Author Topic: Good news on the Plutonium production issue  (Read 51730 times)

Offline Blackstar

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Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« on: 10/27/2012 01:25 AM »
We've had some discussions about the Pu-238 supply issue in the past:

http://forum.nasaspaceflight.com/index.php?topic=26900.0

http://forum.nasaspaceflight.com/index.php?topic=16912.0

There is now good news on this front. After six years of effort by NASA officials, and 20+ years since the last American Pu-238 production, in August the Department of Energy inserted some Neptunium targets into a reactor in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, irradiated them, and removed them in September. They are now in the process of refining those targets to extract minute amounts of Pu-238, which has been used in the past to power numerous American spacecraft and currently powers the Curiosity rover on Mars.

This is NOT production of Pu-238. Instead, this is essentially an initial test run so that DoE can determine if their processes and handling procedures and production models for Pu-238 are correct. As a NASA official told me, the last time that DoE ever handled this stuff in this form was over two decades ago--the only thing they have been doing since then is handling the essentially finished product, not the production, and there's a lot that they need to re-learn about doing that.

I was also told that NASA no longer expects the Russians to offer their remaining Pu-238 for sale, and NASA is not interested in purchasing it. Instead of giving NASA money to the Russians, NASA would rather spend that money on indigenous production.

I did not find out when they expect to actually start producing Pu-238 again, but my guess is that they'll do that in the next 1-2 years.

Offline go4mars

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Re: Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« Reply #1 on: 10/27/2012 01:38 AM »
Wonderful!  Is this driven by decadal survey expectations?  Or just because it is wise in general?  Are there specific missions in mind for this?
« Last Edit: 10/27/2012 01:41 AM by go4mars »
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Offline kevin-rf

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Re: Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« Reply #2 on: 10/27/2012 01:59 AM »
Duplicate thread, I should report you to Chris for that good bit of news ;)
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Offline Blackstar

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Re: Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« Reply #3 on: 10/27/2012 02:36 AM »
1-Is this driven by decadal survey expectations? 

2-Or just because it is wise in general? 

3-Are there specific missions in mind for this?

1-Not really. It is driven by several things, including:

-NASA and DoE efforts for the past several years to restart production
-essential agreement within first the Bush and later Obama administrations as well as Congress that production should be restarted
-an NRC report (that I worked on, and has been cited in other threads) that made the case that the situation was dire

Note that this was then held up by a really weird dispute between Congress and the administration over which government agency was responsible for paying for the production.

2-It is wise in general. For lots of reasons. One of the problems was the the U.S. had gotten itself into a self-fulfilling prophecy where, because there wasn't much plutonium left, mission planners did not propose missions that required it, thus leading some people to claim that there was no need for it.

Also, the fact that the United States was not producing any more encouraged the Russians to cancel an existing contract. They had us over a barrel and knew it.

3-There are no specific missions planned for it. But it takes something like 5-7 years to ramp up to production (figure that we've already gone through a year or so of that) and so you need to start early in order to have it available late in this decade.

There were a couple of possible Discovery class missions that lost out in the last Discovery round: a Titan lake boat and a comet hopping mission. Both would have used ASRG generators. There is apparently already sufficient Pu-238 to power one of those, but restarting production means that ASRGs could be regularly offered for small missions, as well as New Frontiers class missions, in the 2020s.

Offline edkyle99

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Re: Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« Reply #4 on: 10/27/2012 02:46 AM »
They are now in the process of refining those targets to extract minute amounts of Pu-238, ...

Any idea where this refining will take place?  They're tearing down buildings in Paducah where Oak Ridge's gaseous diffusion took place during the later years of the Cold War.  A bit of a mess there, as in many similar places like Hanford or Rocky Flats, with nasty clean up and former worker cancers, etc.

 - Ed Kyle

Offline EE Scott

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Re: Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« Reply #5 on: 10/27/2012 02:55 AM »
This is some of the best exploration news I've heard in years.  Literally.  Sweet!
Scott

Offline simonbp

Re: Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« Reply #6 on: 10/27/2012 03:12 AM »
The staff at the RTG booth at DPS last week sounded very upbeat. Also, Jim Green confirmed at NASA night that they will go ahead and build the two stirling generators that would have been used if Insight had not been selected and then put them in storage. The next Discovery round will be allow to propose to use them, but that won't be until 2016 with the current budget cuts to the planetary program.

Offline TheFallen

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Re: Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« Reply #7 on: 10/27/2012 03:15 AM »
There were a couple of possible Discovery class missions that lost out in the last Discovery round: a Titan lake boat and a comet hopping mission.

Still disappointed over TIME losing out...but still, great news indeed!

Offline spectre9

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Re: Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« Reply #8 on: 10/27/2012 05:05 AM »
Great news  ;D

Potential for getting big science from small missions.

Still going to be a long wait.

Solar panels for Jupiter are yuk.  :P

Offline Blackstar

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Re: Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« Reply #9 on: 10/27/2012 11:08 AM »
The staff at the RTG booth at DPS last week sounded very upbeat. Also, Jim Green confirmed at NASA night that they will go ahead and build the two stirling generators that would have been used if Insight had not been selected and then put them in storage. The next Discovery round will be allow to propose to use them, but that won't be until 2016 with the current budget cuts to the planetary program.

Makes sense. After all, the money to build at least one of the ASRGs was presumably already allocated in case one of the ASRG missions had won in Discovery.

