August 29, 2011
Fission Power System Would Bring Nuclear Power To Space Bases
Nuclear power plants that would be used to produce electricity for either manned or unmanned bases on the Moon, Mars, or other planets would look radically different than similar facilities currently utilized here on Earth, a project director said in a presentation on Saturday.
Speaking at the 242nd National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS), James E. Werner told those on hand that, unlike the massive nuclear power facilities that require cooling towers and other large structures to operate, the proposed fission technology he and his team are working on would be smaller and look radically different.
"People would never recognize the fission power system as a nuclear power reactor," Werner said, according to an August 28 ACS press release. "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 planets. Fission power technology can be applied on Earth's Moon, on Mars, or wherever NASA sees the need for continuous power," he added.
Werner and his colleagues are currently collaborating with NASA and the US Department of Energy (DOE) on the project, and a prototype demo unit is expected to be completed sometime next year.
According to the press release, Werner heads up work at the DOE's Idaho National Laboratory, and is involved in reactor design and modeling, fuel development and fabrication, and development of an electric pump to be used in the liquid metal cooled system.
The need for the project results from scientists' realization that solar cells are limited in their effectiveness for space missions. While solar power can successfully supply electricity for satellites and other objects in near-Earth orbit, they believe that nuclear power would be far more effective when it comes to supporting manned outposts on the lunar surface or on other planets.
"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."
Furthermore, he claims that the fission-powered system could operate in craters, canyons, or other unorthodox locations, and that it could provide affordable, safe to use energy anywhere in our solar system.
According to the press release, Werner believes this technology "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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