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NASA Running Out of Plutonium

Soulskill posted more than 6 years ago | from the so-am-i dept.

Space 264

PRB_Ohio takes us to Space.com for a story about NASA's plutonium shortage, and how it may affect future missions to the far reaches of the solar system. The U.S. hasn't produced plutonium since 1988, instead preferring to purchase it from Russia. We discussed the U.S. government's plans to resume production in 2005, but those plans ended up being shelved. If NASA is unable to find an additional source, it could limit missions that take spacecraft too far from the Sun. Quoting: "Alan Stern, NASA associate administrator for science, ... said he believed the United States had sufficient plutonium-238 on hand or on order to fuel next year's Mars Science Lab, an outer planets flagship mission targeted for 2017 and a Discovery-class mission slated to fly a couple years earlier to test a more efficient radioisotope power system NASA and the Energy Department have in development. To help ensure there is enough plutonium-238 for those missions, NASA notified scientists in January that its next New Frontiers solicitation, due out in June, will seek only missions that do not require a nuclear power source."

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WTF? (4, Interesting)

Scrameustache (459504) | more than 6 years ago | (#22678574)

The U.S. hasn't produced plutonium since 1988, instead preferring to purchase it from Russia.
Whaaaaaa?

More like whiiiz (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22678674)

Re:More like whiiiz (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22679626)

Best territorial pissing evar.

Re:WTF? (5, Funny)

eln (21727) | more than 6 years ago | (#22678700)

Give them a little credit, buying it from Russia was plan B. Our first source of plutonium was from Libyan nationalists. See, they would ask us to build them a bomb, we would take the plutonium, and then give them a shiny bomb casing full of used pinball machine parts. Unfortunately, the Libyans eventually found out and tried to kill us with RPGs. I swear, if Reagan hadn't managed to get up to 88 mph before he hit that photo kiosk, I don't know what we would have done.

Mr. Fusion (2, Funny)

RiyazShaikh (1133497) | more than 6 years ago | (#22679178)

Time to convert all their deLoreans... um... space shuttles, to use Mr. Fusion - http://news.uns.purdue.edu/x/2007a/070201LadischBio.html [purdue.edu]

Re:Mr. Fusion (1)

0racle (667029) | more than 6 years ago | (#22679440)

Mr. Fusion just powers the electrical devices, the shuttle runs on ordinary rocket fuel, always has, always will.

Re:WTF? (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22678724)

You rather have Russia sell their stockpile of plutonium to someone else?

Re:WTF? (5, Interesting)

AKAImBatman (238306) | more than 6 years ago | (#22678738)

The official position of the US Government is that breeder reactors are a potential threat. Bad Guys(TM) might get ahold of fissible materials bound for reprocessing, and THEN where would we be, hmm?

Never mind the fact that it's about 1000x simpler to create a gun-type bomb with Uranium rather than creating an uber-complex implosion device. All terrorists obviously have access to the advanced nuclear engineering and simulation capabilities necessary to create a plutonium implosion device.

...

Despite the fact that they can't refine Uranium...

Creating a Market For Russian Plutonium is Good (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22678794)

Better they sell it to us than have it end up in the middle east.

I do question if we need a new program to produce plutonium.

We should buy up all the Russina plutonium we can, and then we could scrap a few of our own warheads. We still have tens of thousands sitting around. I bet just a few of them could power quite a few NASA missions without any new production.

Re:WTF? (5, Interesting)

ISoldat53 (977164) | more than 6 years ago | (#22678798)

The West has been buying Russian plutonium from old weapons and from surplus stockpiles under the idea that it's better to use it as fuel in a power plant than in a weapon.