I presume--I don't know--that they are also doing full life tests on their ASRG designs. That was something we recommended to them years ago. The problem that we saw was that they would build an engineering ASRG and test it a little. Then they would modify the design and build another one and test it a little and repeat the process. But although this helped them refine the design and do things like increase efficiency, it never gave them confidence that if they stuck an ASRG in space it would operate properly for 5 years as designed. Our group essentially said "stop changing the design, pick a single design, and test that for a full lifetime to get confidence that it will work." (Actually, I think they tend to build several of them and run them for a substantial percentage of a lifetime, and then they might do something like keep one running until failure but tear down the other one to examine it. But I'm guessing there.)
« Last Edit: 10/27/2012 11:26 AM by Blackstar »

Offline Blackstar

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Re: Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« Reply #10 on: 10/27/2012 11:20 AM »
Any idea where this refining will take place?  They're tearing down buildings in Paducah where Oak Ridge's gaseous diffusion took place during the later years of the Cold War.  A bit of a mess there, as in many similar places like Hanford or Rocky Flats, with nasty clean up and former worker cancers, etc.

I don't. But I presume that it will be at Oak Ridge. I cannot remember exactly how this all was explained to me, but what has happened so far has essentially been to gain experience required to start production.

The person who told me put it sorta like this: nobody has handled this stuff in two decades; they have handled processed Pu-238, but they have not actually processed it themselves. And they have not handled all the other materials that are generated with it. And what they are doing is "exposing" humans to a dangerous material for the first time in decades and they need to make sure that their safety procedures are correct. There are other things involved. For instance, they have models that predict how much Pu-238 they expect to get when they put the targets into the reactor. But they actually have to do it and see if what they get out is what their models say they are supposed to. That's what they're doing with this test batch. They'll use the experience they gain from doing this to figure out exactly how to restart production.

When I worked the RPS study (and I've forgotten most of that stuff) I think we were given a rough timeline for production. It was something like 1 year of study (which included things like designing some of the equipment), 1 year of testing and planning, and 5 years of irradiating targets to start producing materials, leading to about 7 years from a go-decision to finally getting useful material at the end. I think we're about two years into that overall schedule.

As it has also been explained to me, producing nuclear materials involves a lot of arcane chemistry. They have these little metal targets made of aluminum and neptunium, and they insert them into the reactor where they get bombarded with radiation (note that there are spots in the reactor that are very close to the core and other spots that are a little farther out, so not every target will necessarily get irradiated the same amount). When they remove the targets they have to dissolve them, separate out the materials, then do all kinds of other refining. This involves multiple steps, nasty chemicals, probably generates toxic fumes and maybe even radioactive gases, and you have to control all of that to make sure that nobody gets exposed to anything that can harm them, nothing leaks down the drain, etc. It's very elaborate and complex, and sometimes more of an art than a science. They're relearning all of that.

« Last Edit: 10/27/2012 11:22 AM by Blackstar »

Offline Star One

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Re: Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« Reply #11 on: 10/27/2012 12:36 PM »
Any idea where this refining will take place?  They're tearing down buildings in Paducah where Oak Ridge's gaseous diffusion took place during the later years of the Cold War.  A bit of a mess there, as in many similar places like Hanford or Rocky Flats, with nasty clean up and former worker cancers, etc.

I don't. But I presume that it will be at Oak Ridge. I cannot remember exactly how this all was explained to me, but what has happened so far has essentially been to gain experience required to start production.

The person who told me put it sorta like this: nobody has handled this stuff in two decades; they have handled processed Pu-238, but they have not actually processed it themselves. And they have not handled all the other materials that are generated with it. And what they are doing is "exposing" humans to a dangerous material for the first time in decades and they need to make sure that their safety procedures are correct. There are other things involved. For instance, they have models that predict how much Pu-238 they expect to get when they put the targets into the reactor. But they actually have to do it and see if what they get out is what their models say they are supposed to. That's what they're doing with this test batch. They'll use the experience they gain from doing this to figure out exactly how to restart production.

When I worked the RPS study (and I've forgotten most of that stuff) I think we were given a rough timeline for production. It was something like 1 year of study (which included things like designing some of the equipment), 1 year of testing and planning, and 5 years of irradiating targets to start producing materials, leading to about 7 years from a go-decision to finally getting useful material at the end. I think we're about two years into that overall schedule.

As it has also been explained to me, producing nuclear materials involves a lot of arcane chemistry. They have these little metal targets made of aluminum and neptunium, and they insert them into the reactor where they get bombarded with radiation (note that there are spots in the reactor that are very close to the core and other spots that are a little farther out, so not every target will necessarily get irradiated the same amount). When they remove the targets they have to dissolve them, separate out the materials, then do all kinds of other refining. This involves multiple steps, nasty chemicals, probably generates toxic fumes and maybe even radioactive gases, and you have to control all of that to make sure that nobody gets exposed to anything that can harm them, nothing leaks down the drain, etc. It's very elaborate and complex, and sometimes more of an art than a science. They're relearning all of that.



I am sure I read an article in the New Scientist not long ago that they were looking at a different method of producing it than in the past to make the process more efficient?

Offline robertross

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Re: Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« Reply #12 on: 10/27/2012 12:51 PM »
Thanks for passing on the great news Blackstar!

I really hope they can make this all work out again and have a domestic source of supply (in useful quantities as well).
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Offline Blackstar

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Re: Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« Reply #13 on: 10/27/2012 07:44 PM »
I really hope they can make this all work out again and have a domestic source of supply (in useful quantities as well).

Me too.

Very few people will get this, but the most significant aspect of this news is political. There is no technical challenge to producing the Pu-238. And there was never much of a funding challenge (the total amount of money required is relatively small, on the order of a few million per year--I forget the exact amount, but I think that it's about $10 million per year or so max).

The key problem was political. And it was not partisan political. It was political in the sense that the decision making apparatus (the White House, Congress, and the bureaucracies) had to make a decision, and that took a very long time.

