Nuclear Power Plants will be built on the Moon and Mars
Scientists have been discussing a hypothetical colonization of Mars and the moon that could actually be possible someday, perhaps in the next 10 years.
The U.S. Department of Energy wants the private sector to build nuclear power plants that could provide a better space environment for humans.
The goal is for the project to be finalized by the end of 2026.
The U.S. formally requested ideas on how to build what they call a fission surface power system which could establish relatively safe conditions for human settlement.
Officials from the Energy Department, scientists from NASA and the Idaho National Laboratory, a facility that conducts nuclear research, will evaluate the ideas.
The plan is meant to be carried in two phases: developing a reactor design first, and then building two prototypes — a test reactor and a second reactor to be launched to the moon. Developing a flight system and lander is also required to ensure transport of the reactor.
The reactor must generate an uninterrupted electricity output of at least 10 kilowatts, far below the roughly 11,000 kilowatt-hours a year that the average U.S. residential home uses according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Therefore, it would probably take several linked reactors to meet power necessity.
Also, any design must not weigh more than 3,500 kilograms in order to be able to run for at least 10 years. Scientists say that “small nuclear reactors can provide the power capability necessary for space exploration missions”.
The agency’s intention for now is for the reactor to only support exploration in the south polar region of the moon since a specific region of Mars is yet to be identified.
The Union of Concerned Scientists shows concerns regarding the parameters of the design and the compressed timeline. The organization believes the reactors are most likely to use highly enriched uranium, which is also used for nuclear weapons.
“This may drive or start an international space race to build and deploy new types of reactors requiring highly enriched uranium,” said Edwin Lyman, director of Nuclear Power Safety at the Union of Concerned Scientists.
For exploratory reasons, China sent an orbiter as well as a lander and a rover to Mars and the United Arab Emirates launched an orbiter this week. The U.S. has already landed rovers on Mars and will send another next week.