Re:WTF? (1)

Scrameustache (459504) | more than 6 years ago | (#22678912)

The West has been buying Russian plutonium from old weapons and from surplus stockpiles under the idea that it's better to use it as fuel in a power plant than in a weapon.
Ahhhh! Thanks for the info, I was thoroughly bemused :)

Re:WTF? (3, Informative)

TubeSteak (669689) | more than 6 years ago | (#22679530)

The West has been buying Russian plutonium from old weapons and from surplus stockpiles under the idea that it's better to use it as fuel in a power plant than in a weapon.
Huh?

The Russians do not want to use it in a weapon. The Russians have been pushing for accelerated nuclear disarmament because they literally can't afford to protect & maintain all their nuclear warheads. The U.S. has been filling the gap by helping to cover the security costs (including stuff like rusting submarines sitting at the dock), but Russia still has serious security issues.

Read this to get a picture of the state of Russian nuclear storage [blogspot.com]
Keep in mind that Russia has many nuclear dump sites spread around the country & I doubt anything has changed since that article was written last year.

Re:WTF? (1)

nizo (81281) | more than 6 years ago | (#22679010)

Luckily we have plenty stockpiled in handy ICBM storage containers.

Re:WTF? (1)

Deltaspectre (796409) | more than 6 years ago | (#22679258)

I thought ICBMs were delivery containers?

Re:WTF? (3, Funny)

nizo (81281) | more than 6 years ago | (#22679380)

Depends on where and how fast you want it.

Re:WTF? (1)

shutdown -p now (807394) | more than 6 years ago | (#22679318)

All your nukes are belong to us!
Yours sincerely, comrade Medvedev.

Re:WTF? (1)

nospam007 (722110) | more than 6 years ago | (#22679496)

The U.S. hasn't produced plutonium since 1988, instead preferring to purchase it from Russia.
Whaaaaaa?

Yep, just like the dirty bombers, only they don't buy it from Russia but from Russians.

Two words (4, Funny)

Lucas123 (935744) | more than 6 years ago | (#22678584)

dilithium crystals

One word (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22678976)

Libyans.

Re:Two words (1)

cyberwiz01 (745827) | more than 6 years ago | (#22678982)

What about Mr. Fusion?

Re:Two words (1)

thewiz (24994) | more than 6 years ago | (#22679618)

I canna give you anymore power, captain!

Now, How Will They Destroy the Earth? (3, Funny)

Jeremiah Cornelius (137) | more than 6 years ago | (#22678588)

Ooops. That's Illudium Q-36 - Not Plutonium - for the Explosive Space Modulator. [everything2.com]

It still obstructs my view of Venus!

Re:Now, How Will They Destroy the Earth? (3, Funny)

SensitiveMale (155605) | more than 6 years ago | (#22678918)

It still obstructs my view of Venus!

Yeah, but you can still see Uranus.

Funny every time.

Re:Now, How Will They Destroy the Earth? (2, Funny)

Usquebaugh (230216) | more than 6 years ago | (#22679158)

Until you hit puberty

Re:Now, How Will They Destroy the Earth? (1)

Jeremiah Cornelius (137) | more than 6 years ago | (#22679640)

I think He's quoting from "The Asshole Monologues."

What-tonium? (4, Funny)

longacre (1090157) | more than 6 years ago | (#22678600)

Pluto isn't a planet anymore, it shouldn't have an element named after it.

Re:What-tonium? (1)

Degreeless (1250850) | more than 6 years ago | (#22678644)

Agreed, if it starts with Pluto where does it end?

I for one am pushing for Degreelite

Re:What-tonium? (2, Funny)

Jeremiah Cornelius (137) | more than 6 years ago | (#22678682)

Well, maybe they'll buy it if we call it "Vista".

Re:What-tonium? (1)

Hognoxious (631665) | more than 6 years ago | (#22678826)

I for one am pushing for Degreelite
Isn't that what you graduate from DeVry with?

Re:What-tonium? (1)

Degreeless (1250850) | more than 6 years ago | (#22678878)

Nah, all arts degrees are forged from the purest Degreelite, then sealed with a finish of self-rightiousness and pretension.

