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Without Plutonium, Deep-Space Probe Missions May Sputter Out

timothy posted 1 year,11 days | from the not-much-to-go-on dept.

NASA 268

cold fjord writes with this excerpt from Wired: "Most of what humanity knows about the outer planets came back to Earth on plutonium power. ... The characteristics of this metal's radioactive decay make it a super-fuel. ... there is no other viable option. Solar power is too weak, chemical batteries don't last, nuclear fission systems are too heavy. So, we depend on plutonium-238, a fuel largely acquired as by-product of making nuclear weapons. But there's a problem: We've almost run out. 'We've got enough to last to the end of this decade. That's it,' said Steve Johnson, a nuclear chemist at Idaho National Laboratory. And it's not just the U.S. reserves that are in jeopardy. The entire planet's stores are nearly depleted. ... what's left has already been spoken for and then some. ... Political ignorance and shortsighted squabbling, along with false promises from Russia, and penny-wise management of NASA's ever-thinning budget still stand in the way of a robust plutonium-238 production system." The plutonium shortage has been deepening for a long time, leading to some creative solutions. The Wired article alludes to the NASA project underway to create more, but leans toward gloom.

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Why are nuclear fission systems too heavy? (1, Interesting)

MillerHighLife21 (876240) | 1 year,11 days | (#44894339)

I don't know anything about them, but I have to ask why anything is too heavy in space? Is it too heavy when assembled on earth?

Re:Why are nuclear fission systems too heavy? (5, Informative)

mark-t (151149) | 1 year,11 days | (#44894385)

Mass doesn't disappear just because something is in outer space. That mass carries with it a certain amount of inertia, and the heavier something is on earth, the more energy will be required to manipulate it with any kind of acceleration, even in space.

Re:Why are nuclear fission systems too heavy? (5, Funny)

ackthpt (218170) | 1 year,11 days | (#44894581)

Mass doesn't disappear just because something is in outer space. That mass carries with it a certain amount of inertia, and the heavier something is on earth, the more energy will be required to manipulate it with any kind of acceleration, even in space.

Avast, ye swab, once ye space corsair be a'sail in deep space, it be carried along on it's momentum as thar be little friction in a vacuum. Life support, unless ye enjoy sippin yer tea at 4 K, be yer greater concern. Also, ye be needin' a wee bit o' energy for changin the tack of yer corsair. Arr. ox)P-)

Re:Why are nuclear fission systems too heavy? (2)

Joining Yet Again (2992179) | 1 year,11 days | (#44894637)

>it's

Land-lubber.

Re:Why are nuclear fission systems too heavy? (5, Funny)

vjoel (945280) | 1 year,11 days | (#44894705)

>it's

Land-lubber.

Twasn't an apostrophe, ye dog. It be the stray mark of a sharp cutlass.

Oog, why, why has thou forsaken us?! (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,11 days | (#44895057)

feature request - pirate troll.

Re:Why are nuclear fission systems too heavy? (5, Informative)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | 1 year,11 days | (#44894405)

Launch price.

Shoving something out of ye olde gravity well is always expensive, if you go over the weight/size limit of one of the reasonably-commodified launch systems, things go from 'expensive' to 'heroically expensive'.

Depending on exactly what trajectory you have in mind, a more massive craft may also require more fuel/more powerful thrusters if you are making any course corrections along the way.

Re:Why are nuclear fission systems too heavy? (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,11 days | (#44894415)

Two issues

1) You have to get the things into space
2) Stuff still has mass in space and thus a higher mass requires a higher force to accelerate compared to a less massive object.

Hope that helps.

Re:Why are nuclear fission systems too heavy? (3, Funny)

fustakrakich (1673220) | 1 year,11 days | (#44894417)

Yes, lifting facilities like Three Mile Island and Chernobyl off the ground takes a bit of effort

Re:Why are nuclear fission systems too heavy? (1)

Wookact (2804191) | 1 year,11 days | (#44894691)

Shouldn't they be able to lift the reactor from a nuclear sub?

