerns for a drone?

I don't believe the decision-makers are concerned about that. They have great security and lots of bunkers they can hide out in to maintain "continuity of government" etc.

For them, that risk is probably viewed as political capital (because it's all just a game and winning is all that counts). That's how sociopaths think. The whole 9/11 thing is wearing thin. Imagine how many pointless foreign wars of aggression you could justify if some enemy with an unpronouncable name who dresses funny had NUCLEAR SECRETS! You'd really be super-ultra unpatriotic to oppose THAT one.

If you're a private military contractor with lots of clout in Washington, then even the worst-case scenario is a goldmine. After all, it's not like it will be you personally or your own sons who go off to some foreign shithole to get shot at by the locals.

Re:Downed drone plan? (5, Informative)

icebike (68054) | about 2 years ago | (#39592523)

So when these inevitably are downed for some reason (e.g. technical malfunctions, enemy interference, etc), what's to stop the enemy from reverse engineering the technology and gaining "nuclear secrets"?

I wouldn't worry so much about the secrets, but rather the nuclear materials you provide them free of charge for anyone who manages to shoot (or lure) one down.

And the summary completely misses the main point of the story:

The fact that the program has been halted is something that Peter Singer, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and an expert on drone warfare, suggests may be lost in the attention on the nuclear aspect of the project.

What people seem to be missing is that the program was not approved. We are not building it!” he told me. “All sorts of ideas are proposed by scientists, and this one was found to involve a technology not yet ready for prime time and which carries some deep concerns about its implications for operations, legal concerns, and fear of accident impact. So it was not approved.

Apparently the submitter, in typical Anonymous Coward fashion, failed to read past the first paragraph.

Re:Downed drone plan? (1)

causality (777677) | about 2 years ago | (#39592639)

I wouldn't worry so much about the secrets, but rather the nuclear materials you provide them free of charge for anyone who manages to shoot (or lure) one down.

Just like with Desert Storm and Desert Shield, we have a long history of selling our old weapons to these "rogue nations" so we can turn around and hit them with our new weapons. For freedom and the flag, of course.

You think such a thing would be an accident?

Re:Downed drone plan? (2)

wiredlogic (135348) | about 2 years ago | (#39592787)

The proposal is for a drone with an RTG [wikipedia.org] power source, not a nuclear reactor. The technology is simple and only limited by safety concerns and the generally limited availability of suitable radioisotopes.

Fallout! (1)

incer (1071224) | about 2 years ago | (#39592049)

You should be happy! Sounds like something from Fallout, maybe we'll get to play it in real life!

Incredibly stupid idea... (0)

Beelzebud (1361137) | about 2 years ago | (#39592061)

One wind shear and your drone becomes a dirty bomb. I wonder how much money we'll throw down the rat-hole, to study this POS idea.

Re:Incredibly stupid idea... (1)

icebike (68054) | about 2 years ago | (#39592533)

Go read the story and you will find out how much money we will throw down a rat hole.

ZERO. Program was not halted.

Environmental Impact? Crashes? Malfunctions? (3, Interesting)

ohnocitizen (1951674) | about 2 years ago | (#39592075)

The US military already has a pretty bad record when it comes to the environment (http://www.projectcensored.org/top-stories/articles/2-us-department-of-defense-is-the-worst-polluter-on-the-planet/ http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/06/29/AR2008062901977.html [washingtonpost.com] ). What happens when one of these is shot down, or malfunctions? What if it does so over a populated area? What impact could it have on the groundwater, etc...

That's what you get with your empire (1, Funny)

roman_mir (125474) | about 2 years ago | (#39592081)

That's what you get with the huge government empire, and when I point out that I would like more freedoms instead in order to be able to get myself a nuclear powered car - this place throws a hissy fit.

Re:That's what you get with your empire (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39592595)

in order to be able to get myself a nuclear powered car - this place throws a hissy fit.

from where do you intend to purchase a nuclear powered car? you sure as hell aren't smart enough to build one yourself.

