The first nuclear power plant for settlements on Moon, Mars

The first nuclear power plant for settlements on Moon, Mars
An artist’s concept of a fission surface power system on the surface of the Moon. Credit: Galaxy Wire

( -- The first nuclear power plant being considered for production of electricity for manned or unmanned bases on the Moon, Mars and other planets may really look like it came from outer space, according to a leader of the project who spoke here today at the 242nd National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS).

James E. Werner said that innovative fission technology for surface applications is far different from the familiar terrestrial stations, which sprawl over huge tracts of land and have large structures such as cooling towers.

"People would never recognize the fission power system as a nuclear power reactor," said Werner. "The reactor itself may be about 1 1/2 feet wide by 2 1/2 feet high, about the size of a carry-on suitcase. There are no cooling towers. A fission power system is a compact, reliable, safe system that may be critical to the establishment of outposts or habitats on other . Fission power technology can be applied on Earth's , on Mars, or wherever NASA sees the need for continuous power."

The team is scheduled to build a technology demonstration unit in 2012. This is a cooperative project between the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). Werner leads the DOE's Idaho National Laboratory involvement in this effort, which includes participation in the reactor design and modeling teams, fuel development and fabrication and development of a small electrical pump for the liquid metal cooled system.

Sunlight and fuel cells were the mainstays for generating electricity for space missions in the past, but engineers realized that solar energy has limitations. Solar cells do a great job supplying electricity in near-Earth orbits and for satellite-borne equipment, but nuclear power offers some unique capabilities that could support manned outposts on other planets or moons.

"The biggest difference between solar and nuclear reactors is that nuclear reactors can produce power in any environment," Werner explained. "Fission power technology doesn't rely on sunlight, making it able to produce large, steady amounts of power at night or in harsh environments like those found on the Moon or Mars. A fission power system on the Moon could generate 40 kilowatts or more of electric power, approximately the same amount of energy needed to power eight houses on Earth." In addition, he said that a fission power system could operate in a variety of locations such as in craters, canyons or caves.

"The main point is that nuclear power has the ability to provide a power-rich environment to the astronauts or science packages anywhere in our solar system and that this technology is mature, affordable and safe to use," Werner said.

Fission power systems rely on energy generated from nuclear fission. Nuclear fission works by splitting uranium atoms to generate heat that is then converted into electric power. The primary components of a fission are similar to those found in the commercial reactors currently in use: a heat source, power conversion, heat rejection and power conditioning and distribution.

Werner added that despite the similarities in components, fission power systems for space applications feature a number of differences compared with commercial reactors.

"While the physics are the same, the low power levels, control of the reactor and the material used for neutron reflection back into the core are completely different," Werner said. "Weight is also a significant factor that must be minimized in a space reactor that is not considered in a commercial reactor."

Werner contends that once the technology is developed and validated, it may prove to be one of the most affordable and versatile options for providing long-term base power for the space exploration programs.

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Aug 28, 2011
This looks like perfect fit for H3 which is plentiful on the moon.

Aug 28, 2011
They're talking about nuclear fission here, not fusion. There's gonna be very little need about H3.

Aug 28, 2011
Safe passive small modular nuclear reactor is the best way to provide power for space exploration. Maybe they can even use nuclear power propulsion system to aid in space flight.

Don't use the outdate nuclear technology that we have right now but the latest & safest design in nuclear power technology.

In fact the present nuclear reactors should be dismantle slowly and be replace with the latest, safest nuclear technology.

Look at what happen in Japan nuclear disaster with their outdated nuclear reactor. That reactor was so outdated and flaw in design that it was retrofit to, supposedly, meet minimum safety standard.

If they had dismantle all these outdated nuclear reactors, regardless of the economic cost, and replace it with the latest & safest nuclear reactor, the Japan nuclear disaster would have never happen.

It is about time that they consider using nuclear power for space travel and exploration.

Aug 28, 2011
H3 is plentiful on the moon pretty much like gold is plentiful in the oceans. In total there is a staggering amount, but its pretty dilute.

Aug 28, 2011
This is so cool. Here's hoping that I'm one of the few that get to be aboard the first manned moon station.

Aug 28, 2011
Look what happened not ONLY in japan, but in america as well. 3 power plants melted down to damned near critical safety measures. Oklahoma Arizona and Nebraska I believe is the states... If you Haven't heard about them, it's probably becuase Obama ordered a media blackout on them. What a A good fella, eh?

Aug 28, 2011
The best nuclear power of future will be the kind that is used in Rossi E-Cat. Safe, small and affordable. Once it's out, no other tech is anymore considered.