Nuclear issues in the U.S. do not automatically split down left-right lines. Yeah, Republicans tend to be more hawkish, and beat the drum more about nuclear weapons stockpiles, but there was never any Democrat opposition to restarting production, and in fact the Bush administration favored restarting production and so did the Obama administration. Instead, it fell on weird policy lines, on obscure questions of which government agency should spend the money on the production and be responsible for it happening, etc. The fact that they seem to have gotten past that hurdle is a very big deal. Now they have a bit of momentum, because it was easier to prevent the start than it should be to stop the production once it happens.
« Last Edit: 10/27/2012 07:46 PM by Blackstar »

Offline simonbp

Re: Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« Reply #14 on: 10/27/2012 10:13 PM »
I presume--I don't know--that they are also doing full life tests on their ASRG designs.

I didn't think to ask. They had some videos of tests and a nice detailed model, but I don't know how old those were.

On the other hand, though, if TiME or the CHopper had won, they'd have to have finalized the design pretty soon anyway to start Phase B, so it had to be close to final. I bet Jim Green decided to just keep the same deadline so that they could both runs those tests and run out the funding they had already allocated, so startup won't be as bad when an ASRG mission finally get selected.

On a semi-related note, the current JPL reference design for the Europa Clipper had a separate power module which could be either a few ASRGs (3 or 4? can't remember) or solar arrays. Solar is slightly heavier, but could still do the science baseline.

And the guys in the Boeing booth were saying that their FAST concentrator solar arrays should work right out to Saturn...

Offline Blackstar

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Re: Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« Reply #15 on: 10/28/2012 12:49 AM »
I presume--I don't know--that they are also doing full life tests on their ASRG designs.

1-I didn't think to ask. They had some videos of tests and a nice detailed model, but I don't know how old those were.

SNIP

2-On a semi-related note, the current JPL reference design for the Europa Clipper had a separate power module which could be either a few ASRGs (3 or 4? can't remember) or solar arrays. Solar is slightly heavier, but could still do the science baseline.

3-And the guys in the Boeing booth were saying that their FAST concentrator solar arrays should work right out to Saturn...

1-I can ask. The news on this was so good (even though the planetary budget cuts are discouraging), and I was busy with a conference, that I didn't ask detailed questions. I'm thinking of suggesting that the NRC's Committee on Astrobiology and Planetary Science get a detailed briefing on this stuff in the future.

2-Yeah, see the Europa discussion in the science section of this board. The latest iteration of the Europa Clipper suggests that they can do solar, but they need to study it some more. I was also told that the JPL Europa team is nervous about the ASRGs because they are unproven. Put another way, if we had a mission flying the ASRG, they might be willing to go with those and not risk solar. There are risks to both approaches.

3-My guess is that sorta depends upon your definition of "work." They might be able to provide sufficient power at that distance, but they might have other drawbacks. One of the problems with big solar panels is that it becomes hard to turn the spacecraft. That can limit orbits and science operations.

It's great to have options, but I've heard enough from these guys that every option comes with limitations, risks and costs, and that only very detailed engineering analysis will say if the option is a good one.

Offline JohnFornaro

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Re: Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« Reply #16 on: 10/28/2012 12:55 AM »
...stop changing the design, pick a single design...

Just pick a 70 ton LV, and quit changing the design.  But I digress.
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Offline kevin-rf

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Re: Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« Reply #17 on: 10/28/2012 03:32 AM »
Blackstar, he's just pulling down you being over the moon with this news, I don't even think if we filled your pockets with all the Pu-238 ever produced we could pull you off of cloud 9 and back down to earth ;)

Short of someone developing a tabletop fusion device, this is the only way we are ever going to explore the outer solar system. It is great to see the US re-taking it's lead.
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Offline Blackstar

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Re: Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« Reply #18 on: 10/28/2012 12:28 PM »
Yeah, well, he's not somebody who I take seriously. One of those people who won't let facts get in the way of his strongly held opinions.

Offline HappyMartian

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Re: Good news on the oPlutonium productin issue
« Reply #19 on: 10/28/2012 12:52 PM »
Thank you for the update Blackstar! "It's great to have options" for possible Lunar polar robotic rover missions, too!


Cheers!
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Offline manboy

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Re: Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« Reply #20 on: 10/28/2012 02:10 PM »
We've had some discussions about the Pu-238 supply issue in the past:

http://forum.nasaspaceflight.com/index.php?topic=26900.0

http://forum.nasaspaceflight.com/index.php?topic=16912.0

There is now good news on this front. After six years of effort by NASA officials, and 20+ years since the last American Pu-238 production, in August the Department of Energy inserted some Neptunium targets into a reactor in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, irradiated them, and removed them in September. They are now in the process of refining those targets to extract minute amounts of Pu-238, which has been used in the past to power numerous American spacecraft and currently powers the Curiosity rover on Mars.

This is NOT production of Pu-238. Instead, this is essentially an initial test run so that DoE can determine if their processes and handling procedures and production models for Pu-238 are correct. As a NASA official told me, the last time that DoE ever handled this stuff in this form was over two decades ago--the only thing they have been doing since then is handling the essentially finished product, not the production, and there's a lot that they need to re-learn about doing that.

I was also told that NASA no longer expects the Russians to offer their remaining Pu-238 for sale, and NASA is not interested in purchasing it. Instead of giving NASA money to the Russians, NASA would rather spend that money on indigenous production.

I did not find out when they expect to actually start producing Pu-238 again, but my guess is that they'll do that in the next 1-2 years.
Glad to hear progress is being made.
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Offline manboy

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Re: Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« Reply #21 on: 10/28/2012 02:22 PM »
They are now in the process of refining those targets to extract minute amounts of Pu-238, ...

Any idea where this refining will take place?  They're tearing down buildings in Paducah where Oak Ridge's gaseous diffusion took place during the later years of the Cold War.  A bit of a mess there, as in many similar places like Hanford or Rocky Flats, with nasty clean up and former worker cancers, etc.