I honestly dont know, just asking.

Re:Why are nuclear fission systems too heavy? (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,11 days | (#44894871)

A design concern for nuclear reactors is cooling. Nuclear subs are conveniently surrounded by an infinite heat sink of cold water, so cooling them is easy. A nuclear reactor desgined for space would need a completely different cooling system, which is a major part of the design.

Re:Why are nuclear fission systems too heavy? (2)

hedwards (940851) | 1 year,11 days | (#44894893)

They would, most of those facilities is dedicated to cooling and shielding. They may not be able to use the reactor from a sub, and I'm pretty sure they couldn't, but that's merely because they're designed for terrestrial use and aren't designed to be put onto a rocket.

The other issue is that putting nuclear things into orbit is something that has to be done cautiously. If they blow up or fail to make it into orbit, they'll spew tons of radioactive particles all over the place. And paranoid states might think it's an excuse to put nukes into space.

But, technically putting something the size of a nuclear reactor from a sub into orbit should be doable.

Re:Why are nuclear fission systems too heavy? (4, Interesting)

cpt kangarooski (3773) | 1 year,11 days | (#44895171)

Probably not; a sub's reactor would likely depend on the presence of the ocean for part of its cooling system (cooling is always a big problem in space -- basically it can only be done with radiators, which isn't very efficient), and is surely way overpowered for most missions.

The US and Russia have sent up actual reactors before. The US had SNAP [wikipedia.org] and the USSR had BES [wikipedia.org] .

But you really don't need nuclear power sources at all unless you're either far from the sun (beyond the orbit of Mars, usually), have serious power needs that modern solar power isn't sufficient for (the recently landed Curiosity rover on Mars uses an RTG for main power), or need heat to keep systems from getting too cold (the solar powered Mars rovers had small RTGs in them for heating purposes, IIRC).

Re:Why are nuclear fission systems too heavy? (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,11 days | (#44894479)

No, but it costs about $10k to put 1kg into orbit (more to break orbit, naturally). Chemical fuel and/or solar panels don't have anywhere near the energy density of nuclear fuel, so it costs much more to send up. Besides, the efficiency of solar panels falls off with 1/r^2 from the sun, which adds extra ouch-factor to the equation if you want to send a probe to the outer planets.

Re:Why are nuclear fission systems too heavy? (4, Insightful)

gstoddart (321705) | 1 year,11 days | (#44894483)

Likely because they need to be wrapped up in so much stuff so they're not killing everyone nearby.

And as far as I recall, you essentially need lead to block the radiation.

Re:Why are nuclear fission systems too heavy? (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | 1 year,11 days | (#44894607)

Why not shield the humans instead? Then just keep them away from it during launch. Not like irradiating space is a concern.

Re:Why are nuclear fission systems too heavy? (1)

Joining Yet Again (2992179) | 1 year,11 days | (#44894717)

Stop it! you'll give the climate change denialists ideas.

"It's not a tragedy - it's a MARKET OPPORTUNITY for radiation shields!"

Re:Why are nuclear fission systems too heavy? (1)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,11 days | (#44894785)

Hmmm ... funny that the climate change denialists and the libertarians would have the same outlook on this ...

Re:Why are nuclear fission systems too heavy? (1)

gstoddart (321705) | 1 year,11 days | (#44894721)

You know, my practical experience in nuclear shielding is non-existent. My theoretical knowledge only slightly less non-existent. :-P

But I should think the minimum safe distance from an unshielded reactor would preclude anybody actually getting near enough the spacecraft to prep it for launch.

I also don't know enough about them to say if an unshielded reactor is essentially a bomb.

I'm sure if it was a viable alternative, someone at NASA would be considering it.

Re:Why are nuclear fission systems too heavy? (4, Informative)

ShanghaiBill (739463) | 1 year,11 days | (#44895001)

But I should think the minimum safe distance from an unshielded reactor would preclude anybody actually getting near enough the spacecraft to prep it for launch.

