Nuclear energy is a complicated enough issue here on Earth, but NASA has decided to take things one step further, confirming plans to put a nuclear power plant on the moon.
The agency is working with the US Department of Energy on the new project, and says that it hopes to have a working nuclear reactor in place by 2026.
The plan is for a 10kWh fission system to be fully manufactured, assembled and tested on Earth, before being transported to the moon on a lunar lander, where it would be ready for operation straight out of the box.
NASA says that it is aiming to have the first flight system, lander and nuclear reactor completed within six years, ready for a year-long trial demonstration that could pave the way for longer missions to the moon and, eventually, Mars.
Scientists have been working on the goal of a permanent settlement in space for decades, with NASA aiming to ramp up progress towards a long-term human presence on the moon through its Artemis Program. Nevertheless, the agency’s target date of 2026 is incredibly ambitious.
Compared to nuclear power plants on Earth, this new moon plant will be pretty small in scale, Futurism reports. The system is expected to generate around 10kWh of output – about enough power for three or four households – and will operate for 10 years.
As anyone who has seen Chernobyl will know, nuclear energy is a controversial issue, and critics have questioned whether a nuclear power plant in space could ever be truly safe.
Clean energy campaigner Steve Melink told CNBC:
When, not if, something goes wrong, how will we fix the problem, especially if it is an urgent one?
Nuclear power is so complicated that anticipating every foreseeable problem will require parts, technicians, and supplies that would not seem feasible for generations to come.
Other have criticised the project as too costly and inefficient, however NASA says that nuclear energy is the only source of power that would be consistently reliable on the moon or Mars.
Anthony Calomino, NASA’s nuclear technology portfolio lead, said:
On the moon, the cold lunar night lingers for 14 days, while sunlight varies widely near the poles and is absent in the permanently shadowed craters. In these challenging environments, power generation from sunlight is difficult and fuel supply is limited. Fission surface power offers a lightweight, reliable and efficient solution.
Space already naturally contains high levels of radiation, and if an incident was to occur on the moon, it would not pose any danger to the Earth itself. Though, of course, NASA hopes nothing will go wrong in the first place.
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