Nuclear power is not doing well. The cheap fracking of natural gas and oil, while it is putting a crimp on our enemies, is also hurting the nuclear industry. Already racked with the high cost of regulation (we’re talking millions per plant), no compensation for carbon emission and a lack of public understanding about what nuclear power actually is, the nuclear industry is failing. Plants are closing around the US, and the workforce is not attracting the best and brightest. As the workforce ages and less plants are available, we have the risk that US nuclear power is going to go extinct. Except for the United States Navy and China, nuclear power seems on the way out the door.
NASA continues working on a nuclear plant design for Moon and Mars missions, and it recently showed off a 10kW fission reactor called the Kilopower Reactor Using Stirling Technology (KRUSTY) that could be placed in space. The reactor has a single control rod, outputs enough power to be useful, has a natural method for poison removal, and burns fuel slowly over a 15 year period. That is pretty awesome.
If I was an aspiring nuclear engineer, or getting out of the Navy’s nuclear program, working on something like this would be my dream job. This is cutting edge stuff that could finally get us the Moon base that President Bush promised us so many years back. If our current President pushes NASA in this direction, we could see deep space exploration that would actually make Mars habitation a reality. And, given our nuclear agreement with India and previous relationship with the EU, we could finally start jumping ahead of Russia and China in terms of space.
Maybe nuclear power’s future is not meant for Earth, but for the stars.
This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, or any other government agency. Except maybe NASA, because apparently NASA and I both like nuclear power.
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