A fission reactor that has been assembled, but never operated, does not produce much radiation. Enriched uranium and/or pure plutonium are not particularly dangerous (unless inhaled or ingested). It is the fission byproducts from actually operating the reactor that are dangerous. Even this minimal radiation could be avoided by using temporary shielding that is removed (possibly by a robot) immediately before the launch.

Re:Why are nuclear fission systems too heavy? (2)

Zemran (3101) | 1 year,11 days | (#44895143)

The safe distance for plutonium before it is being used is that you can hold it in your hand. I have handled Uranium, been there when Plutonium was handled (although not 238). If they transport the reactor into space conventionally and build it up there the only problem is the weight. There are lots of viable options available for consideration, I think that this is just smoke to prepare us for another round of unnecessary weapons building.

Re:Why are nuclear fission systems too heavy? (1)

CrimsonAvenger (580665) | 1 year,11 days | (#44895173)

I also don't know enough about them to say if an unshielded reactor is essentially a bomb.

It isn't.

What it is is unsafe to stand near, where "near" is any closer than several hundred yards.

Re:Why are nuclear fission systems too heavy? (1)

CrimsonAvenger (580665) | 1 year,11 days | (#44894835)

And as far as I recall, you essentially need lead to block the radiation.

Actually, water works quite well to block neutrons (better than lead, in fact), alpha and beta radiation. The lead is mostly for the gammas.

Re:Why are nuclear fission systems too heavy? (1)

gstoddart (321705) | 1 year,11 days | (#44894873)

But it's the gamma radiation which is the one we're most concerned about, no?

Blocking the least dangerous stuff isn't the issue.

Re:Why are nuclear fission systems too heavy? (2)

CrimsonAvenger (580665) | 1 year,11 days | (#44895087)

But it's the gamma radiation which is the one we're most concerned about, no?

In a space-borne system? I would think that neutron-embrittlement of your spacecraft would be more a concern than a few more gammas.

Admittedly, the gammas might interfere with those excrutiatingly sensitive sensors you're using in your deep-space probe, but a patch of lead between the power source and the sensor would deal with that nicely - you don't need spherical coverage of the power source, unless it's the center of the probe.

Re:Why are nuclear fission systems too heavy? (2)

Zemran (3101) | 1 year,11 days | (#44895175)

No, Plutonium is an alpha emitter. When it goes bang it gives off gamma, quite a lot.

Re:Why are nuclear fission systems too heavy? (1)

WillAdams (45638) | 1 year,11 days | (#44894903)

Water as a useful thing for blocking radiation actually comes up as a plot point in Charles Stross's recent short story _Zombies_. Available online here:

http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/2011/09/zombies.html [antipope.org]

Re:Why are nuclear fission systems too heavy? (2)

TheCarp (96830) | 1 year,11 days | (#44894907)

Nah you could block the radiation with any number of materials, its just that lead happens to be dense enough to do it reasonably. Little is to be gained by pushing concrete walls several feet thick into space.

Frankly I think its as much about complexity as anything. an RTG is fairly simple, basically a nuclear battery, with radioactive materials as a stand in for chemical bonds... when they break down, they cause heating, which is harvested for energy...simple.

Now a nuclear fission pile can be simple too....look at the radioactive boyscout, anything he can do NASA can do better.... but the question becomes.... how long can it output power at a workable rate? A space probe kind of needs to be "set it and forget it", you want as few adjustments needed as possible, not the least of which because any adjustment mechanism has weight and can degrade or break.

Its not just about making fission happen, its about extracting consistent predictable energy over a period of decades with no maintenance.

Re:Why are nuclear fission systems too heavy? (1)

ShanghaiBill (739463) | 1 year,11 days | (#44894929)

And as far as I recall, you essentially need lead to block the radiation.

Not necessarily. Instead of shielding, you can use distance. Fission reactors produce little radiation until they start operating. So you launch into space, then separate your main payload from the reactor using a long conductive tether. Then fire up the reactor.

