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Weapons proliferation risk of nuclear power in space

Push for nuclear power in space sets off proliferation debate, Politico, By JACQUELINE FELDSCHER , 09/27/2019    NASA could place human missions to the moon or Mars in political jeopardy if it opts to use highly-enriched uranium as a power source in space, warns a leading specialist on nuclear proliferation.Astronauts living off of Earth for months at a time will need a reliable energy source for life support and to conduct experiments. But nuclear reactors using highly-enriched uranium, which is used in atomic bombs, will present a host of safety risks and diplomatic obstacles, says Alan Kuperman, the founding coordinator of the Nuclear Proliferation Prevention Project at the University of Texas at Austin.Kuperman is convening stakeholders on the issue next month, including Jeffrey Sheehy, the chief engineer in NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, and Rep. Bill Foster (D-Ill.), who serves on the committee that oversees NASA. The House-passed fiscal 2020 appropriations bill for NASA includes an amendment from Foster that directs NASA to focus its research on low-enriched uranium reactors.

“There’s a lot of opposition in Congress and in nonprofit groups to any further use of highly-enriched uranium,” Kuperman tells us. “So if NASA wants to use highly-enriched uranium for this space reactor, it might provoke opposition to space reactors in general.

“NASA is introducing political risks to its plan by going this highly-enriched uranium route,” he adds.

The Trump administration ordered NASA in August to craft guidelines for safely using nuclear reactors on Mars or the moon. NASA is also moving ahead with its nuclear power ambitions under it’s Kilopower project to build a highly-enriched uranium reactor that could deliver 10 kilowatts of electrical power continuously for at least 10 years. The space agency launched a study in fiscal 2019 with the Department of Energy to determine how both low and highly-enriched uranium could meet different needs. But the agency “has not made a final decision on highly-enriched uranium versus low-enriched uranium for surface power,” according to NASA spokeswoman Clare Skelly………

September 28, 2019 - Posted by | 2 WORLD, space travel, weapons and war

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