Re:What-tonium? (1)

peragrin (659227) | more than 6 years ago | (#22678926)

Ah so that's where MBA, and EMBA's come from.
I have always wondered.

Re:What-tonium? (1)

KublaiKhan (522918) | more than 6 years ago | (#22678646)

Doesn't matter; it can be retconned to be named after the Roman god.

Re:What-tonium? (1)

residieu (577863) | more than 6 years ago | (#22678722)

Or the dog. Then we can name the next element Goofonium

Re:What-tonium? (1)

Degreeless (1250850) | more than 6 years ago | (#22678964)

I endorse renaming all elements after lovable Disney characters... At least then the kids might remember them.

Re:What-tonium? (2, Funny)

geminidomino (614729) | more than 6 years ago | (#22679044)

And every Chemistry course will have a $700 "Disney Licensing fee" attached to it.

Plan B (4, Funny)

OglinTatas (710589) | more than 6 years ago | (#22678608)

Maybe they can arrange to purchase some from Iran. Everybody wins!

Re:Plan B (1)

stox (131684) | more than 6 years ago | (#22678690)

Iran has highly enriched Uranium, no plutonium.

Re:Plan B (2, Interesting)

edwardpickman (965122) | more than 6 years ago | (#22678804)

In all seriousness N Korea would probably be thrilled to trade us Plutonium for wheat. That is a deal where everyone wins.

simple solution: ionic propulsion (1)

OrochimaruVoldemort (1248060) | more than 6 years ago | (#22678610)

it worked for star wars, it can work for nasa.

Re:simple solution: ionic propulsion (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22678672)

Plutonium is used for electric power, not propulsion.

Re:simple solution: ionic propulsion (1)

Mercano (826132) | more than 6 years ago | (#22678836)

Yeah, but the ion thrusters used on probes like Deep Space 1 [wikipedia.org] use electricity for propulsion. Of course, almost all of these guys got their electricity from solar panels rather then RTGs. Otherwise, they would have probably gotten more bang for their mass through good old fashion chemical rockets.

Re:simple solution: ionic propulsion (2, Interesting)

zippthorne (748122) | more than 6 years ago | (#22679078)

Yeah, until they hit round about Mars orbit. Then, due to the dropoff in insolation, it starts to make sense to switch to internal power supplies. Especially if you require propulsion-level power supply.

Plutonium RTGs will run for a very long time, and your electric propulsion doesn't care where the electricity comes from. Why not use both? Solar panels for the inner solar system, and explosive bolts for when the the panels' mass causes "drag" on a decay-dominated power source?

Re:simple solution: ionic propulsion (5, Insightful)

AKAImBatman (238306) | more than 6 years ago | (#22678820)

Ion propulsion [wikipedia.org] does indeed work. NASA has used it on a variety of craft to great success. There's just one catch-22: You need POWER to convert into thrust. And where are you going to get that power when you're too far from the Sun for solar panels?

Oh, oh! I have an idea! Plutonium would solve everything!

Wait... ah, crap.

use noble gases (1)

OrochimaruVoldemort (1248060) | more than 6 years ago | (#22678954)

they will burn for a long duration flight's. xenon and kyrpton are espcially useful for long missions.

Re:use noble gases (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22679096)

Burn noble gases? yeah, brilliant idea. You failed chemistry, I guess?
  They use noble gases as reaction mass, but a power source is required. Solar is only good near the sun, obviously, so that only leaves nuclear as a viable option.

Re:use noble gases (1)

Nyeerrmm (940927) | more than 6 years ago | (#22679614)

The noble gases make great propellants. However, because they are inert they are not good at storing energy. In a chemical rocket the propellant is the power source; in an ion thruster, the propellant is only a working fluid, similar to hydraulic fluid. You still need an electric power source to ionize the gas and charge the grids that transfer momentum to the ionized gas.

Simple solution! (4, Funny)

WK2 (1072560) | more than 6 years ago | (#22678618)

Simple solution. They can go back in time and steal plutonium from themselves.