But they are not working on it (5, Informative)

gewalker (57809) | about 2 years ago | (#39592089)

And unsurprisingly the Slashdot headline fails to note that the program work has been halted and that it was never approved. Doing a little feasibility research is entirely reasonable for the military. That is, assuming they don't waste too much money on something that has serious downsides -- yeah I know, leap of faith time.

Crazy ideas turn out to be reasonable once in a great while -- we call they breakthroughs.

Re:But they are not working on it (3, Insightful)

causality (777677) | about 2 years ago | (#39592387)

That is, assuming they don't waste too much money on something that has serious downsides

Seems to me the very best way to avoid doing that is to restrict the military to securing one's own border (and only one's own border) against unprovoked foreign attacks. Then you could also reduce expenditures until we're only 2-3 times more powerful than the second strongest military.

That's also why I would never make it in politics.

Re:But they are not working on it (2)

Intrepid imaginaut (1970940) | about 2 years ago | (#39592491)

The dollar goes abroad and wants 100% back, the flag follows the dollar, and the soldiers follow the flag.

~ Smedly Butler

Re:But they are not working on it (1)

shutdown -p now (807394) | about 2 years ago | (#39592705)

Seems to me the very best way to avoid doing that is to restrict the military to securing one's own border (and only one's own border) against unprovoked foreign attacks. Then you could also reduce expenditures until we're only 2-3 times more powerful than the second strongest military.

It sounds like a good idea in general, but sometimes you do have to strike first to preempt the upcoming enemy attack with much fewer casualties compared to waiting till they strike, and sometimes you need to help your allies who were attacked before their enemy finishes them off and switches over to you (think WW2).

Re:But they are not working on it (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39592531)

And unsurprisingly the Slashdot headline fails to note that the program work has been halted and that it was never approved.

It doesn't just fail to note that. It implies the exact opposite and suggests that they are nearly battle ready.

there are simpler solutions (1)

mruizcamauer (551400) | about 2 years ago | (#39592109)

satellites? high altitude ballons? solar powered uavs? sounds like a way to spend many billions which could be better used to just bribe any enemies... or build a stronger economy, a much better defense!

Re:there are simpler solutions (1)

geekoid (135745) | about 2 years ago | (#39592455)

This will never launch; however nuclear power solved the problems of using satellites, solar and balloons.

UUVs (1)

StikyPad (445176) | about 2 years ago | (#39592129)

It seems like UUVs (Unmanned Underwater Vehicles) would be the logical alternative. Terminal velocity of falling/sinking objects is lower in water than in air, which means lower impact forces and potential for rupturing a reactor, not to mention the significantly lower human population density on the ocean floor than on land. Also, they'd be harder to find and to sink than their aerial counterparts.

They are in denial ... (1)

Alain Williams (2972) | about 2 years ago | (#39592131)

A couple of times in the article the talk about these drones crashing or falling into enemy hands. What they can't bring themselves to say (or perhaps even think about) is that because they will be used for warfare (that is what flying above enemy territory is all about) that they might be shot down. Since it is air borne they are going to want to keep the weight down, this means minimal nuclear containment -- so when it is shot down there will be radio nucleotides all over the place!

Is it a case of hands over eyes and pretend hard, or that since it will be over non USA territory it doesn't matter ?

Either way: I am glad that they are not making these things.

Dirty Bomb (1)

funtapaz (1406785) | about 2 years ago | (#39592137)

If one of these gets shot down, or crashes, over hostile territory, would it be considered an attack on that nation's populace? I'm sure there probably wouldn't be much immediate damage, but surely it would cause long-term health concerns. Of course I don't know much about reactor designs, maybe they have one that's not very harmful.

Great idea! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39592139)

What could POSSIBLY go wrong?

Ordinance Bombers (5, Funny)

draconx (1643235) | about 2 years ago | (#39592161)

They would ... only be limited by the ordinance they could drop on a potential foe.

Not surprising that it's the United States which comes up with a device to literally drop their laws on unsuspecting nations.

