Outer space nuclear power plant plans revealed

Nuclear power plants built on the Moon or Mars could fit in a suitcase and would need no water towers, according to researchers developing a prototype.

According to the 242nd National Meeting and Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS) nuclear fission is the only power source proven to provide power for possible bases.

The US Department of Energy (DoE) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) have combined to research plans for nuclear reactors, which in theory could be capable of powering the equivalent of eight average sized houses on earth.

Project leader, James Werner, heads up a team aiming to build a working demonstration sometime next year he revealed his team’s progress at the ACS meeting, today (August 30).

Mr Werner explained the reactor itself could be about 1.5 feet wide by 2.5 feet high, about the size of a carry-on suitcase with no cooling towers.

He said: “A fission power system is a compact, reliable, safe system that may be critical to the establishment of outposts or habitats on other planets.

“Fission power technology doesn’t rely on sunlight, making it able to produce large, steady amounts of power at night or in harsh environments like those found on the Moon or Mars.

“The main point is that nuclear power has the ability to provide a power-rich environment to the astronauts or science packages anywhere in our solar system and that this technology is mature, affordable and safe to use,” Werner said.

Werner added that despite the similarities in components, fission power systems for space applications feature a number of differences compared with commercial reactors.

He said: “While the physics are the same, the low power levels, control of the reactor and the material used for neutron reflection back into the core are completely different.

“Weight is also a significant factor that must be minimised in a space reactor that is not considered in a commercial reactor.”

Luke Walsh

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