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posted by martyb on Friday October 20, @04:09PM   Printer-friendly
from the non-glowing-assessment dept.

A Government Accountability Office report has found that the U.S. is unlikely to produce enough Plutonium-238 for NASA missions about a decade from now. The isotope has been used in radioisotope thermoelectric generators (RTGs) on missions such as Voyager, Cassini, and the Mars Science Laboratory:

Another GAO report notes: "[...], DOE currently maintains about 35 kilograms (kg) [77 pounds] of Pu-238 isotope designated for NASA missions, about half of which meets power specifications for spaceflight. However, given NASA's current plans for solar system exploration, this supply could be exhausted within the next decade."

[...] To address the plutonium problem, in 2011 NASA provided funding to the Department of Energy (DOE) to restart domestic production of the substance. The program is called the Pu-238 Supply Project. So far, the Project has produced ∼3.5 ounces (100 grams) of Pu-238. DOE identified an interim goal of producing 10 to 17.5 ounces (300 to 500 grams) of new Pu-238 per year by 2019. The goal is to produce 1.5 kilograms of new Pu-238 per year—considered full production—by 2023, at the earliest.

GAO is questioning the Supply Project's ability to meet its goal of producing 1.5 kilograms of new Pu-238 per year by 2026. For one thing, the oversight agency's interviews with DOE officials revealed that the agency hasn't perfected the chemical processing required to extract new Pu-238 from irradiated targets to meet production goals.

Only one DOE reactor is currently qualified to make Pu-238:

NASA's plutonium will be produced at two of these reactors, but only one of them is currently qualified to make Pu-238. GAO reported that initial samples of the new Pu-238 did not meet spaceflight specifications because of impurities. However, according to DOE, the samples can be blended and used with existing Pu-238.

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  • (Score: 2) by tizan on Friday October 20, @04:42PM (5 children)

    by tizan (3245) on Friday October 20, @04:42PM (#585295)

    Very cheap i hear...
    May become a good business partner too.

    Starting Score:    1  point
    Karma-Bonus Modifier   +1  

    Total Score:   2  
  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 20, @04:59PM (2 children)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 20, @04:59PM (#585310)

    Wouldn't NK get theirs from Russia, the US stuff that the Clintons sold?

    • (Score: 2, Informative) by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 20, @07:18PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 20, @07:18PM (#585385)

      Oh boy ....everything bad is because of Clintons and Obama...everything correct is what Fox News say is correct ?
      sigh ...

      From wikipedia

        A newer nuclear reactor with a capacity of 5MWe. This gas-graphite moderated Magnox type reactor is North Korea's main reactor, where practically all of its plutonium has been produced. A full core consists of 8,000 fuel rods and can yield a maximum of 27–29 kg of plutonium if left in the reactor for optimal burnup.[126] []

    • (Score: 2, Interesting) by realDonaldTrump on Friday October 20, @07:29PM

      by realDonaldTrump (6614) Subscriber Badge on Friday October 20, @07:29PM (#585387) Homepage Journal

      Uranium is a big subject. If the mainstream media would cover the uranium scandal, and that Russia has 20 percent of the uranium, for whatever reason, and a lot of people understand what those reasons may be, I think that’s your Russia story. That’s your real Russia story, not a story where they talk about collusion, and there was none. It was a hoax. Your real Russia story is uranium, and how they got all of that uranium, a vast percentage of what we have. That is to me one of the big stories of the decade. Not just now, of the decade. The problem is that the mainstream media does not want to cover that story, because that affects people that they protect, so they don't like covering that story. But the big story is uranium and how Russia got 20 percent of our uranium. It’s a disgrace, and it’s a disgrace that the #FakeNews won’t cover it. It’s so sad.

      Text TRUMP to 88022 for mobile alerts! Message&data rates apply. Text STOP to opt-out. T&C/Privacy:
  • (Score: 5, Informative) by Beryllium Sphere (r) on Friday October 20, @11:24PM (1 child)

    by Beryllium Sphere (r) (5062) on Friday October 20, @11:24PM (#585473)

    Chalk and cheese. There's all the difference in the world between Pu-238 and PU-239.

    Pu-238 can't sustain a chain reaction and spends its activity making alpha particles which even very light shielding will stop. So it just sits there generating heat.

    • (Score: 1) by redneckmother on Sunday October 22, @08:17PM

      by redneckmother (3597) on Sunday October 22, @08:17PM (#586040)

      So it just sits there generating heat.

      And, when inhaled, cancer.

      Pitchforks? Check. Torches? Check. Lampposts? Check. Rope? Oh crap, Colorado smoked all the Hemp!