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posted by martyb on Friday December 25 2015, @02:28PM   Printer-friendly [Skip to comment(s)]

The US Department of Energy announced that 50 grams of Plutonium-238 had been made by researchers at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Oak Ridge, Tenn. This is the first time the substance has been made in the country since the Savannah River Plant in South Carolina stopped making it in the late 1980s.

"Right now, NASA only has access to 35 kilograms, about 77 pounds, of Pu-238 to power space exploration missions. That's just enough to last into the middle 2020s, powering just two or three proposed missions."

"Two years ago, NASA began funding efforts to make Pu-238 again in ernest. The agency has put about $15 million each year toward the DOE's Office of Nuclear Energy's efforts." The next step is to automate and scale up the process.

I didn't know we had lost the capability to produce it and am glad we are starting up again. So how much Pu-238 could we make for the cost of one F-35?

Source:
http://www.csmonitor.com/Science/2015/1223/Department-of-Energy-begins-making-plutonium-destined-for-deep-space


Original Submission

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Oak Ridge National Laboratory Increases Plutonium Production for Eventual Use in Space Missions 25 comments

NASA's deep-space nuclear-power crisis may soon end, thanks to a clever new robot in Tennessee

The US government says a new robot is poised to help it create a reliable, long-term supply chain of plutonium-238 (Pu-238): a radioactive material NASA requires to explore deep space.

NASA uses Pu-238 to power its most epic space missions— among them New Horizons (now beyond Pluto), the Voyagers (now in interstellar space), and Cassini (now part of Saturn).

[...] NASA tried to address the shrinking of its supply in the 1990s, but the agency and its partners didn't secure funding to create a new pipeline for Pu-238 until 2012. That work, which gets about $20 million in funding per year, is finally starting to move from the research phase toward full-scale production. By 2025, the Department of Energy hopes to meet the NASA-mandated need of 3.3 pounds (1,500 grams) per year.

Oak Ridge National Laboratory, which is located in Tennessee and leading the work, says it recently proved there is a way to produce eight times as much Pu-238 as it made just a couple of years ago, thanks to a new automated robot. [...] This week, the lab said in a press release that it's ready to push annual production to more than 14 ounces (400 grams) per year, an eight-fold increase.

Cassini carried 33 kilograms of plutonium. New Horizons had 9,750 grams (lower than the 10,900 grams, 1/3 of the Cassini amount, called for in the original design).

It's time to send a probe to Uranus and Neptune already.

Previously: US Resumes Making Pu-238 after Decades Long Hiatus
NASA Unlikely to Have Enough Plutonium-238 for Missions by the Mid-2020s


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  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 25 2015, @03:10PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 25 2015, @03:10PM (#280940)

    didn't know we had lost the capability to produce it

    Heresy. You didn't know we had to buy our radioactive material for Curiosity rover from Russia?

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 25 2015, @03:55PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 25 2015, @03:55PM (#280950)

      I didn't know the Curiosity rover came from Russia!

  • (Score: 4, Funny) by Runaway1956 on Friday December 25 2015, @04:04PM

    by Runaway1956 (2926) Subscriber Badge on Friday December 25 2015, @04:04PM (#280952) Homepage Journal

    http://www.bibliotecapleyades.net/ciencia/ciencia_luciferproject06.htm [bibliotecapleyades.net]

    There is a theory that mankind created that huge-assed storm on Jupiter, when we dropped some fissionables into the atmosphere. Just something to think about . . .

    --
    Your private safe room in the back of your mind? Trump pooped in it.
    • (Score: 1, Interesting) by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 25 2015, @04:31PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 25 2015, @04:31PM (#280957)

      There's quite a lot of bullshitty ideas on the internet ... ;-)

      But thanks anyway for mentioning it. I hadn't heard of *that* one yet and it's much more hilarious than most of the others :-D

      Were I not an anonymous coward, you'd get a +1 informative from me.

  • (Score: 2) by snufu on Friday December 25 2015, @05:53PM

    by snufu (5855) on Friday December 25 2015, @05:53PM (#280975)

    Can't we just use illudium Pu-36 for our explosive space modulators?

    • (Score: 2) by sjames on Friday December 25 2015, @10:40PM

      by sjames (2882) on Friday December 25 2015, @10:40PM (#281021) Journal

      And be plagued with space rabbits?!? Are you nuts?

  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 25 2015, @06:03PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 25 2015, @06:03PM (#280980)

    i really hope that one day a fantastic interstellar travel engine technology is found and tested only to fail over and over and
    over again until some sn0t nose figures out that the space-time continuum in our star system has been contaminted too
    much for the drive to work and that we have to use plain-old chemical rockets to clean up the
    neighborhood before we can actually use the drive to go to other star systems ^_^

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 25 2015, @10:38PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 25 2015, @10:38PM (#281020)

      "We know everything"? Except, perhaps, about the Dunning-Kruger effect [wikipedia.org].