DailyDirt: Nuclear Power In Space

from the urls-we-dig-up dept

Nuclear energy usually has a significant NIMBY problem (Not In My Back Yard!) that prevents nuclear power plants from being constructed. There’s no simple solution to this obstacle, and even when the reactor is going to be thousands (or millions) of miles away from any people in a spacecraft, the danger of launching a nuclear reactor on a rocket is still too risky for some folks. There haven’t been any nuclear disasters in space, but as more and more nuclear powered spacecraft are built, the anti-nuclear groups may grow increasingly loud. Here are just a few nuclear spacecraft projects that could travel beyond our planet.

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Companies: doe, nasa

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Comments on “DailyDirt: Nuclear Power In Space”

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9 Comments
Paraquat (profile) says:

Re: Plutonium is not in short supply

There is a sh*tload of Plutonium-239, but a dire shortage of Plutonium-238. They are different isotopes, with very different properties.

Despite its nasty reputation for being carcinogenic and toxic (plus the prime ingredient for making atomic bombs), Plutonium-239 is not very radioactive. In fact, you could pick up a chunk the size of a golf ball and hold it in your hands safely. I would suggest you wear rubber gloves though, not because of radioactivity, but because you wouldn’t want any of the metal to rub off onto your skin and work its way through into your blood stream. Pu-239 is a heavy metal poison with devastating effects if it enters your blood stream. Which is why its a nuclear waste problem – you don’t want it leaking into water supplies, for example. Plutonium 239 has a very long half-life (24,000 years).

Plutonium-238, on the other hand, is highly radioactive, but with a short half-life (88 years). It puts out considerable decay heat, which is perfect for powering RTGs (radioisotope thermoelectric generators). NASA uses RTGs for powering all deep space probes.

Give the Wikipedia page a read:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plutonium-238

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