 - Ed Kyle
Last I read was that the Advanced Test Reactor at the Idaho National Laboratory and the High Flux Isotope Reactor at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory were the top potential producers.
« Last Edit: 10/28/2012 02:52 PM by manboy »
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Offline Blackstar

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Re: Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« Reply #22 on: 10/28/2012 05:00 PM »
Last I read was that the Advanced Test Reactor at the Idaho National Laboratory and the High Flux Isotope Reactor at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory were the top potential producers.

I've forgotten this stuff, but it might be in the NRC report from a few years back:

http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=12653&page=R1

Essentially, the Idaho reactor has something like nine different test positions where targets can be inserted to get bombarded with radiation (they generically refer to it as "flux"). Some positions are closer, others farther, meaning more radiation vs. less radiation, and also possibly affecting quality. Something like seven of these positions are used by the Navy for testing things like metal alloys that they would use in a reactor--they bombard them and then see how the materials react.

The other two positions can be used for other things, and there are other users who want to do research using those positions. If you want to make Pu-238, you use up those positions and they cannot be used for other things.

Depending upon how much Pu-238 you want to make per year and how fast, DoE would put the neptunium into one or more of these positions and possibly also at Oak Ridge (or vice versa). And because there are so many different aspects to this, you might get better material at Oak Ridge than Idaho, or vice versa, or it might depend upon what target position is available for use. Right now they're talking about pretty low-level production, so my guess is that they will only use one reactor or the other, and maybe only one target location rather than more than one. My colleague on our study got to go to Idaho, but I didn't. Wanted to, but was busy on other stuff. Plus, he's a former bubblehead so he would understand it all much better than me.

One of the concerns in the background for all of this is that some people (I dunno who) were a little worried that if the cost of production was put entirely on NASA, this would not give DoE any incentive to keep the cost down, and they would spend a lot of money because it was not their money. That's the kind of insider details that nobody really talks about on the record.
« Last Edit: 10/28/2012 05:01 PM by Blackstar »

Offline TrueBlueWitt

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Re: Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« Reply #23 on: 03/19/2013 04:19 AM »
First time I've seen this get mentioned in the Public Media.

http://news.yahoo.com/u-restarts-plutonium-production-space-probes-013110181.html
« Last Edit: 03/19/2013 04:20 AM by TrueBlueWitt »

Offline robertross

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Re: Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« Reply #24 on: 03/19/2013 11:47 PM »
First time I've seen this get mentioned in the Public Media.

http://news.yahoo.com/u-restarts-plutonium-production-space-probes-013110181.html


Beat me to it!

It's a good start forward.
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Re: Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« Reply #25 on: 03/20/2013 12:42 AM »
Excellent to see this shortcoming being corrected. Even better (to me, anyway) to see it happening in my home state. :)
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Offline Eric Hedman

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Offline DarkenedOne

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Re: Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« Reply #27 on: 03/21/2013 11:24 AM »
Blackstar, he's just pulling down you being over the moon with this news, I don't even think if we filled your pockets with all the Pu-238 ever produced we could pull you off of cloud 9 and back down to earth ;)

Short of someone developing a tabletop fusion device, this is the only way we are ever going to explore the outer solar system. It is great to see the US re-taking it's lead.

More importantly it is the only way to have sustained operations on the surface of the Moon or Mars.  The only way other than a nuclear reactor.

Offline DarkenedOne

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Re: Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« Reply #28 on: 03/21/2013 11:45 AM »
The only problem I have is that I doubt their production rate of 1.5 kg per year will be enough to satisfy demand.  1.5 kg per year is only enough to supply an unmanned mission every 5 years. 

Manned missions to Mars or the Moon would require much more.

At the same time the DOD has expressed interest in using Pu-238 for some yet to be disclosed national security purpose.  Most likely the probably want it to be used in things like UAVs so that they may fly for years rather than days. 


Offline Jim

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Re: Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« Reply #29 on: 03/21/2013 12:06 PM »
Most likely the probably want it to be used in things like UAVs so that they may fly for years rather than days. 


huh? Ah, no.  Too heavy.
« Last Edit: 03/21/2013 12:07 PM by Jim »

Offline russianhalo117

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Re: Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« Reply #30 on: 03/21/2013 01:16 PM »
The only problem I have is that I doubt their production rate of 1.5 kg per year will be enough to satisfy demand.  1.5 kg per year is only enough to supply an unmanned mission every 5 years. 

Manned missions to Mars or the Moon would require much more.

At the same time the DOD has expressed interest in using Pu-238 for some yet to be disclosed national security purpose.  Most likely the probably want it to be used in things like UAVs so that they may fly for years rather than days. 


AFAIK, DoD is referring mostly to satellites.
« Last Edit: 03/21/2013 01:41 PM by russianhalo117 »

Offline kevin-rf

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Re: Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« Reply #31 on: 03/21/2013 01:23 PM »
AFAIK, DoD is referring mainly to satellites.
Are you sure, space is not the only remote hard to reach location that lacks a power outlet.
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Offline russianhalo117

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Re: Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« Reply #32 on: 03/21/2013 01:41 PM »
AFAIK, DoD is referring mainly to satellites.
Are you sure, space is not the only remote hard to reach location that lacks a power outlet.
I meant mostly not mainly.

Offline Blackstar

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Re: Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« Reply #33 on: 03/21/2013 02:02 PM »
1-The only problem I have is that I doubt their production rate of 1.5 kg per year will be enough to satisfy demand.  1.5 kg per year is only enough to supply an unmanned mission every 5 years. 

2-Manned missions to Mars or the Moon would require much more.

3-At the same time the DOD has expressed interest in using Pu-238 for some yet to be disclosed national security purpose.  Most likely the probably want it to be used in things like UAVs so that they may fly for years rather than days. 

1-Right now the "demand" is only 1.5 kg per year.

2-That is true. However, they are not approved and funded, so they pose no demand. If they get approved and funded, and if they determine that they require Pu-238, then they (the human spaceflight program) will be expected to pay for it and the supply will be increased.

