US Eyes Building Nuclear Power Plants for Moon and Mars

The U.S. Needs to build nuclear Energy plants that will work on the moon and Mars, and on Friday put out a Petition for ideas from the private sector on how to do that.

The U.S. Department of Energy put the formal petition to build what it calls a fission surface electricity system that could enable individuals to live for long periods in harsh space environments.

The Idaho National Laboratory, a nuclear research center in eastern Idaho, the Energy Department and also NASA will evaluate the ideas for developing the reactor.

The lab has been leading the way in the U.S. on complex reactors, a number of them micro reactors and others who can operate without water for cooling. Water-cooled nuclear reactors would be the vast majority of reactors on Earth.

“Little nuclear reactors can provide the power capacity necessary for space exploration missions of interest to the Federal government,” the Energy Department composed in the notice published Friday.

The Energy Department, NASA and Battelle Energy Alliance, the U.S. contractor that manages the Idaho National Laboratory, plan to maintain a government-industry webcast technical meeting in August regarding expectations for this program.

The program has two stages. The first is creating a reactor design. The second is building a test reactor, a second reactor be delivered to the moon, and developing a flight system and lander that may transport the reactor to the moon. The target is to have a reactor, flight strategy and lander ready to go by the end of 2026.

The reactor has to have the ability to generate an uninterrupted power output of at least 10 kilowatts. The normal U.S. residential home, as stated by the U.S. Energy Information Administration, uses about 11,000 kilowatt-hours each year.

In addition, the reactor cannot weigh more than 7,700 lbs (3,500 kilograms), be in a position to function in space, function mostly autonomously, and run for at least 10 decades.

The Energy Department reported the reactor is intended to encourage exploration in the south polar region of the moon. The agency said a particular region on the Martian surface for exploration hasn’t yet been identified.

Edwin Lyman, director of Nuclear Power Safety at the Union of Concerned Scientists, a nonprofit, said his firm is worried the parameters of the plan and timeline make the most likely reactors those that use highly enriched uranium, which may be made into weapons. Nations have been attempting to decrease the amount of enriched uranium being produced for this reason.

“This could drive or start an global space race to build and deploy new types of reactors requiring highly enriched uranium,” he said.

The U.S. has already landed rovers on the red planet and is planning to send another following week.

Officials state working a nuclear reactor on the moon are the initial step to creating a modified version to function in different conditions found on Mars.

“Idaho National Laboratory has a fundamental role in highlighting the United States’ global leadership in nuclear innovation, together with the anticipated demonstration of innovative reactors on the INL website,” John Wagner, associate laboratory director of INL’s Nuclear Science & Technology Directorate, said in a statement.

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