Re:Why are nuclear fission systems too heavy? (1)

gmuslera (3436) | 1 year,11 days | (#44895233)

Maybe you can use poop as shield [pcmag.com] , not sure how efficient it is, but if is something that you produce and don't change the overall weight of the ship. But you will have better shielding at the end of the trip than at the start.

Re:Why are nuclear fission systems too heavy? (5, Informative)

CrimsonAvenger (580665) | 1 year,11 days | (#44894731)

I don't know anything about them, but I have to ask why anything is too heavy in space? Is it too heavy when assembled on earth?

A very long time ago I was in the Navy, sailing about in a nuclear submarine.

The power plant of that submarine outmassed the ISS.

Re:Why are nuclear fission systems too heavy? (1)

hedwards (940851) | 1 year,11 days | (#44894911)

That's not surprising, the components are heavy and dense. Whereas the ISS is mostly air.

Re:Why are nuclear fission systems too heavy? (0)

Jeremiah Cornelius (137) | 1 year,11 days | (#44894737)

WHAT WOULD HAPPEN?

What? Say your Plutonium-Powered Satellite rides up on a booster, that does the same thing as "Challenger".

How far does the atomised Plutonium disperse?

I for one, really don't like the odds.

Re:Why are nuclear fission systems too heavy? (4, Informative)

ShanghaiBill (739463) | 1 year,11 days | (#44895061)

WHAT WOULD HAPPEN?

The reactor would mostly likely fall into the ocean, where it would be retrieved intact. RTGs are designed to survive a launch failure, and several accidents have
already happened [wikipedia.org] , without any significant release of radiation.

Re:Why are nuclear fission systems too heavy? (2)

jellomizer (103300) | 1 year,11 days | (#44895153)

0 G doesn't mean 0 Mass. The correct term would have been Nuclear Fission is too massive.

Re:Why are nuclear fission systems too heavy? (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,11 days | (#44895219)

Behold! A soviet space nuclear reactor: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/TOPAZ_nuclear_reactor [wikipedia.org]

Re:Why are nuclear fission systems too heavy? (1)

erice (13380) | 1 year,11 days | (#44895245)

I imagine it is because of the shielding required.

Pu-238 decays to uranium-234 via an alpha particle emission
uranium-234 decays very slowly to thorium-230 via an another alpha particle emission

Alpha emissions are really easy to shield against because they are charged particles. They don't even penetrate skin.

Fission, on the other hand produces abundant neutrons and gamma rays. The only way to stop them is with a lot of mass.

Still, it shouldn't be all that bad. A yet to be started reactor doesn't produce that much radiation, unlike an RTG, which is producing maximum output while still on the ground. Just wait until the probe is in space, extend an arm holding the reactor a good distance from the probe and then light it up. Inverse square law goes a long way toward reducing the required shielding. The main thing it needs is engineering and testing. A space worthy reactor is quite a bit more complex than an RTG, quite different from the heavy, human handled machines we have on Earth and there hasn't been much willingness to invest the resources to make it happen.

1985 (5, Funny)

jimmydigital (267697) | 1 year,11 days | (#44894359)

I'm sure that in 1985, plutonium is available in every corner drugstore, but in 2014, it's a little hard to come by.

Re:1985 (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,11 days | (#44894517)

This is where Mr. Fusion would really come in handy.

Re:1985 (5, Funny)

Voyager529 (1363959) | 1 year,11 days | (#44894625)

This is where Mr. Fusion would really come in handy.

I beg to differ...unless you happen to be aware of a stash of beer cans and banana peels in space.

be-be-beef or pork (1)

intermodal (534361) | 1 year,11 days | (#44894641)

Only three more years to go! If you need a hand with finding the corner store, I'll be over at the Cafe 80s, where it's morning even if the aftern-n-noon!

Re:1985 (2)

JigJag (2046772) | 1 year,11 days | (#44894623)

beautiful BTTF reference. I applaud you, sir!