Re:Simple solution! (2, Funny)

cbart387 (1192883) | more than 6 years ago | (#22678742)

maybe that's the problem!

why not uranium? (0, Redundant)

netsavior (627338) | more than 6 years ago | (#22678626)

I bet we could purchase Uranium from Iran. I hear we have a good relationship with them and they are experts at enriching this stuff for power production.

Iran (1)

Archangel Michael (180766) | more than 6 years ago | (#22678628)

I hear Iran might have a nice supply shortly.

(Its a freakin JOKE!)

No problem! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22678650)

Can't we just get the Iranians to make us some plutonium-238?

There's plenty (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22678670)

I get my plutonium from Libyans. They wanted a bomb, but I just gave them a shoddy bomb casing filled with used pinball machine parts.

Problem solved (0)

eebra82 (907996) | more than 6 years ago | (#22678678)

NASA should use simple wind turbines. Must be windy up there since all of George's movies make sound barabooms in space.

Re:Problem solved (1)

Scrameustache (459504) | more than 6 years ago | (#22678868)

NASA should use simple wind turbines. Must be windy up there
The solar wind [wikipedia.org] is a stream of charged particles (i.e., a plasma) which are ejected from the upper atmosphere of the sun. It consists mostly of high-energy electrons and protons

Re:Problem solved (1)

Darfeld (1147131) | more than 6 years ago | (#22679370)

I wonder what Sunsurfing would be like... I bet forward loop would be a lot easier.

I've always been into catamaran anyway.

Marty! (5, Funny)

amccaf1 (813772) | more than 6 years ago | (#22678680)

"I'm sure in 1985 plutonium is available at every corner drugstore, but in 1955 it's a little hard to come by!"

Re:Marty! (1)

lucifig (255388) | more than 6 years ago | (#22679232)

I guess what we really need is Mr. Fusion.

Re:Marty! (1)

NetMunkee (905279) | more than 6 years ago | (#22679246)

There's never a Libyan Nationalist around when you really need one.

Re:Marty! (2, Funny)

dkleinsc (563838) | more than 6 years ago | (#22679602)

According to Philo of UHF [wikipedia.org] , it is possible to create plutonium from common household items.

You mean the USSR? (4, Insightful)

wandazulu (265281) | more than 6 years ago | (#22678696)

If I recall correctly, the Soviet Union finally dissolved in 1991. So at some point, circa 1988, somebody in either Reagan or Bush's administration decided it'd be easier to get Plutonium from the Soviet Union? You know, the sworn enemy, evil empire, etc. etc.? And even weirder, the Soviet Union agreed?

I know, it was for NASA, not the Minuteman missile, but still...

Re:You mean the USSR? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22678750)

somebody in either Reagan or Bush's administration decided it'd be easier to get Plutonium from the Soviet Union?

They were going to sell it to somebody, might as well have been us.

Re:You mean the USSR? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22678850)

I'm going to bet these were not simultaneous actions. First we decided to stop making plutonium in 1988, seeing as how we'd been making it for a long time and hadn't (thankfully) used very much of it. Then, by the time we needed some more, the USSR had fallen, and a major nuclear power was now looking to make a few bucks. At that point, it makes a lot of sense for the US to buy plutonium from Russia, since it would be cheaper, and it would help prevent it from ending up in someone else's hands.

Re:You mean the USSR? (3, Insightful)

Vellmont (569020) | more than 6 years ago | (#22679056)


So at some point, circa 1988, somebody in either Reagan or Bush's administration decided it'd be easier to get Plutonium from the Soviet Union?

I'd say this is unlikely. The summary says we haven't PRODUCED plutonium since 1988, it says nothing about when we decided to purchase from Russia.

It could very well be the case that we had sufficient stockpiles in 1988 to last us several years until after the collapase of the Soviet Union.