Oh wait, slashdot, you must have meant ordnance.

Re:Ordinance Bombers (1)

causality (777677) | about 2 years ago | (#39592427)

They would ... only be limited by the ordinance they could drop on a potential foe.

Not surprising that it's the United States which comes up with a device to literally drop their laws on unsuspecting nations.

Oh wait, slashdot, you must have meant ordnance.

If they're like us and never, ever repeal laws no matter how much of a failure they've been (c.f. war on some drugs), the bullets and bombs would be the kinder, gentler alternative in the long run. At least those do damage one time, not perpetually into the future.

Re:Ordinance Bombers (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39592461)

Interestingly, both words were originally the same.

ordnance

"cannon, artillery," a clipped form of ordinance (q.v.) which was attested from late 14c. in the sense of "military materials, provisions of war;" a sense now obsolete but which led to those of "engines for discharging missiles" (early 15c.) and "branch of the military

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

Re:Ordinance Bombers (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39592765)

Not surprising that it's the United States which comes up with a device to literally drop their laws on unsuspecting nations.

Oh wait, slashdot, you must have meant ordnance.

I know that my law dropped when I read this statement.

Concept basically ruled out 50 years ago (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39592167)

There was a variant of the B-36 heavy bomber rigged to run a small fission plant back in the 50s. Scrapped due to "weight induced performance concerns" as I recall.

I don't think a UAV would do that much better. It would be smaller and lighter than said B-36 sure but it would still need to be massive for a UAV and the bigger you are the more likely you are to be spotted and destroyed.

Nuclear power for our electrical grid? Yes please. Nuclear anything for our military? No thanks!

Re:Concept basically ruled out 50 years ago (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39592393)

Not really. I doubt anyone would be dumb enough to build a steam-plant design on a UAV like was being considered on the B-36. Rather what would make sense for drones is a RTG [wikipedia.org] . Good enough for many satellites and space probes. In theory if the motor and servos on a UAV were designed to not need servicing and with power demands below peak output, you could keep something powered by an RTG continuously aloft for 20 years or so.

Considering it doesn't need to survive re-entry, a titanium cask would seemingly make an RTG able to survive any crash or anything shot at it. However the real downside is that anyone who recovered it would essentially be handed the materials needed to make a dirty bomb. It would make sense that the DOD would give it the no-go for that reason.

Re:Concept basically ruled out 50 years ago (1)

Overzeetop (214511) | about 2 years ago | (#39592497)

It'll probably be encased in MP35N. Not that that makes it less valuable as dirty bomb fodder.

Area 51 and the Odd Uncle... (2)

sunfly (1248694) | about 2 years ago | (#39592187)

I have that "Odd Uncle" that swears the crash at Area 51 many years ago was an atomic aircraft in development, and the pilots were wearing anti-radiation suits.

Re:Area 51 and the Odd Uncle... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39592627)

That seems more plausible than fucking aliens. Although aliens would have been cooler.

Re:Area 51 and the Odd Uncle... (3, Interesting)

DollarOfReactivity (1040610) | about 2 years ago | (#39592725)

Hmm, don't think they ever made it to Area 51, but the military did develop nuclear powered aircraft. The idea was an ultra-range bomber, and I saw what remains of the engines (using a molten-salt reactor for heat) out in Idaho National Lab. The program was scrapped because of missiles, subs, and because it's a bad idea.

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

Also those pilots were probably just wearing crazy looking flight suits for high altitude, like SR-71 pilots.

Really Smart (1)

hAckz0r (989977) | about 2 years ago | (#39592231)

So now we even export nuclear materials directly to the Taliban for use in their dirty-bomb program? Do we really think that one UAV will not wind up in the enemy hands due to a lucky shot, mechanical failure, or acts of Nature? What are the chances? Oh about 100% in the long term if they would ask me.

Only they didn't ask.

