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posted by martyb on Friday October 20 2017, @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 Phoenix666 on Friday October 20 2017, @05:22PM (7 children)

    by Phoenix666 (552) Subscriber Badge on Friday October 20 2017, @05:22PM (#585323) Journal

    Well, who should we invade to get more, Kazakhstan or Canada? I vote Canada, because they're closer and have better beer. Fermented mare's milk is disgusting.

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  • (Score: 2) by Osamabobama on Friday October 20 2017, @06:20PM (1 child)

    by Osamabobama (5842) on Friday October 20 2017, @06:20PM (#585355)

    Fermented mare's milk is disgusting.

    How do you know this? I mean, do you have personal experience, and, if so, where did you get it? Asking for a friend.

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    • (Score: 3, Interesting) by Phoenix666 on Saturday October 21 2017, @11:32AM

      by Phoenix666 (552) Subscriber Badge on Saturday October 21 2017, @11:32AM (#585631) Journal

      Harbin, Manchuria, China. It's close to Inner Mongolia and ethnic Mongolians are around. They drink it.

      You wouldn't think it's possible to produce an alcoholic drink more disgusting than the erguotou the Chinese make from fermented sorghum, but it is. It is.

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  • (Score: 1, Funny) by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 20 2017, @07:00PM (2 children)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 20 2017, @07:00PM (#585370)
    But beshbarmak is more interesting than poutine :).
    • (Score: 2) by Phoenix666 on Saturday October 21 2017, @11:35AM (1 child)

      by Phoenix666 (552) Subscriber Badge on Saturday October 21 2017, @11:35AM (#585633) Journal

      More interesting than poutine? That's just crazy talk. Nothing beats gravy and cheese curds on french fries.

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      • (Score: 3, Funny) by t-3 on Saturday October 21 2017, @01:59PM

        by t-3 (4907) on Saturday October 21 2017, @01:59PM (#585660) Journal

        I'd take Detroit Coney-style chili cheese fries over that Canadian lard-and-potato soup any day.

  • (Score: 3, Funny) by mhajicek on Friday October 20 2017, @07:44PM (1 child)

    by mhajicek (51) on Friday October 20 2017, @07:44PM (#585392)
    • (Score: 2) by Osamabobama on Friday October 20 2017, @08:20PM

      by Osamabobama (5842) on Friday October 20 2017, @08:20PM (#585410)

      Linking to a Michael Moore film...but wait! It's not a documentary. That's so rare, it's probably a collectable.

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