Re:1985 (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,11 days | (#44895217)

They said the same thing about ink and paper but we've had the digital revolutions and now tablets. No need for ink and paper.

Upside (4, Insightful)

ZombieBraintrust (1685608) | 1 year,11 days | (#44894381)

We are no longer creating bombs for a nuclear apocalypse.

Re:Upside (3, Funny)

smooth wombat (796938) | 1 year,11 days | (#44894471)

But the zombie apocalypse is still ok, right?

Re:Upside (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,11 days | (#44894491)

Exactly.

I'd rather NASA (and other space agencies) have this problem than re-start production of something whose only other use is nuclear weapons. (Plus the large amount of nuclear waste that is created as a byproduct of Plutonium production.)

Re:Upside (5, Informative)

Baloroth (2370816) | 1 year,11 days | (#44895025)

Pu-238 isn't usable for nuclear weapons. The only use to which it is put is power generation. The only connection between Pu-238 and nuclear weapons, in fact, is that weapons production facilities naturally make good production facilities for Pu-238.

Re:Upside (3, Insightful)

rubycodez (864176) | 1 year,11 days | (#44894547)

eh? we're maintaining thousands of bombs for just that

Re:Upside (3, Informative)

Wookact (2804191) | 1 year,11 days | (#44894931)

We are not creating any new ones is the point he was making. It had nothing to do if we were still maintaining them. Maintaining them doesn't give the fuel that is needed.

Re:Upside (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,11 days | (#44895043)

I find it hilarious that you both speak as if you are the ones (using the term "we") who are doing the bomb building, or bomb storing, or bomb dropping. You don't have the slightest control over any of that. Hell, a football fan using the term "we" to describe his favorite team has more control over the game than you have over war spending.

No but (1)

gr8_phk (621180) | 1 year,11 days | (#44895237)

But we're keeping tons of spent nuclear fuel in swimming pools and occasionally encasing it in giant blocks of cement and arguing about where to put it. Instead we could just put all that "waste" in a different kind of reactor and use it as fuel while also creating a chain of material that can have some plutonium pulled out for the occasional space probe or whatever. Problem is people are too scared of the "whatever" part to even allow this to happen - they'd rather pretend the spent fuel isn't an even bigger problem.

mine Pluto (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,11 days | (#44894387)

We could have mined plutonium on Pluto, but they went and demoted it to a dwarf planet.

uh... (1)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,11 days | (#44894393)

Comrade Kim maybe? Send Dennis Rodman with a briefcase?

Just watch the movie UHF (5, Funny)

adric22 (413850) | 1 year,11 days | (#44894447)

Apparently Philo gives the secret of how to make plutonium from common household objects.

112 tonnes enough? (1)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,11 days | (#44894487)

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-21505271

A shortage? right. That's enough to put a dent in a small moon.

Re:112 tonnes enough? (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,11 days | (#44894683)

Can you seriously not manage to add anchor tags to your link?

Re:112 tonnes enough? (4, Funny)

Virtucon (127420) | 1 year,11 days | (#44894699)

Wrong Plutonium! We need US Plutonium which uses a different plug configuration and is only 120V, not that funny 204V stuff you use in the UK you insensitive clod! Shit, NASA would have to buy like one of those travel adapters or something to make UK plutonium work in NASA probes and that would probably like throw off the gyroscopes or something.

Re:112 tonnes enough? (5, Informative)

compro01 (777531) | 1 year,11 days | (#44894701)

That's the wrong kind of Plutonium. RTGs need Plutonium-238. That stockpile is Plutonium-239, 240, 241, and a bit of 242.

Re:112 tonnes enough? (2)

tgd (2822) | 1 year,11 days | (#44895105)

That's the wrong kind of Plutonium. RTGs need Plutonium-238. That stockpile is Plutonium-239, 240, 241, and a bit of 242.

Yeah, but dat shiz is da BOMB.

Re:112 tonnes enough? (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,11 days | (#44894711)

That would be Plutonium-239. Plutonium-239 cannot be used in an RTG because it does not generate enough heat. Plutonium-238 has a shorter half life and generates much more heat for these generators.