Re:Really Smart (1)

geekoid (135745) | about 2 years ago | (#39592519)

Why would they ask someone who won't even bother to read the simplest article? Yu're the kind of person I hope they NEVER ask.

That are not doing this, they drew up plans, and then halted it.

Classic military mindset (1)

Grayhand (2610049) | about 2 years ago | (#39592241)

The original drones were meant as cheap somewhat disposable aircraft that avoided loss of life and aircraft that cost 35 to 400 million to replace. Now since contractors are making a bundle off building them they ask how can we make them more expensive? The first version of the modern drones were built by a modelmaker in the US for Israel and they were essentially large RC planes with on board cameras. They cost around 50K to build. The US was so impressed they launched their own drone program which for many years was a miserable failure. At first they were shooting for 500K instead of the modest 50K. Eventually the price shot up to 1.5 to 3 million. I have no idea what the current ones cost. It's classic military in that now that you have one that can fly recon can you arm it? Now can you make it stay up for 24 hours? What about days, weeks, months? Every time they open their mouths to try to turn them into swiss army knives that can do anything the price goes up. One day you'll hear about 400 million dollar drones and the cost savings will be out the window. Why do you need one that can stay up for months at a time at potentially 10X the cost? Isn't it better to have ten drones that need to be refueled more often? One gets shot down or a mechanical failure and you still have nine. You can cover more ground with ten drones and each can be specialized rather than trying to make them so them can do anything needed. The real beauty of a drone is a cheap craft that can be mass produced and it doesn't hurt so much when they get shot down. They already made them stealth which is expensive and now they want nuclear. It's just more and bigger toys with only a marginal advantage.

Not as dangerous as some might say .... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39592263)

Ok, we already have detractors and we have no idea yet how the power-plant works. However, there is a strong likelihood that nuclear drones won't be as dangerous as it sounds.

The drones are going to be weight dependent. It will not make sense for enriched uranium dioxide pellets will be used as they are in nuclear reactors. These will simply weigh too much. Instead, metallic uranium will surely be used providing a much higher energy density and will weigh considerably less. If the drone were to crash, a solid chunk of metallic uranium is not likely to fragment into many small pieces as the uranium dioxide pellets would and would likely remain in one or a few large pieces.

Nuclear material is far easier to clean up than chemical spills are. All it takes is a Geiger counter to locate all the pieces of the nuclear core and any contaminated soil. A solid uranium core such as would more than likely be used would be even easier to clean up. Finally, if you have a nuclear drone flying over your head, you may want to think twice before shooting it down.

Super high tech unmanned... (3, Insightful)

forkfail (228161) | about 2 years ago | (#39592281)

... nuclear devices flying around for months over enemy territory ...

What could possibly go wrong? [slashdot.org]

Limited by ammo? (1)

EdBear69 (823550) | about 2 years ago | (#39592353)

It seems that if this platform is coupled with a laser weapon [slashdot.org] there would be effectively no limit to the amount of destruction that could be rained down on one's enemies while this drone is airborne.

Imagine a high-flying drone that circles over an area for months at a time, sniping strategic targets with a laser at will.

Now imagine a whole fleet of them.

Re:Limited by ammo? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39592757)

Yeah! Fuck yeah! You could kill ALL YOUR ENEMIES! All of them.

Would finally be fucking happy then?

I was wondering (1)

Roachie (2180772) | about 2 years ago | (#39592355)

What lead a reactor company named General Atomics to start making aircraft. Now its a bit more clear.

Well played GA, well played.

New company coming? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39592373)

Anybody ever heard of the joint venture for this - Cyberdyne?

If we can get Nuclear UAVs (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39592381)

Why the hell can I not get on a nuclear 787 or since a drone is only about 5 tons. Why don't we have nuclear Tractors or nuclear cargo ships. Seriously, this sounds fantastic that we're able to miniature this enough to be usable.

Nuclear Tow Plane (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39592383)

Larger nuclear drones for towing other aircraft around the world would be brilliant too. Could operate only over oceans for safety, and eliminate a large proportion of aviation fuel consumption and cost. Big space between drone and towed plane for effective shielding. Could also operate at Mach 2+ for high speed environmentally benign antipodean transport.

