Peak plutonium and a fuel shortage in space


#1

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#2

I'm more worried about our cavorite stockpiles. They've been depressingly low as long as I can remember.


#3

And making more would take helium, which is becoming scarce too. It's uless


#4

We can just mine the moon...
edit
I guess that if we are out of cavorite, then it will be hard to get to the moon.


#5

What's the problem? It's not like there are plutonium mines that China's blocking our access to. We get new plutonium the same we got old plutonium: making it.


#6

Hydrogen balloons! We shall sail through the stars in the Edwardian fashion!


#7

The DOE believes a relatively modest $10 to 20 million in funding each year through 2020 could yield an operation capable of making between 3.3 and 11 pounds of plutonium-238 annually — plenty to keep a steady stream of spacecraft in business.

FFS, someone sell a yacht.
I mean, if you've got one spare, step up to the plate and get some space vehicles named after you and your kids.

Edit: They're going to try and find life on Europa! Just think of it:
"And it is Confirmed, life has been discovered on Europa by the instruments aboard the 'Richard Richardson'!"


#8

I shall bring a smoke jacket.


#9

The "Richard Richardson" ain't bad. But my fear is that we'd end up with the "Verizon moon lander" or "Frit-o-Lay Venusian orbiter".


#10

Someone needs to invent a rocket powered by amirite. The internets are full of the stuff.


#11

I'd cheer for the 'Wall Mart McLander' if it found life on Europa!


#12

We need synergy.... KY Penetrator; Windows Explorer; Preparation H Uranus Probe; Orbitz Orbiter


#13

Heard recently on Fraser Cain's Weekly Space Hangout on G+ that they had restarted production. In the article's comments someone posted a link to wikipedia that seems to back up this statement. Source article for the wiki statement


#14

still wondering about the question at the end of this post , particularly after learning that we recently sent up ten pounds of plutonium for Curiosity.


#15

I think that they just did some trial runs to check that their Np-237 target works as planned and to verify their models for how long the target needs to remain in the reactor at a given neutron flux. Also probably to validate their chemistry for processing the targets after irradiation. This is a "new" way of getting the Pu-238 -- the old stuff was just separated from fuel rods (usually during weapons development).

Edit:
Here are some links:
Relatively technical overview of what they are doing (lots-o-acronyms)
Studies of Plutonium-238 Production at the High Flux Isotope Reactor - Pub33780.pdf

Couple of articles from a fellow that reports on Oak Ridge Lab:
$20M plutonium project at ORNL to support space program » Knoxville News Sentinel
Update on plutonium project at ORNL | Frank Munger's Atomic City Underground | knoxnews.com


#16

Launch failure?
Modern US RTGs are designed to survive re-entry intact (and have done so a couple times). Even if the encapsulation failed, the ceramic Pu elements should be non-dispersible/non-soluble, so there should be little risk of contamination.


#17

to which i naïvely reply: can we not also encapsulate the waste by the same method?


#18

10 lbs of Pu-238 in a ceramic form is probably just a bit larger than a soda-pop can -- pretty easy to encapsulate really well. The radiation from Pu-238 is mostly shielded by the Pu-238 itself.
/start handwaving calc
Just one fuel rod bundle from a reactor is 4-5 meters long and probably weighs ~1000 lbs -- a bit more daunting task to encapsulate... One of the more robust ways to encapsulate the bundles would be a spent fuel transport cask which can handle ~4 of the bundles that I mentioned, however the cask is only designed to survive a 9 meter fall and a short time at elevated temperatures. The loaded cask would likely weight ~30,000 lb, which [I think] is the upper capacity of most current heavy launch vehicles to deliver an item to geosynchronous orbit. So, spent fuel encapsulated well enough to survive a worse-case-scenario would probably be limited to ~1 bundle per launch -- given that there can be ~200 bundles in a reactor, it would take a long time and a lot of $$ (and a fair amount of risk) just to get rid of 1 reactor core.
end handwaving calc/


#19

awesome response! thank you. ah well, at least I admitted it was a naïve question, right?


#20

I'm sure that in 1980 you can buy plutonium in any corner store, but here in 1958 it's a little harder to come by!