We actually considered this issue during our study back in 2008 or so. Somewhere I probably even have NASA's briefing chart on this. If I remember correctly, the human spaceflight stated requirement was something like twice the robotic/science requirement. At that time the Constellation program was considering using RTGs/ASRGs to provide backup emergency power for a lunar outpost. It was a legitimate use, assuming that NASA actually developed a lunar outpost. However, at the time we looked at this, we all realized that either Constellation was going to get scaled back or canceled, and that their requirement was not going to emerge until the 2020s or 2030s at the earliest. So the committee instead focused upon the much more near-term requirement for the science program. And to be totally honest, the most important thing was simply restarting production, not how much actually gets produced. That's because the restart cost is the greatest cost. You have to fund people, new equipment, and processes (and things like lab space for doing the processing). Once you've done that, then you can worry about increasing production later.

And although you won't understand this because it's obscure Washington policy-wonky stuff, the key issue is getting the bureaucracy to MOVE. The easiest thing in the world is doing nothing. What was most important was to get production started so that everybody was comfortable with that and willing to keep producing Pu-238 and wasn't going to stop. The bizarre thing about this is that NASA and DoE were in agreement on restarting Pu-238 production. The White House was in favor of it. And nobody was opposed to it from an anti-nuke standpoint. And yet it took SIX YEARS simply to get the go-ahead. That's because of weird inside government issues.

3-More on this later.

Offline Blackstar

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Re: Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« Reply #34 on: 03/21/2013 02:22 PM »
Let me amplify something I mentioned in response to #2 above. I wrote:

"If they get approved and funded, and if they determine that they require Pu-238, then they (the human spaceflight program) will be expected to pay for it and the supply will be increased."

Something that people on the outside of the field don't generally understand is that there is no single entity known as "NASA." NASA is a collection of people, centers, programs, offices, and budgets. They are not one single collective. They have specific budgets for their work and they seek to protect their budgets. If somebody from another program, particularly outside of their directorate (NASA has four directorates), or even outside of their division comes to them and says "I want you to do X for me," the first response they will get is "Do you have the money in your budget to pay me to do that?" If the answer is "no," then they will be shown the door. Maybe they then go appeal to their boss, or the Big Boss, but even if the Big Boss is involved he may not agree that somebody in another directorate or division should levy requirements on somebody else without bringing the cash.

This is something that the Science Mission Directorate is always wary about. They are concerned that the human spaceflight part of NASA is going to come along and say "We want you to build X or Y for us, and even though it is not part of your program, we want you to pay for it with your money." If SMD allows that to happen without a fight, very quickly they will find that their own carefully crafted program can get messed up.

So to take the example that was raised here, if the human spaceflight program decides that it requires a lot of Pu-238 to do something like operate backup generators for a lunar outpost, they will be expected to provide the money for that production out of their budget. (And if their requirement for the material is significantly greater than SMD's requirement, then they may also be required to foot some of the bill for the capability, not simply the manufacture of more material. After all, it's only fair that if you are using 66% of the material, you should cover a fair share of the overhead costs too.)

Now the much more common example is where the human spaceflight program decides that it wants some science to come along with its projects, and then doesn't provide the money to do any of that science. NASA was about to encounter some of these problems with Constellation. To be honest, the science community has some interest in lunar science, but not a lot of interest in lunar science. But Constellation was going to send humans to the Moon, and among the things they would do there would be science, and there was a risk to the science program that it would be forced to do a lot more lunar science that didn't interest the science community as much as other things (like Mars, Europa, etc.). So NASA was going to face some internal negotiations and perhaps some squabbles over how much the Science Mission Directorate should pay for science that it didn't really want to do.

But if you want something, and you bring money to pay for it, then everybody is happy.
« Last Edit: 03/21/2013 02:24 PM by Blackstar »

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Re: Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« Reply #35 on: 03/21/2013 06:44 PM »
NASA is a collection of people, centers, programs, offices, and budgets. They are not one single collective. They have specific budgets for their work and they seek to protect their budgets. If somebody from another program, particularly outside of their directorate (NASA has four directorates), or even outside of their division comes to them and says "I want you to do X for me," the first response they will get is "Do you have the money in your budget to pay me to do that?" If the answer is "no," then they will be shown the door.

That doesn't sound much different than a big commercial organisation. Especially when belts are being tightened.

cheers, Martin


Offline Jim

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Re: Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« Reply #36 on: 03/21/2013 07:11 PM »
AFAIK, DoD is referring mainly to satellites.


Are you sure, space is not the only remote hard to reach location that lacks a power outlet.
I meant mostly not mainly.

Neither.  The DOD has not used it on spacecraft since LES and Transit. DOD use is either underwater or remote terrestrial
« Last Edit: 03/21/2013 10:57 PM by Jim »

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Re: Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« Reply #37 on: 03/21/2013 10:26 PM »
1-The only problem I have is that I doubt their production rate of 1.5 kg per year will be enough to satisfy demand.  1.5 kg per year is only enough to supply an unmanned mission every 5 years. 

2-Manned missions to Mars or the Moon would require much more.

3-At the same time the DOD has expressed interest in using Pu-238 for some yet to be disclosed national security purpose.  Most likely the probably want it to be used in things like UAVs so that they may fly for years rather than days. 

1-Right now the "demand" is only 1.5 kg per year.

The fact that we have enough Pu-238 for our current mission line up is due to fact that mission planners simply reject missions that use Pu-238 we do not already possess.  Since there is no reliable supply of Pu-238, mission proposals cannot assume that supply will meet their demand.  Thus the number of missions that use Pu-238 would likely be greater if Pu-238 supply was not constrained.

Also I would like to point out that they are planning to use both the new supply as well as their stockpiled supply, thus more Pu-238 will still be used than is produced. 