Re:You mean the USSR? (1)

bark (582535) | more than 6 years ago | (#22679106)

I believe back then there was a lot of negotiation over the proper handling of nuclear materials. START I and START II all was negotiated back in the cold war era. Even though the US and USSR were in a "cold war", cooler scientific minds still prevailed, and led to the "detente" over the mutual agreement to decommission and reduce / reuse / recycle nuclear materials.

Re:You mean the USSR? (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 6 years ago | (#22679204)

If I recall correctly, the Soviet Union finally dissolved in 1991. So at some point, circa 1988, somebody in either Reagan or Bush's administration decided it'd be easier to get Plutonium from the Soviet Union? You know, the sworn enemy, evil empire, etc. etc.? And even weirder, the Soviet Union agreed?
 
I know, it was for NASA, not the Minuteman missile, but still...

Quite understandable actually - because PU238 isn't used in weapons, PU239 is.
 
AIUI/IIRC in the US most 238 came as a by product of producing 'supergrade' tube alloy - while the Russians produced it directly from Neptunium and as a by product of reprocessing reactor fuel. Thus as the effects of SALT/START/INF took hold, we had no need to produce tube alloys, and ceased production - losing the ability to produce 239 in the process.

Re:You mean the USSR? (4, Funny)

CompMD (522020) | more than 6 years ago | (#22679658)

In Soviet Russia, plutonium enriches YOU!

Re:You mean the USSR? (1)

Buelldozer (713671) | more than 6 years ago | (#22679686)

It was my understanding that we were buying the stuff that was coming out of their decommissioned nuclear weapons. I believe the theory was that us buying it was better than it going to the highest anonymous bidder.

This is an opportunity (3, Insightful)

Coward Anonymous (110649) | more than 6 years ago | (#22678744)

First, kudos to the U.S. for buying plutonium from the Russians. What better way to get it off their hands?
Second, many people should rejoice, this is a golden opportunity to decommission a warhead or two for the plutonium in it.

Re:This is an opportunity (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 6 years ago | (#22679008)

Second, many people should rejoice, this is a golden opportunity to decommission a warhead or two for the plutonium in it.

Um, no. PU239 is used in weapons, PU238 in nuclear batteries.

Re:This is an opportunity (5, Informative)

Vellmont (569020) | more than 6 years ago | (#22679162)


Second, many people should rejoice, this is a golden opportunity to decommission a warhead or two for the plutonium in it.

No dice.

Nasa uses Plutonium-238 in it's RTGs because it's a strong alpha-emitter, and has a short half-life on 87 years. I also believe it's non-fissile (meaning it can't be used for an nuclear weapon).

Plutonium-239 is the stuff they use in nuclear weapons, and it's fairly useless as an RTG generator.

Re:This is an opportunity (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22679260)

Second, many people should rejoice, this is a golden opportunity to decommission a warhead or two for the plutonium in it.


Screw that, Russia is upgrading their Topol missiles. If anything we need to get back into the game and crank up some weapons using the latest technology.

And please, save the bullshit about the ABM system in Eastern Europe; the Russians know goddamned good and well their MIRVS can bust it, yet they're working on and building new weapons.

Re:This is an opportunity (1)

DesScorp (410532) | more than 6 years ago | (#22679268)

"First, kudos to the U.S. for buying plutonium from the Russians. What better way to get it off their hands?
Second, many people should rejoice, this is a golden opportunity to decommission a warhead or two for the plutonium in it.
"

IIRC, half of all current new fuel rods going into US nuclear plants are coming from decommissioned Russian nuclear weapons.

But with Putin's Russia resurgent, this can't last very long. We'll need to dig for more of our supply soon. Supply isn't the problem. We have plenty. We just took the fall of the USSR as an opportunity to kill two birds with one stone... fuel our reactors cheaply, and keep that material away from malevolent third parties.

