A NASA program, announced in January 2003, to develop nuclear propulsion and nuclear power generating systems that could ultimately be used to take a manned mission to Mars and to power other ambitious deep space vehicles. Supporters of the concept argue that nuclear power could change the nature of space exploration, but add that it will take many years and significant resources to develop into a mature form. The technology was studied in the 1950s and 1960s in initiatives such as NERVA and Project Orion, but was subsequently dropped, partly for political (1963 nuclear test-ban treaty) and partly for financial reasons. Central to the new approach is NASA's Nuclear Systems Initiative (NSI), which was launched in 2002 following comments made by NASA's Administrator, Sean O'Keefe, that nuclear propulsion was the most efficient way to explore deep space and send astronauts to Mars. The Bush Administration has proposed a five-year $3 billion budget for Prometheus, though how this will be affected by the loss of the Space Shuttle Columbia remains to be seen. O'Keefe told the Los Angeles Times in mid-January 2003: "We're talking about doing something on a very aggressive schedule to not only develop the capabilities for nuclear propulsion and power generation but to have a mission using the new technology within this decade." A spokesperson for the Planetary Society has backed the idea: "In the long run, nuclear power and propulsion will likely be needed for missions to carry humans to Mars and back."
Stern 5 (David P., MA in physics @ Hebrew U in Jerusalem, 4/29/5, http://www-istp.gsfc.nasa.gov/stargaze/Sstern.htm) JPG
Over the seven years that followed, at the cost of about 10 million dollars, plans for a bomb-propelled spaceship weredeveloped. Small models of such a ship were actually built, and in one successful experiment a model was propelled upwards by a series of conventional explosive charges, ejected from its rear. Although the detailed design remains classified (it involved a great deal of bomb technology), the designers have claimed that no technical problem posed a stumbling block--neither the wearing-down of the "pusher plate" exposed to the explosions, nor the radiation hazard to the spaceship passengers, nor any other details."Orion" called for huge spaceships, weighing thousands of tons. One design proposed a flight to distant stars using a "conservatively designed" spaceship of 40 million tons, powered by 10 million bombs! But in the end, the project was abandoned, because the prospect of exploding a large number of nuclear bombs in the atmosphere or close to it seemed too frightening. The world woke up to realize the extent to which radioactive debris contaminated the atmosphere, and signed in 1963 a treaty banning nuclear tests, which also spelled the end of "Orion".
Solvency – Plutonium
Plutonium creates accidents and is expensive
Aftergood 11 (Steven, director @ federation of American scientists, 6/28/11, http://www.fas.org/blog/secrecy/2011/06/space_nuclear_power.html) JPG
Unfortunately, the plutonium 238 power sources that are used to power these missions are not onlyexpensive, they are dirty and dangerous to produce and to launch. The first launch accident (pdf) involving an RTG occurred as early as 1964 and distributed17,000 curies of plutonium-238 around the globe, a 4% increase in the total environmental burden (measured in curies) from all plutonium isotopes (mostly fallout from atmospheric nuclear weapons testing). A plutonium fueled RTG that was deployed in 1965 by the CIA not in space but on a mountaintop in the Himalayas (to help monitor Chinese nuclear tests) continues to generate anxiety, not electricity, more than four decades after it was lost in place. See, most recently, “River Deep Mountain High” by Vinod K. Jose, The Caravan magazine, December 1, 2010.
Plutonium kills – disrupts cells and DNA
Cole 97 (K.C, LA Times science writer, 9/22/7, http://articles.latimes.com/1997/sep/22/news/mn-35079) JPG
However, Pu 238 spits out radiation at least 250 times faster than bomb-grade plutonium. As the atom falls apart, it emits alpha particles--small clumps of nuclear particles--with enormous energy. That energy provides heat and electricity for the instruments on Cassini, as well as the Mars Pathfinder, the Apollo moon flights and other NASA missions. Cassini carries more plutonium than NASA has ever lofted into space. But although Pu 238 is the "workhorse of the space program," as its discoverer, Glenn Seaborg, calls it, the alpha particles it emits are extremely dangerous to living tissue and DNA. Lodged in the lungs or bone, Pu 238 continues to emit alpha particles for decades, wrecking havoc with the delicate machinery within cells. Earth's atmosphere already holds as much as five tons of plutonium, a legacy of the nuclear bomb testing of the 1950s. "I don't think there's any obvious signs of damage," said physicist Philip Morrison of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Dozens of atomic bomb workers ingested plutonium during World War II, said the 85-year-old Seaborg, including himself. And many are still walking around to tell the tale, he said. However, pediatrician Helen Caldicott, who founded Physicians for Social Responsibility, points out that most cancers don't appear for many decadesafter exposure to a carcinogen, and the delayed effects are only now beginning to surface among the general population exposed to the nuclear fallout from tests. "We are seeing increased cancer, particularly testicular cancer in men," she said. The medical profession, she said, should take the link between nuclear fallout and increased cancer more seriously. "[They aren't] putting one and one together," she said. Meanwhile, she said, the plutonium from the 1950s' tests continues to circulate in the atmosphere. "Do we want to add more to it?" she asked.