Raumfahrt - No bomb-grade uranium in space, says White House


NASA plans to award contracts this month for designs of nuclear reactors to be deployed on the lunar surface.

A month before it turns over the White House, the Trump administration has issued a new policy on space nuclear reactors that all but prohibits the use of highly enriched uranium (HEU) fuel. NASA, which had previously planned to use an HEU-fueled reactor to provide power on the lunar and Martian surfaces, now promises to use only low-enriched uranium (LEU).

In a space policy directive issued on 16 December, President Trump spelled out a “national strategy for space nuclear power and propulsion (SNPP)” that applies to both radioisotope power systems and fission reactors being developed to provide surface power and to propel spacecraft and rovers. The directive states that the use of HEU in SNPP systems “should be limited to applications for which the mission would not be viable with other nuclear fuels or non nuclear power sources.” HEU-fueled space systems must be approved by a gauntlet of White House entities, including the Office of Management and Budget, the Office of Science and Technology Policy, and the National Security Council. Other relevant agencies also could be invited to participate in the review, the directive stated.

NASA’s current radioisotope systems generate electricity from heat produced by the radioactive decay of plutonium-238. Although highly toxic, that isotope does not present proliferation risks.
Opponents of civilian use of HEU welcomed the policy directive. “From my nonproliferation perspective, it is great news,” says Alan Kuperman, director of the Nuclear Proliferation Prevention Project at the University of Texas at Austin. “It is essentially what we requested when we met with NASA and the National Security Council over the last few years.”


Quelle: Physics Today

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