NASA has already reported that they have deferred a plutonium-powered robotic mission to Europa for this reason.

2-That is true. However, they are not approved and funded, so they pose no demand. If they get approved and funded, and if they determine that they require Pu-238, then they (the human spaceflight program) will be expected to pay for it and the supply will be increased.

If our unmanned systems cannot rely on a steady supply of Pu-238 to meet their demand than what makes you think that a manned program does not when it requires much more.  Fact of the matter is that it is not a matter of money.  Only the department of energy has the legal right to produce nuclear material in the US government. 

We actually considered this issue during our study back in 2008 or so. Somewhere I probably even have NASA's briefing chart on this. If I remember correctly, the human spaceflight stated requirement was something like twice the robotic/science requirement. At that time the Constellation program was considering using RTGs/ASRGs to provide backup emergency power for a lunar outpost. It was a legitimate use, assuming that NASA actually developed a lunar outpost. However, at the time we looked at this, we all realized that either Constellation was going to get scaled back or canceled, and that their requirement was not going to emerge until the 2020s or 2030s at the earliest. So the committee instead focused upon the much more near-term requirement for the science program. And to be totally honest, the most important thing was simply restarting production, not how much actually gets produced. That's because the restart cost is the greatest cost. You have to fund people, new equipment, and processes (and things like lab space for doing the processing). Once you've done that, then you can worry about increasing production later.

The people, equipment, and processes are not blockers.


And although you won't understand this because it's obscure Washington policy-wonky stuff, the key issue is getting the bureaucracy to MOVE. The easiest thing in the world is doing nothing. What was most important was to get production started so that everybody was comfortable with that and willing to keep producing Pu-238 and wasn't going to stop. The bizarre thing about this is that NASA and DoE were in agreement on restarting Pu-238 production. The White House was in favor of it. And nobody was opposed to it from an anti-nuke standpoint. And yet it took SIX YEARS simply to get the go-ahead. That's because of weird inside government issues.

First of all Congress only approved of $15 million of the $30 million that was asked for.  NASA requested $15 million and the DOE requested $15 million.  The DOE $15 million did not get appropriated. 


Fact of the matter is that the system is clearly disfunctional and unreliable.  Too unreliable for mission planners of a human spaceflight mission to make plans and assume supply will meet their demand.  I do not see anything changing until either NASA is given the right to produce its own Pu-238 or a commercial operation is able to supply it.

Offline Jim

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Re: Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« Reply #38 on: 03/21/2013 10:59 PM »
I do not see anything changing until either NASA is given the right to produce its own Pu-238

Huh?  NASA doesn't desire, the manpower, facilities nor expertise to do it.  Also, it is a bad idea. 

Offline Eric Hedman

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Re: Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« Reply #39 on: 03/21/2013 11:20 PM »
I have a question for people in the know based on the following from the article:

“We’re expecting reports from (the DOE) later this year on a complete schedule that would then put plutonium on track to be generated at about 3.3 pounds a year, so it’s going quite well,” Green said.

The fresh plutonium has the added benefit of reviving NASA's small and decaying supply of older plutonium still in storage.

“It fairly old -- more than 20 years,” Green said, “When we add newly generated plutonium through this process to the older plutonium in a mixture of one new-to-two old units, we can actually revive that and get he energy density we need. So for every 1 kilogram [2.2 pounds], we really revive 2 other kilograms of the older plutonium by mixing it.”

If they can revive old Plutonium stock with the newly produced Plutonium,  how much old stock do they have to use to boost the yearly total?

Offline mlindner

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Re: Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« Reply #40 on: 03/22/2013 12:46 AM »
I have a question for people in the know based on the following from the article:

“We’re expecting reports from (the DOE) later this year on a complete schedule that would then put plutonium on track to be generated at about 3.3 pounds a year, so it’s going quite well,” Green said.

The fresh plutonium has the added benefit of reviving NASA's small and decaying supply of older plutonium still in storage.

“It fairly old -- more than 20 years,” Green said, “When we add newly generated plutonium through this process to the older plutonium in a mixture of one new-to-two old units, we can actually revive that and get he energy density we need. So for every 1 kilogram [2.2 pounds], we really revive 2 other kilograms of the older plutonium by mixing it.”

If they can revive old Plutonium stock with the newly produced Plutonium,  how much old stock do they have to use to boost the yearly total?


It's not really "reviving" anything. What they're doing is mixing the old part Pu-238 and Lead (from having decayed) with new 100% Pu-238 to make something that per unit has less lead than the old stuff. Basically they're degrading the new Pu-238 so they aren't forced to dump the old Pu-238. Presumably this is fine as a given mission only needs a certain power density and the RTGs or ASRG come in units so there is probably some excess power normally.
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Offline Blackstar

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Re: Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« Reply #41 on: 03/22/2013 01:20 AM »
I do not see anything changing until either NASA is given the right to produce its own Pu-238

Huh?  NASA doesn't desire, the manpower, facilities nor expertise to do it.  Also, it is a bad idea. 

Also illegal.

Offline iamlucky13

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Re: Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« Reply #42 on: 03/22/2013 01:41 AM »
I do not see anything changing until either NASA is given the right to produce its own Pu-238

Huh?  NASA doesn't desire, the manpower, facilities nor expertise to do it.  Also, it is a bad idea. 

Also illegal.

Obviously that's the first part he is suggesting should change, but oversight of nuclear materials in this country falls under the DOE for a reason, and fragmenting that role complicates the safety and security rationale behind it. Even the military has to work with the DOE on this stuff.

Offline DarkenedOne

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Re: Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« Reply #43 on: 03/22/2013 01:52 AM »
I'm considering responding point by point to what you wrote, but I'm not sure it's worth it. There are a bunch of half-true and incomplete statements above. For the record, I worked on both a high-level review of the Pu-238 supply issue and a study that dealt with planetary science for the next decade. Your statement about the Europa mission, for instance, is false. The killer was the cost, not Pu-238 availability. And NASA or a "commercial operation" cannot produce Pu-238. For starters, the source material, Neptunium, is owned by DoE, and furthermore, only DoE is legally allowed to produce these materials.

