Obama Is Reviving Nuclear Propulsion for Space Exploration and Development With Plutonium
Karl Grossman, 6/25/2010, Investigative Reporter, Professor of journalism at the State University of New York College, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/karl-grossman/obama-seeks-to-revive-spa_b_625356.html
Despite its huge dangers, the Obama administration is seeking to revive the use of nuclear power in space. It wants the U.S. to produce the plutonium isotope that has been used for electric generation in space and is also looking to build nuclear-propelled rockets for missions to Mars... Plutonium-238 has been used to generate electricity on space probes and rovers and also satellites. But in 1964 a satellite with a plutonium-fueled generator, after failing to achieve orbit, fell to Earth, breaking up as it hit the atmosphere and dispersing 2.1 pounds of Pu-238 from its SNAP -- (for Systems Nuclear Auxiliary Power) 9A system. A study by a group of European health and radiation protection agencies reported that "a worldwide soil sampling program in 1970 showed SNAP-9A debris present at all continents and at all latitudes." Dr. John Gofman, professor of medical physics at the University of California at Berkeley, long linked that fall-out to an increase of lung cancer on Earth. The accident caused NASA to pioneer the use of solar panels on satellites. NASA still used Pu-238 for space probes claiming there was no alternative -- even when there was. For example, NASA and the Department of Energy (DOE) insisted, including in court testimony, that there was no choice but plutonium power on the Galileo mission to Jupiter launched in 1989. Subsequently, through the Freedom of Information Act, I obtained a study done by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory finding that solar panels could have worked. Currently, NASA is preparing to send its Juno space probe to Jupiter next year -- and it's to get all its on board electricity from solar panels. Rovers have also used solar panels. Still, in a report titled "Start-up Plan for Plutonium-238 Production for Radioisotope Power Systems" just sent to Congress, the DOE, noting it was acting "consistent with the President's request," is calling for a return of Pu-238 production by the U.S. Nine space missions which DOE says need Pu-238-generated electricity are listed. This includes the Mars Science Laboratory, the name given to a rover to be launched in November, and other missions to the Moon, Mars and other planets through 2030. The report proposes that Pu-238 be produced at Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Idaho National Laboratory. "DOE's preliminary cost range estimate to implement this Pu-238 production scheme is $75-90 million," it says. The total for the fiscal year 2011 is $30 million. Facilities in the U.S. for making plutonium-238 have been closed and the nation since 1992 has been purchasing it from Russia. The processing of plutonium-238, an especially hot variant of plutonium, itself the most toxic radioactive substance known, led to worker contamination and environmental pollution here. The notion of nuclear-powered rockets goes back more than a half century. Starting in the 1950s, there was a program called NERVA (for Nuclear Engine for Rocket Vehicle Application) followed by Projects Pluto, Rover and Poodle. No nuclear rocket ever flew, although billions of dollars were spent. There were worries about an atomic rocket blowing up on launch or crashing back to Earth. During the Reagan presidency there was development of the "Timberwind" nuclear-powered rocket for lofting heavy equipment for the "Star Wars" space weapons program and also for trips to Mars. NASA in 2003 began Project Prometheus to build nuclear rockets but canceled it three years later. Charles Bolden, a former astronaut and Marine major general appointed NASA administrator by Obama, favors nuclear-powered rockets -- specifically a design of Franklin Chang-Diaz, a fellow ex-astronaut. Bolden acknowledges public opposition to nuclear rockets. In an address before the Council on Foreign Relations on May 24, he said "most people... in the United States are never going to agree to allow nuclear rockets to launch things from Earth." He proposed instead having a nuclear rocket launched conventionally and then in space moving with atomic energy. "If we can convince people that we can contain it and not put masses of people in jeopardy, nuclear propulsion for in-space propulsion" would make, stressed Bolden, for a faster trip to Mars. Chang-Diaz's ion engine, he said, "would enable us to go from Earth to Mars in a matter of some time significantly less than it takes us now." Having nuclear systems activated only after space devices were in orbit was the procedure of the Soviet Union -- because of having undergone many launch pad explosions. That didn't help, however, when a satellite, Cosmos 954, with an on board atomic reactor activated only after launch, fell from orbit in 1978, disintegrating and spreading radioactive debris over 124,000 square miles of the Northwest Territories of Canada. Obama, in a speech on "Space Exploration in the 2lst Century" at the Kennedy Space Center on April 15, avoided saying nuclear rocket when he declared "we will increase investment... in groundbreaking technologies that will allow astronauts to reach space sooner and more often, to travel farther and faster" and by 2025 "we expect new spacecraft designed for long journeys to allow us to begin the first-ever crewed missions beyond the Moon into deep space." "I want to repeat this," he added. "Critical to deep space exploration will be the development of breakthrough propulsion systems and other advanced technologies."