As far as the plutonium shortage goes, if we'd build more nuclear power plants here, we'd not only be able to make more of our own plutonium, we'd get much cheaper and cleaner energy as well. Keep in mind that virtually all of France's power comes from nuclear plants, and they're producing such a surplus, they're selling it to the UK. And as for the waste issue, most people don't realize that 92 percent of spent fuel rods can be reprocessed and used again. France literally keeps all of their nuclear waste from power plants in one room in La Havre. The reason why we don't reprocess our spent rods is because of a law Jimmy Carter signed in 1977 banning fuel reprocessing. The concern wasn't safety or environmental... the concern was that other countries would get their hands on the plutonium produced during reprocessing to build weapons. Of course, that was useless, as countries just got it from other sources (and Iran is building their own enrichment facilities anyway... no way to stop that unless you blow it up).

Re:This is an opportunity (1)

foobarbaz (21227) | more than 6 years ago | (#22679490)

Sure it'll be cheap, as long as they keep making us pay their insurance bill [wikipedia.org] .

Re:This is an opportunity (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22679352)

Second, many people should rejoice, this is a golden opportunity to decommission a warhead or two for the plutonium in it.

Plutonium isn't used for bombs any more.

Doc (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22678774)

I almost forgot to bring extra plutonium! How do I ever expect to get back? One pellet, one trip. I must be out of my mind!

Walk down to the corner... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22678796)

...and buy some from the drug store. Plutonium's been plentiful there since 1985, hasn't it?

Pay for it... (5, Funny)

bugs2squash (1132591) | more than 6 years ago | (#22678802)

They were planning to send it all to America for free at one point.

Re:Pay for it... (1)

hitmark (640295) | more than 6 years ago | (#22679252)

sadly their delivery system was less the customer friendly at that time...

Not so easy to come by (1, Redundant)

QuantumFlux (228693) | more than 6 years ago | (#22678814)

I'm sure in 1985 plutonium is available at every corner drugstore, but in 2008 it's a little hard to come by!

Education is the answer! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22678822)

I am going to start an elementary school drive where children collect partially used CMOS batteries. We can stack them with hot glue and, bingo, no more need for Russian plutonium. They could jump-start this by collecting the batteries from their own school's computers because they aren't necessary, Science being so 'last president' and all.

It's simple, really. (4, Funny)

clem (5683) | more than 6 years ago | (#22678902)

1. Find a group of Libyan nationalists that want you to build a bomb.
2. Take their plutonium.
3. Give them a shiny bomb-casing full of used pinball machine parts.

Just make sure you keep the DeLorean's engine running for step 3.

Re:It's simple, really. (1)

sakdoctor (1087155) | more than 6 years ago | (#22679026)

Ah hasn't the world changed. I'm quite sentimental for the 80s where terrorists drove around in VW buses, spoke broken English and were bumbling and incompetent. I hate these 21st century terrorists always hiding in my internet pipe trying turn my computer into a bomb and what have you.

What about the most obvious source of plutonium... (1)

Dr_Banzai (111657) | more than 6 years ago | (#22678928)

Why not disassemble one of the thousands of plutonium warheads rusting away in warehouses?

The 2 ways to obtain Pu-238 (5, Informative)

extract (889530) | more than 6 years ago | (#22678934)

There are currently 2 ways for US to obtain Plutonium-238 for space flights without buying it from abroad: 1. Use nuclear waste. Laser Isotope Seperation (LIS) is needed to seperate the Pu-238 from the other isotopes. 2. Breed on Neptunium-237. It is also found in nuclear waste, however it is easily separated from the rest. It can be bred into Pu-238 in a breeder blanket in a reactor.

Knock Knock (-1)

Alsee (515537) | more than 6 years ago | (#22678992)

Knock Knock
Who's there?
NASA.
NASA who?
NASACanWeBorrowACupOfPlutonium.