Re:112 tonnes enough? (1)

CrimsonAvenger (580665) | 1 year,11 days | (#44895015)

That's Pu-239 they're talking about. Fissionable, 25KY halflife.

The 25KYear halflife means you'd need 284 times as much Pu239 as you'd need Pu238.

So, for Voyager, we'd need about 3800 kg of Pu239. Which is enough to manufacture ~600 nuclear weapons (Fatman used only 6.2kg of Pu-239 - we've gotten better designs since).

Re:112 tonnes enough? (1)

sjames (1099) | 1 year,11 days | (#44895191)

Wrong kind for this. RTGs need Pu238.

But as for that article, it's just more evidence that you're not allowed in politics unless you beat your skull with a brick until your IQ falls below 60.

Here we are with this energy shortage and on top of that we're stuck with this massive stockpile of free fuel we have no idea what to do with. I guess we'll bury it.

God (-1)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,11 days | (#44894503)

Pray? Trade God prayers for plutonium?

God says...
C:\TAD\Text\WEALTH.TXT

n should be a man of business, or engage in some
sort of trade. The province of Holland seems to be approaching near
to this state. It is there unfashionable not to be a man of business.
Necessity makes it usual for almost every man to be so, and custom
everywhere regulates fashion. As it is ridiculous not to dress, so is
it, in some measure, not to be employed like other people. As a man of
a civil profession seems awkward in a camp or a garrison, and is even
in some danger of being despised there,

Another reason to build LFTRs (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,11 days | (#44894541)

One of the helpful byproducts of a Liquid Floride Thorium Reactor (LFTR) is Pu-238

Source: http://flibe-energy.com/?page_id=64

Re:Another reason to build LFTRs (-1)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,11 days | (#44894801)

Can you seriously not manage to add anchor tags to your link? A few extra characters to make everyone's life a bit easier, is that so much to ask?

Re:Another reason to build LFTRs (1)

tgd (2822) | 1 year,11 days | (#44895111)

Can you seriously not manage to add anchor tags to your link? A few extra characters to make everyone's life a bit easier, is that so much to ask?

After 15 years of Slashdot adding features no one wants to the site, could they not manage to add one they did? Like auto-linking?

(Although, if we're going down that route, please add story moderation first!)

bring back the real 9th planet! (1)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,11 days | (#44894555)

I knew downgrading Pluto from planet status would have unseen repercussions, first Plutonium, next what... no more plutocrats?

rather sensationalist (4, Informative)

rubycodez (864176) | 1 year,11 days | (#44894603)

there are alternative isotopes, with much longer half lives even if battery weight is three or five times what a pu-238 one would be. not the heaviest thing in a spacecraft...anyway, the equipment to make the pu-238 exists, just a matter of getting serious about making the stuff

Re:rather sensationalist (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,11 days | (#44894709)

I am not a nuclear scientist so this may be a rather stupid question, but wouldn't an isotope with a longer half-life not be an alternative? I would imagine an isotope with a longer half-life emits substantially less energy over the same time period and thus would not be as useful as a Pu-238.

Re:rather sensationalist (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,11 days | (#44894743)

One of the reasons to use Pu-238 is its relatively short half life. It creates more heat through decay that way.

Re:rather sensationalist (2)

CrimsonAvenger (580665) | 1 year,11 days | (#44894887)

there are alternative isotopes, with much longer half lives even if battery weight is three or five times what a pu-238 one would be.

Longer half-life = heavier battery. More or less in direct proportion. If you use something with a 1000 year halflife, the battery will mass 11+ times as much, for a given power output.

Re:rather sensationalist (4, Informative)

mirix (1649853) | 1 year,11 days | (#44894937)

The Russians always used strontium 90. Slightly lower heat output and shorter (~30 vs ~90 yr) half life. Much cheaper.

Of course the reduced half life means power will drop off sooner, but I'd think thermocouple aging factors weigh more heavy anyway (for the first decade or two, at least). Maybe not?