Nuclear space propulsion coming now
David Heyman, 2005, Senior Fellow and Director of the CSIS Homeland Security Program, et al, “The Still Untrodden Heights: Global Imperatives for Space Exploration in the 21st Century,” Center for Strategic and International Studies, http://csis.org/files/media/csis/pubs/suth.pdf
Unless fusion technologies or other unforeseen energy innovations become viable, future interplanetary missions are likely to utilize nuclear power. Compared with the best chemical rockets, nuclear propulsion systems are more reliable and flexible for long-distance missions, and can help to lower the cost of space missions. Nuclear power missions are also optimal for missions to explore the outer solar system, beyond the range where solar-electric power systems are effective. Project Prometheus is a well-funded US initiative to develop these technologies for future missions in the solar system such as the Jupiter Icy Moons Orbiter (JIMO). But the use of nuclear power for space activities is controversial all over the world today. When the Cassini-Huygens mission was launched in 1997, a global hue and cry was raised about the mission’s use of plutonium for power generation. In Germany today, the anti-nuclear Green Party is a key member of the country’s coalition government and is staking out an aggressive stance against nuclear power in space. In addition, there is a UN Resolution being formulated which is endeavoring to establish a set of guidelines for the safe usage of nuclear power in space. However, until technological alternatives are developed or environmental concerns can be fully addressed, this issue is unlikely to go away and thus must be managed if nuclear power options are to remain viable in the long-term.
Nuclear Propulsion Causes Space Militarization – Extinction
Bruce K. Gagnon, 1/27/2003, Coordinator of the Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space, http://www.spacedaily.com/news/nuclearspace-03b.html
Critics of NASA have long stated that in addition to potential health concerns from radiation exposure, the NASA space nukes initiative represents the Bush administration's covert move to develop power systems for space-based weapons such as lasers on satellites. The military has often stated that their planned lasers in space will require enormous power projection capability and that nuclear reactors in orbit are the only practical way of providing such power. The Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space maintains that just like missile defense is a Trojan horse for the Pentagon's real agenda for control and domination of space, NASA's nuclear rocket is a Trojan horse for the militarization of space. NASA's new chief, former Navy Secretary Sean O'Keefe said soon after Bush appointed him to head the space agency that, "I don't think we have a choice, I think it's imperative that we have a more direct association between the Defense Department and NASA. Technology has taken us to a point where you really can't differentiate between that which is purely military in application and those capabilities which are civil and commercial in nature." In the end hundreds and hundreds of billions of dollars will be wasted on plans for the nuclearization and weaponization of space. In order to fund these missions Bush and Congress will have to cut programs like social security, education, health care, child care, public transit and environmental protection. In the name of progress and security the lives of future generations will become more insecure. For the third year in a row the Global Network (GN) will organize two days of protests on February 3-4, 2003 in Albuquerque, N.M. at the 20th Annual Symposium on Space Nuclear Power & Propulsion. This event draws the top players from NASA, DoE, DoD, nuclear academia and nuclear aerospace each year to plan the push of nuclear power into space. Hundreds of middle and high school students are brought to the symposium for indoctrination and the GN has been able to speak to many of these young people at our protests. NASA, DoE, and the Pentagon are not asking the tax paying public if we want to suffer the risk and costs of nuclear power in space. Their corporate and military interests make it necessary to push ahead without real citizen input . Scientists and technologists are out of control. Their plansnow literally threaten the life of the entire planetary ecosystem. The time has come for vigorous global public debate around the space nuclear power issue.
And it would destroy NASA
Karl Grossman, 2003, Investigative Reporter, Professor of journalism at the State University of New York College, http://www.21stcenturyradio.com/articles/03/0224176.html
In contrast, NASA’s renewed emphasis on nuclear power in space “is not only dangerous but politically unwise,” says Dr. Michio Kaku, professor of theoretical physics at the City University of New York. “The only thing that can kill the U.S. space program is a nuclear disaster. The American people will not tolerate a Chernobyl in the sky. That would doom the space program.” “NASA hasn’t learned its lesson from its history involving space nuclear power,” says Kaku, “and a hallmark of science is that you learn from previous mistakes. NASA doggedly pursues its fantasy of nuclear power in space. We have to save NASA from itself.” He cites “alternatives” space nuclear power. “Some of these alternatives may delay the space program a bit. But the planets are not going to go away. What’s the rush? I’d rather explore the universe slower than not at all if there is a nuclear disaster.”