In any case, I'm pretty sure my statements are complete.  As far as being half-truths what I have stated the truth to the best of my ability.  If something I have said is incorrect then it is not intentional.  If you have the experience you say you have than your sources of information are better than mine.

Offline hop

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Re: Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« Reply #44 on: 03/22/2013 01:57 AM »
I'm considering responding point by point to what you wrote, but I'm not sure it's worth it.
Given that DarkenedOne already had a whole thread dedicated to the idea of NASA producing it's own pu back in 2011 http://forum.nasaspaceflight.com/index.php?topic=26927.0, it's hard to see the point.

It was a non-starter back then, and the only thing that has changed is that pu production is basically on track now.

Offline DarkenedOne

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Re: Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« Reply #45 on: 03/22/2013 01:58 AM »
I do not see anything changing until either NASA is given the right to produce its own Pu-238 or a commercial operation is able to supply it.

Neither will ever happen. As Jim points out, NASA doesn't *want* the former idea; furthermore, the latter is stupid and dangerous.

Sorry to break it to you, but there are a number of companies that sell isotopes that are produced in commercial reactors for uses in various industries including nuclear medicine.  That is not to mention the hundreds of research reactors at universities where they produce isotopes for their own experiments.
« Last Edit: 03/22/2013 01:59 AM by DarkenedOne »

Offline DarkenedOne

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Re: Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« Reply #46 on: 03/22/2013 02:30 AM »
I'm considering responding point by point to what you wrote, but I'm not sure it's worth it.
Given that DarkenedOne already had a whole thread dedicated to the idea of NASA producing it's own pu back in 2011 http://forum.nasaspaceflight.com/index.php?topic=26927.0, it's hard to see the point.

It was a non-starter back then, and the only thing that has changed is that pu production is basically on track now.

The important thing is that current and future spaceflight missions are not impeded by a lack of Pu-238.  It is very important if we want to continue to have a robust spaceflight program, especially if we want a robust manned program.

Who produces it and how is not as important.  People have been clamouring for the restart of plutonium production for many years now.  From what I read the main blocker to production was the interdepartmental bickering over who pays for it.  Bringing the entire operation under one department would likely reduce these problems.

Offline iamlucky13

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Re: Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« Reply #47 on: 03/22/2013 02:50 AM »
I do not see anything changing until either NASA is given the right to produce its own Pu-238 or a commercial operation is able to supply it.

Neither will ever happen. As Jim points out, NASA doesn't *want* the former idea; furthermore, the latter is stupid and dangerous.

Sorry to break it to you, but there are a number of companies that sell isotopes that are produced in commercial reactors for uses in various industries including nuclear medicine.  That is not to mention the hundreds of research reactors at universities where they produce isotopes for their own experiments.

Not hundreds. 28. And many of them extremely small.
http://www.trtr.org/Links/TRTR_December.html

None of them are producing 25,000 Curies per year of single isotopes, especially not so much isolated material.

Research supply companies like United Nuclear don't run their own reactors. They buy and repackage isotopes. United Nuclear sells samples in the microCurie range. They get theirs from Oak Ridge, which is a DOE facility, and where the Pu-238 is being produced.

Most of the medical facilities in the US buy their isotopes from the Canadian government, which owns the Chalk River reactor.

Offline Jim

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Re: Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« Reply #48 on: 03/22/2013 04:54 AM »
Bringing the entire operation under one department would likely reduce these problems.

It is, under DOE.

Offline baldusi

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Re: Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« Reply #49 on: 03/25/2013 04:54 PM »
Don't you need centrifuges to separate the Pu-238 from the original material (probably americum?). Couldn't they use centrifuges to separate the Pu238 from the lead in the old stock?
BTW, if they do need centrifuges I seriously doubt any gvt in the world would allow a pure commercial production.

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Re: Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« Reply #50 on: 03/25/2013 05:19 PM »
Don't you need centrifuges to separate the Pu-238 from the original material (probably americum?). Couldn't they use centrifuges to separate the Pu238 from the lead in the old stock?
BTW, if they do need centrifuges I seriously doubt any gvt in the world would allow a pure commercial production.

While this might be technically possible, I suspect that the effort/equipment/cost to centrifuge is far higher than the cost to just mix two things together...
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Offline kevin-rf

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Re: Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« Reply #51 on: 03/25/2013 05:34 PM »
I suspect you only need centrifuges if you are separating isotopes of the same element. All other separations are chemistry.

I bet it is more an issue of dissolving and reprocessing Pu238 which is highly radioactive that makes removing the lead prohibitive. Just yucky chemistry in a very radio active environment of a product that produces a fair amount of heat.   
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Offline savuporo

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Re: Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« Reply #52 on: 12/09/2013 09:10 PM »
The other Pu-238 thread inexplicably died.
So thats the next best update thread for this  :

http://www.planetary.org/blogs/guest-blogs/van-kane/20131208-the-asrg-cancellation-in-context.html

I think its slightly insane that anyone ever considers a solar powered probe out at Saturn, or even Jupiter for that matter.
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Online Mike_1179

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Re: Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« Reply #53 on: 12/10/2013 02:21 AM »
The other Pu-238 thread inexplicably died.
So thats the next best update thread for this  :

http://www.planetary.org/blogs/guest-blogs/van-kane/20131208-the-asrg-cancellation-in-context.html

I think its slightly insane that anyone ever considers a solar powered probe out at Saturn, or even Jupiter for that matter.

Juno is making it work.  It's not a ton of power to work with (around 450-ish watts if I remember) but its in the same neighborhood as the Galileo orbiter had at Jupiter using an RTG - I think that was in the mid 500's.