Aug 28, 2011
Sculpture, you're a moron. Most of the nuclear plants that are running today are more then 60 years old which is why it was so bad. Also, Japan's nuclear plant was built to withstand an 8 magnitude earthquake and it got hit with one 100 times stronger (if I remember correctly).

Aug 28, 2011
i think about 80 times more powerful(7 vs 9.8 on a log scale). But remember it wasnt the earthquake which caused the problems, it was the tsunami. Clearly the reactors were well built for their age, pity about the lack of waterproof back up power for the cooling pumps.
Also the greenies refusal to allow spent fuel rods to be transported to safe locations and instead demanding they stay in pools above the reactors caused problems. If the spend fuel rods were transported to geologically stable regions for recycling Fukishima would have been somewhat better. Still bad.

Aug 29, 2011
Not enough solar power on the Moon, eh? Pity about that...

Aug 29, 2011
"Weight is also a significant factor that must be minimized in a space reactor that is not considered in a commercial reactor."

Sure it might take baby steps right now but I believe using current launch vehicles we could send up a modified nuclear powered tunnel borer and start a small underground habitat that would be suitable for miners and workers. Then work could start on building, from the ground up, a "new earth" with next gen. foundries and manufacturing facilities. Pretty soon we could colonize the surface or near surface using simple greenhouses made with 2 layers of glass and a sufficient amount of static water between them to keep you safe from radiation.

Heck I have a feeling if there are any alien artifacts to be found up there it would make the whole trip worth it.

Aug 29, 2011
Also the greenies refusal to allow spent fuel rods to be transported to safe locations and instead demanding they stay in pools above the reactors caused problems.

Erm. This is not a 'greenie' demand but a sensible practice because the spent fuel rods would melt if not properly cooled (which is very hard to do en route and would also pose a huge risk if anything were to happen on the road - something that is far more likely to happen than a Tsunami)

Add to that that there is no 'safe' storage anywhere on the planet for spent fuel rods. The areas that were said to be safe for thousands of years (salt mines) are already leaking after 40 years.

Aug 29, 2011
Oh people stop spewing stuff about fotovoltaic. It's too expensive in all ways and useful only for certain cases. In general is nuclear power /or something better/ the best energy source there is. (Fotovoltaics would be great if the production and recycling process weren't so expensive and environment-damaging... meaning fotovoltaics isn't really green at all)

Aug 29, 2011
This is awesome. Nuclear power is currently the best way of making energy

Aug 29, 2011
The first step should be building in an area that is not at a major risk of natural disasters.

Which is kind of hard because to run a nuclear reactor you need lots of water which means either:
- you locate it near a river
- you locate it near a shore

Shores are prone to tsunamis.
River areas are prone to earthquakes (because many rivers run in valleys which are oftentimes just cracks that were created by earthquakes at some point in the past)

Aug 29, 2011
SMALL IS GOOD. the problem with current infrastructure for roads, water, electricity, and especially nuclear, is that because it is too big,====it was never desgined for continuous replacement with better technology. '

there was no long term plan. so it is better to assume we are bad at long term planning and just force ourselves to go 'small' . that way when changes are eventually needed, it will be easier to make them, unit by unit.

Aug 29, 2011
I thought one of the major blocks to nuclear power in space was the actual delivery of uranium into/past orbit. Politically, concerns regarding the explosion of a rocket with a uranium payload are difficult to get around.

Aug 29, 2011
No so much uranium, but the plutonium that powered the spacecraft that have power needs beyond that which can be provided by solar panels. When those craft were launched, there were many protests for fear of an accident which might release the plutonium into the atmosphere. However, the plutonium was well shielded and, according to those that"knew", the container could not be blown apart by a launch accident. So far, they were correct, and I hope they continue to be.

Aug 29, 2011
If you are really interested in how this subject came to fruition within NASA, you should probably contact the man that started it. Kirk Sorensen runs and he's pretty much the one man that re-started the entire concept of the liquid metals/liquid salts nuclear reactor within NASA while he worked there. If China is successful with their LFTR, it will certainly be because of Kirk Sorensen's work.

Any discussion of this technology should reference the work at Oak Ridge in the 60's and Kirk Sorensen and his work within NASA.

Aug 29, 2011
Tsio - you deserve 10 stars for that post...

Sep 02, 2011
NP on the moon? The aliens there may have something to say about that. Just a thought, thanks

Sep 04, 2011
Another article which is high on hype and low on detail.
Light weight nukes and reliable metal pumping should be facinating, not empty of detail.

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