-

OT: Why are loads of ACs at -1 (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22679002)

I've noticed that over the past few days most of the ACs are posting at -1, and that's without any mods applied. I haven't changed my comment preferences, so what the hell is going on? Some ACs are at 0 as usual, but the majority are -1. Am I seeing things?

Phhhht... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22679024)

Just send a team to Russia and comb the backwoods. Abandoned military and civilian crap containing any number of radioactive elements is pretty easy to come by...

What's to worry? (1)

netglen (253539) | more than 6 years ago | (#22679054)

Just order up some from Iran and North Korea? ^_^

Iran? (1)

wildBoar (181352) | more than 6 years ago | (#22679062)

Maybe the Iranians would sell it to NASA ?

What happened to the plutonium glut? (1, Redundant)

Animats (122034) | more than 6 years ago | (#22679076)

What happened to the plutonium glut? [nytimes.com] According to the World Nuclear Association, the US has 38 tons of surplus plutonium [world-nuclear.org] as of 2007. The USSR had even more, because they kept their production plant going even when there was no demand. The UK has surplus plutonium. What's NASA's problem?

Re:What happened to the plutonium glut? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22679738)

Note the difference between fissile Pu-239 and NASA's Pu-238.

Why not take some off england's hands...? (1)

jamieswith (682838) | more than 6 years ago | (#22679152)

Apparently they have (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/7006056.stm [bbc.co.uk] ) hundreds of tons of the stuff that they need to get rid of....

Sure, you'll need to process it, but isn't that an option?

NASA is weak (3, Interesting)

CopaceticOpus (965603) | more than 6 years ago | (#22679156)

NASA states that for their next mission they will only consider missions without a nuclear power source. This is a sad thing to hear, because it shows just how short-sighted and unambitious they have become. I've had enough with sending tiny robots to various places to look for traces of water. Some of those missions have been awesome, but we're now reaching the point that they're not going to teach us much more or help us to move forward.

The greatest promise for truly advancing space exploration is nuclear power. We're not even willing to produce plutonium for providing a little power to deep space missions. We're nowhere near actively considering the use of nuclear reactors for propulsion. Nuclear has the potential to increase by one or two orders of magnitude the size and weight we can send into space, which would radically change what we can do in space. However, it would require a huge investment in R&D as well as a big change of mindset, and the United States is not willing. Here's hoping another country will pick up the slack.

Purchased from Russia? (3, Funny)

RandoX (828285) | more than 6 years ago | (#22679200)

Think they ship that stuff DHL?

Libyan Nationalists have some... (1)

scorp1us (235526) | more than 6 years ago | (#22679224)

Dr. Emmett Brown: Shhhhhh. Of course. From a group of Libyan nationalists. They wanted me to build them a bomb, so I took their plutonium and in turn, gave them a shiny bomb-casing full of used pinball machine parts! Come on! Let's get you a radiation suit. We must prepare to reload. ...back in 1955...

Dr. Emmett Brown: I'm sure in 1985 plutonium is available at every corner drugstore, but in 1955 it's a little hard to come by.

It seems that in 2008, its still hard even for NASA.

We're just plain running out. (5, Funny)

Ucklak (755284) | more than 6 years ago | (#22679284)

First we're running out of helium [slashdot.org] and now we're running out of plutonium.
Our manufacturing jobs are overseas and we're in debt. OK, so we're good there, we're not running out of debt.

Re:We're just plain running out. (4, Interesting)

MacColossus (932054) | more than 6 years ago | (#22679654)

We have plenty of plutonium 238 in country. All the spent nuclear fuel rods sitting at power plants have plutonium 238. The states won't allow them to ship it to processing centers. So it sits in water or structures in storage at each individual power plant.

Different Plutonium (3, Informative)

Mollyg (1153045) | more than 6 years ago | (#22679410)

The Plutonium used by NASA is Pu-238, which is quite different from the weapons usable Pu-239. Pu-238 would melt its self to a liquid by its own alpha decay heat before long before you get a critical mass, thus Pu-238 is not weapons usable.
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