Skip to comments.Russia Withholding Plutonium NASA Needs for Deep Space Exploration
Posted on 12/11/2009 11:50:12 PM PST by ErnstStavroBlofeld
Russia has reneged on an agreement to deliver a total of 10 kilograms of plutonium-238 to the United States in 2010 and 2011 and is insisting on a new deal for the costly material vital to NASAs deep space exploration plans.
The move follows the U.S. Congress denial of President Barack Obamas request for $30 million in 2010 to permit the Department of Energy to begin the painstaking process of restarting domestic production of plutonium-238. Bringing U.S. nuclear laboratories back on line to produce the isotope is expected to cost at least $150 million and take six years to seven years from the time funding is approved.
U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), a House Appropriations Committee member whose district is home to NASAs planetary science-focused Jet Propulsion Laboratory, told Space News that Russias decision to withhold the promised plutonium is certainly a concern considering that the United States now will not be spending any money before 2011 to restart its own production.
Certainly, among other things, it would have helped our negotiating posture had funding been included and Russia could see that we were determined to move forward on our own, Schiff said.
NASA for decades has relied on plutonium-238 to fuel long-lasting spacecraft batteries known as radioisotope power systems that transform heat from the decaying plutonium into electricity. The Pluto-bound New Horizons probe was launched in 2006 with 11 kilograms of the material onboard, and the Mars Science Laboratory rover will carry 3.5 kilograms when it launches in late 2011.
The United States stopped producing plutonium-238 in the late 1980s. While U.S. nuclear laboratories remain able to process and package the material for use in radioisotope power systems, the Department of Energy has been meeting NASAs demand from a dwindling stockpile supplemented by periodic purchases from Russias shrinking supply.
(Excerpt) Read more at spacenews.com ...
Nothing to fear, Zero’s earmarked $50 billion to build windmills in the desert - which are so much better than modern power systems.
Ah, our ally, Russia. Never was, never will be, at least not in our lifetime.
The key lesson for the US is always make sure you can produce what you need domestically. We almost got caught in the Rhodesia chrome shortage in the 70’s/80’s which would have forced us to rely on Brezhnev/Andropov, et al for our supply of high quality chrome.
Mugabe makes millions on chrome ore exports while he kills his people by the thousands.
Good thinking, US.
The Mars Science Laboratory, nicknamed Curiosity, is a bigger more capable upgrade over the solar-powered rovers (MERs Spirit and Opportunity) on Mars for the past 5 years. It would be a shame if Plutonium shortage delayed the MSL mission, as Mars launch windows come only every 2 years.
BTW-Most RTGs use Pu238 which decays with a half-life of 87.7 years
yea, that's doesn't have strategic impact. nah....
IIRC, (and maybe I do not), we made this in breeder reactors back when. Might be time to dust off some old blueprints...
In this case Russian businessmen's skills (and the will to use them) exceeded those of their teachers (the USA.) In a truly capitalist manner they noticed a weakness in the other guy's position and immediately exploited it:
Certainly, among other things, it would have helped our negotiating posture had funding been included and Russia could see that we were determined to move forward on our own,
Amazing insight, that, considering that not every country on the planet can make Pu(238) and the stuff costs real money. A single source supplier can wring you dry in no time.
I wonder what the Russians intend to use it for, instead. Why are they conducting missile tests?
In a fission nuclear reactor, uranium-238 can be used to breed plutonium-239, which itself can be used in a nuclear weapon or as a reactor fuel source. Maybe they are using it for military use for new warheads.
Exactly my point.
Maybe we could buy some from Iran.
Well, math is not my strong suit.... but isn't that $150 million about .02% of the money they threw away on their so called 'stimulus plan'?
“Nothing to fear, Zeros earmarked $50 billion to build windmills in the desert - which are so much better than modern power systems.”
And these will work until the wind speed reaches 25mph and are then forced to shut down lest they exceed their design specs. Still better, the enviros are fighting hard to stop any construction of transmission lines for power which cannot be stored.
Gotta love the Hussein - he really has vision!
P-238 is so yesterday...
“I wonder what the Russians intend to use it for, instead”
They are designing reactors for deep space exploration. P-238 will probably play a large role.
We’ve got wind mills and solar panels instead...
Can’t we just ask the Iranians to borrow a cup or two of theirs?
where is OUR plutonium???
American idiots who voted in the idiots in Congress and the Kenyan worm is in the process of performing a national self castration.......
Lock and Load Patriots...this is going to be messy.
Hey, get off their backs — maybe they need the plutonium to give to Iran.
We are becoming a third world country. By design.
While this is a concern, the far larger concern is that not only can’t we readily produce our own plutonium but Obama has halted the modernization of our nuclear arsenal to make sure that it’s functional into the future.
You are correct — the breeder reactors at Idaho National Labs are all but ready to go. They just need permission from the feds to start production.
My, that looks familiar! I love how the “General Purpose Heat Source” is a euphemism for “Plutonium!”