So for long missions You'd want something else, I guess.

Well then, there's an easy answer. (3, Informative)

Virtucon (127420) | 1 year,11 days | (#44894671)

Fire up Rocky Flats [wikipedia.org] and Hanford [wikipedia.org] again to start building the next generation of nukes! That way we can get enough Pu-238 to power our deep space ambitions! I read on "The Onion" that the North Koreans are already building their deep space probe Kim Il Wang 1 which will reach out and spread communism to our neighboring galaxies! We can't afford to have a deep space probe power gap! We must contain the Red Menace!

Frankly with all the carcinogens in our air [yahoo.com] , amoebas [go.com] in our water and a third of us with Toxoplasmosis, [wikipedia.org] what's a little radiation folks?

Damn politics (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,11 days | (#44894675)

If it's so important, then why don't they just prioritize the next space mission to go back to Pluto and get some more? It seems pretty obvious, but I guess I just don't understand the politics of the situation. I guess it's because they don't consider Pluto to be a planet any more, so it's no good.

We are missing so many opportunties here (2)

WindBourne (631190) | 1 year,11 days | (#44894685)

Japan is LOADED with a number of beta emitters that are perfect for making nuclear batteries. If we start filtering that water over by their nukes, we can create a number of batteries that can provide power for mars and the moon. And this is actually safer than Pu.
Now, with that said, we STILL need plutonium. In particular, deep space probes need not just power, but heat. Plutonium is far better for both of that.

Re:We are missing so many opportunties here (3, Funny)

MiniMike (234881) | 1 year,11 days | (#44894935)

If we start filtering that water over by their nukes, we can create a number of batteries that can provide power for mars and the moon.

Except we don't want our first probe to make contact with an alien civilization to be powered by radioactive sea bass. There's just no good explanation for that.

Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea. (4, Funny)

gallondr00nk (868673) | 1 year,11 days | (#44894687)

By 2005, according a Department of Energy report (.pdf), the U.S. government owned 87 pounds, of which roughly two-thirds was designated for national security projects, likely to power deep-sea espionage hardware.

What on earth do they need deep sea espionage for? Are they trying to spy on Cthulhu or something?

Re:Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea. (5, Informative)

RevDisk (740008) | 1 year,11 days | (#44894761)

Tapping undersea cables.

Re:Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea. (1)

compro01 (777531) | 1 year,11 days | (#44894773)

What on earth do they need deep sea espionage for?

Tapping submarine cables.

Re:Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea. (1)

Rhywden (1940872) | 1 year,11 days | (#44895021)

Tapping submarine cables.

I've heard of those drive-by-wire systems! What an ingenuous way to steer a military submarine!

We need another Cold War. (1)

Apharmd (2640859) | 1 year,11 days | (#44894735)

Problem solved!

Re: We need another Cold War. (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,11 days | (#44894779)

No, what we need are Dilithium crystals. Super efficient and safe

Re: We need another Cold War. (1)

Talderas (1212466) | 1 year,11 days | (#44895155)

What we need is naquadah.

Just start reprocessing spent fuel (2)

bobbied (2522392) | 1 year,11 days | (#44894813)

Problem solved.. Actually, multiple problems get solved with this one.

Reprocess existing spent fuel rods that are soaking away in cooling pools world wide. We literally have tons of this material if we would just go process the spent fuel we already have on hand.

As a bonus, we will get a lot of useable fuel out of the process PLUS drastically reduce the size of the high level radioactive waste we have to store...

Re:Just start reprocessing spent fuel (1)

denis-The-menace (471988) | 1 year,11 days | (#44895051)

b-b-b-but what about those super insightful laws that prevent breeder reactors needed to reprocess spent fuel rods.

It would take a-lot of money to out-"lobby" nuclear industry insiders to change those laws.

Ready supply (1)

Citizen of Earth (569446) | 1 year,11 days | (#44894817)

We can always just buy weapons-grade plutonium from North Korea and Iran.