Sounds like a plan (1)

javascriptjunkie (2591449) | about 2 years ago | (#39592425)

I think people seriously need to get over this nuclear phobia they have about this. Nuclear power is safe, cost effective, and it miniaturizes well. I'll buy that nuclear car the first day they let me damnit. But nuclear flying machines is okay for now.

Re:Sounds like a plan (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39592867)

You can't even get your subject to agree with your verb and you imagine that you are qualified to speak about nuclear safety. You must be American!

Nuclear reactors require supervision (1)

Hentes (2461350) | about 2 years ago | (#39592429)

Nuclear submarines have a crew that maintains the reactor. Unmanned reactors are not a good idea.

they aren't doing this - RTFA!!!! (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39592445)

If anyone had bothered to read the article, you'd know they aren't doing this. From TFA:

The fact that the program has been halted is something that Peter Singer, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and an expert on drone warfare, suggests may be lost in the attention on the nuclear aspect of the project.

case in point - this slashdot story and every comment posted here about it.

Also FTFA:

“What people seem to be missing is that the program was not approved. We are not building it!” he told me. “All sorts of ideas are proposed by scientists, and this one was found to involve a technology not yet ready for prime time and which carries some deep concerns about its implications for operations, legal concerns, and fear of accident impact. So it was not approved.”

Did the submitter or editor even bother to read the story before making the headline?

Bought another gadget (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39592477)

shot down another drown to power it with

Solar? (1)

GodfatherofSoul (174979) | about 2 years ago | (#39592517)

Didn't we just see a demonstration of a solar-powered airborne cell tower that loitered for something like 2 weeks? Hope I got the stats right, too lazy to verify my memory.

Yeah, it's not happening (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39592549)

Even beyond the problem with nuclear-powered drones possibly falling out the sky, I don't see how you can stuff a nuclear-power plant and its shielding and the actual generators and a useful amount of ordinance into anything smaller than something the size of a 747.

Can you make a nuclear-powered airplane? Probably, but it's not going to be small and it's not going to be cheap.

Possible concept (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39592597)

If they were going to do something like this, I expect they would use a thermoelectric generator like they used to do for space probes. It would be small enough to fit into a drone, and it's old technology. The only real problem would the release of material when/if the drone is lost.

I would have thought it would be too heavy to fly (1)

mark-t (151149) | about 2 years ago | (#39592669)

Nuclear reactors aren't exactly lightweight... and one of the chief goals in running an efficient air vehicle is to minimize its mass.

Re:I would have thought it would be too heavy to f (1)

shutdown -p now (807394) | about 2 years ago | (#39592753)

US has successfully flown a plane [wikipedia.org] with an operating nuclear reactor onboard (though they didn't get so far as to actually use it to power the engines... which, on the other hand, means that it was heavier than the real thing would have been). Soviets also had a similar project, though they've skimped on radiation shielding and it didn't go all that well as a consequence.

So, yes, you can get it off the ground. And the thing is, once you can, "too heavy" doesn't really matter if you have a power source that can keep all that heaviness up. Now they just need to stick a laser onto that thing so that it doesn't need ammunition, and then it can truly stay up in the air 24/7 for months.

legal? (1)

nurb432 (527695) | about 2 years ago | (#39592727)

I thought that nuclear powered airships were declared illegal by the UN or something. Space, yes, but not air..

Which war.. (1)

nurb432 (527695) | about 2 years ago | (#39592755)

Like the 'war on terror' so they can fly around and watch our back yards for months on end?

Besides, don't we have satellites that can do a better job at this point anyway?

Great way to share nuclear material with terrorist (1)

Sla$hPot (1189603) | about 2 years ago | (#39592809)

Sooner or or later some of these birds will either get shot down or "land" on their own due to technical failure.
From there on everything is documentet in detail by Tom Clancy... Yep.

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