Nuclear power Plant On The Moon

Nuclear Power Plant On the Moon

Why in News?

  • NASA and the U.S. Department of Energy will seek proposals from industry to build a nuclear power plant on the moon and Mars to support its long-term exploration plans.
  • The proposal is for a fission surface power system, and the goal is to have a flight system, lander and reactor ready to launch by 2026.

About Plan

  • The plan is to develop a 10-kilowatt class fission surface power system for demonstration on the moon by the late 2020s.
  • The facility will be fully manufactured and assembled on Earth, then tested for safety and to make sure it operates correctly.
  • Afterwards, it will be integrated with a lunar lander, and a launch vehicle will transport it to an orbit around the moon.
  • A lander will lower it to the surface, and once it arrives, it will be ready for operation with no additional assembly or construction required.
  • Four units, providing 10 kilowatts of electrical power each, would provide enough power to establish an outpost on the moon or Mars.
  • The ability to produce large amounts of electrical power on planetary surfaces using a fission surface power system would enable large-scale exploration, establishment of human outposts, and utilization of in situ resources, while allowing for the possibility of commercialization.
  • NASA is working on this with the Idaho National Laboratory (INL), a nuclear research facility that’s part of the DOE’s complex of labs
  • The technologies that are critical to the success of this project are a nuclear reactor, power conversion, heat rejection and space flight technology.


How the nuclear plant will work

  • A low enriched form of nuclear fuel will power the nuclear core.
  • The small nuclear reactor will generate heat that is transferred to the power conversion system.
  • The power conversion system will consist of engines that are designed to operate on reactor heat rather than combustible fuel.
  • Those engines use the heat, convert it to electric power that is conditioned and distributed to user equipment on the lunar and Martian surfaces.
  • Heat rejection technology is also important to maintain the correct operating temperatures for the equipment.

Is a nuclear reactor safe on the moon?

  • The idea of a nuclear reactor on the moon may seem unusual to the general public — or even dangerous.
  • Atomic energy has been operating on the moon since the flight in November 1969 of Apollo 12 successfully withstanding immense temperature variations.
  • Apollo 12 marked the first use of a nuclear electrical power system on the moon.
  • Almost every single space mission you’ve ever heard of has used radioisotope thermoelectric generators, which have Plutonium-238 as their electricity source.
  • Fission surface power is necessary in places where solar power, wind and hydro power are not readily available.
  • On Mars, for example, the sun’s power varies widely throughout the seasons, and periodic dust storms can last for months.
  • On the moon, the cold lunar night lingers for 14 days, while sunlight varies widely near the poles and is absent in the permanently shadowed craters.
  • In these challenging environments, power generation from sunlight is difficult and fuel supply is limited.
  • Fission surface power offers a lightweight, reliable and efficient solution.



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