Re:Ready supply (4, Insightful)

CrimsonAvenger (580665) | 1 year,11 days | (#44895037)

Pu-238 is NOT "weapons-grade", and Pu-239 (which is) is NOT a useful substitute for Pu-238.

HowTo (3, Insightful)

Sla$hPot (1189603) | 1 year,11 days | (#44894859)

* Build a moon base
* Setup solarpanels for lots of power generation
* Build infrastructure
* Extract lots of Helium 3
* Build a monorail assisted launch system
* Build space ship parts
* Build a Tokamak in parts, small enough to assemble in space
* Launch all the s#!+ into space and assemble all the parts
* Remember to launch a couple of tons of H3 too
* Go!

Re:HowTo (1)

moteyalpha (1228680) | 1 year,11 days | (#44895241)

This is the only suggestion that I saw that was at least creative. I think you jest, but all of those things would be bypassed with a cheap way to get in and out of the gravity well, as things can just be moved about where they are needed. It is assumed that cheap exit and entry from a gravity well is an intractible problem. It is a dependeny issue. The great cost and delay in space exploration hinges on the cost of entry and exit from the gravity well. It is less difficult on a body without such a thick atmosphere, but exit and entry is still the limiting factor.
What do mean it went prompt, isn't it good to be prompt.

commercialize it (1)

stenvar (2789879) | 1 year,11 days | (#44894891)

There are lots of uses for RTGs (including medical devices), but they have been hamstrung by anti-nuclear hysteria. If Pu 238 was more widely adopted commercially, these shortages would disappear.

Reason: Price gouging by Dept of Energy (3, Informative)

Squidlips (1206004) | 1 year,11 days | (#44894899)

The problem is that the Dept. of Energy, although hugely wasteful, cannot "afford" to make plutonium for NASA/JPL. Yet another way this and previous admin is trying to gut planetary science: http://www.planetary.org/blogs/casey-dreier/2013/20130913-the-doe-is-full-of-wasteful-spending-but-forbidden-to-help-nasa-make-plutonium-for-space-missions.html [planetary.org]

Re:Reason: Price gouging by Dept of Energy (3, Informative)

thrich81 (1357561) | 1 year,11 days | (#44895093)

If you go through the link you posted to one more deep you get this statement, "The administration of President Barack Obama asked for $20 million for the Pu-238 program in 2012, split evenly between NASA and the Energy Department. Lawmakers also denied funding for the program in the Energy Department’s 2010 and 2011 budgets."

Fear-mongering. We are restarting production. (2)

Robotbeat (461248) | 1 year,11 days | (#44895007)

This is fear-mongering. We are restarting production, and the new Advanced Sterling Radioisotope Generators we have developed produce three times the electricity for the same amount of Pu-238. ...that is, if NASA's budget isn't cut by the Republican house. Sequester is really hampering what NASA can do.

I thought they restarted production back in March (4, Informative)

charnov (183495) | 1 year,11 days | (#44895033)

I thought NASA struck a deal with DOE back in March to do 2 kilos per year of Pu-238 back in March. Did it get de-funded or something? http://www.universetoday.com/100875/u-s-to-restart-plutonium-production-for-deep-space-exploration/ [universetoday.com]

Pssst... North Korea (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,11 days | (#44895083)

Figured out a source of income for y'all.....

Just ask al-Qaeda for more (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,11 days | (#44895177)

Simple solution, no?

Reminds me of that bumper sticker (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,11 days | (#44895181)

"You can't hug a child with milliparsec arms"

The Way of Things (1)

trongey (21550) | 1 year,11 days | (#44895231)

So what they're saying is, "No war - No fun."
Isn't that the way it's always worked?

On the other hand... (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,11 days | (#44895267)

We have been running out of IPv4 addresses since 1999, and here we are.

Tell me again.... (1)

gestalt_n_pepper (991155) | 1 year,11 days | (#44895269)

why a square mile of reflective mylar and a high efficiency panel won't power a satellite for a good long while?

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