Offline NovaSilisko

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Re: Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« Reply #54 on: 12/10/2013 03:28 AM »
The other Pu-238 thread inexplicably died.
So thats the next best update thread for this  :

http://www.planetary.org/blogs/guest-blogs/van-kane/20131208-the-asrg-cancellation-in-context.html

I think its slightly insane that anyone ever considers a solar powered probe out at Saturn, or even Jupiter for that matter.

Juno is making it work.  It's not a ton of power to work with (around 450-ish watts if I remember) but its in the same neighborhood as the Galileo orbiter had at Jupiter using an RTG - I think that was in the mid 500's.

From what I understand, Juno has to expend almost half of its electricity to power heaters, whereas Galileo had the advantage of being able to use heat directly from the RTGs, without using any of the power they produce (or perhaps a small amount, to heat areas more distant from the RTG? someone who knows please correct me)
« Last Edit: 12/10/2013 03:30 AM by NovaSilisko »

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Re: Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« Reply #55 on: 12/10/2013 03:37 AM »


Juno is making it work.  It's not a ton of power to work with (around 450-ish watts if I remember) but its in the same neighborhood as the Galileo orbiter had at Jupiter using an RTG - I think that was in the mid 500's.


Yeah, with instruments with low data rates or short data takes.
Juno is an exception, especially since it has no real imaging instruments.

Offline RonM

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Re: Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« Reply #56 on: 12/10/2013 04:04 AM »
The other Pu-238 thread inexplicably died.
So thats the next best update thread for this  :

http://www.planetary.org/blogs/guest-blogs/van-kane/20131208-the-asrg-cancellation-in-context.html

I think its slightly insane that anyone ever considers a solar powered probe out at Saturn, or even Jupiter for that matter.

Juno is making it work.  It's not a ton of power to work with (around 450-ish watts if I remember) but its in the same neighborhood as the Galileo orbiter had at Jupiter using an RTG - I think that was in the mid 500's.

From what I understand, Juno has to expend almost half of its electricity to power heaters, whereas Galileo had the advantage of being able to use heat directly from the RTGs, without using any of the power they produce (or perhaps a small amount, to heat areas more distant from the RTG? someone who knows please correct me)

Galileo had two RTGs mounted on booms extending from the spacecraft. They would not have been able to effectively heat the vehicle.

Juno is probably having to use more power to heat the craft because of the batteries.

The big difference is that Galileo operated around Jupiter for eight years and Juno will only last a little over a year. Juno's solar panels and batteries will not be able to survive the harsh environment like RTGs. Then again, if we had to wait on plutonium production, we wouldn't have the Juno mission.

Online Mike_1179

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Re: Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« Reply #57 on: 12/10/2013 04:13 AM »


Juno is making it work.  It's not a ton of power to work with (around 450-ish watts if I remember) but its in the same neighborhood as the Galileo orbiter had at Jupiter using an RTG - I think that was in the mid 500's.


Yeah, with instruments with low data rates or short data takes.
Juno is an exception, especially since it has no real imaging instruments.

Good point.  There's probably also a mass penalty for large solar arrays instead of an RTG as well, so there are sacrifices to be made.   Dawn is also out beyond Mars using solar panels only as well, so they do have their place, based on what the mission needs. 

Offline akula2

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Re: Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« Reply #58 on: 12/20/2013 01:11 PM »
How long it takes to research, design and develop a RTG? 3-5 years?
How much $ might go into this entire effort? Few hundred million? or 2-3 Billion?  :o

We are using Thorium Nuclear Reactors to generate power. How much feasible to make Thorium RTG?

Estimated world thorium resources in tonnes:

India     846,000
Turkey     744,000
Brazil     606,000
Australia     521,000
USA     434,000



Offline kevin-rf

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Re: Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« Reply #59 on: 12/20/2013 01:28 PM »
RTG's do not work the same as reactors. They work off the heat generated by decay of radio isotopes with short half lives. Thorium 232 with a half life of 14.05 billion years does not meet that requirement. You can not get enough heat out of natural decay. You need other elements, Pu-238 has a half life of 87.7 years, and generates a fair amount of internal heat, hence it's current use.

It has taken the US decades and several Billion to develop it's current RTG technology. It is not something you can do overnight. It would eat India's entire space budget, leaving none for rockets or space missions.
« Last Edit: 12/20/2013 01:31 PM by kevin-rf »
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Offline Avron

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Re: Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« Reply #60 on: 12/20/2013 01:37 PM »

It has taken the US decades and several Billion to develop it's current RTG technology. It is not something you can do overnight. It would eat India's entire space budget, leaving none for rockets or space missions.

is a 1950 technology using a heat source and thermocouples.. its very simple .. it will take India less that three months to get it running if needed.. the Russians could easy supply.

Offline GuessWho

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Re: Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« Reply #61 on: 12/20/2013 04:15 PM »

is a 1950 technology using a heat source and thermocouples.. its very simple .. it will take India less that three months to get it running if needed.. the Russians could easy supply.

And the expertise you possess to make this kind of statement is ....?

Offline DMeader

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Re: Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« Reply #62 on: 12/20/2013 04:38 PM »
is a 1950 technology using a heat source and thermocouples.. its very simple .. it will take India less that three months to get it running if needed.. the Russians could easy supply.

I doubt that India has either the infrastructure or the expertise to produce and separate the required plutonium isotope, and acquiring those would take a lot longer than three months.

Offline savuporo

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Re: Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« Reply #63 on: 12/20/2013 04:57 PM »
You need other elements, Pu-238 has a half life of 87.7 years, and generates a fair amount of internal heat, hence it's current use.
It's worth mentioning that Polonium-210 is a viable alternative, and  Americium-241 is apparently being considered.
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Offline hop

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Re: Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« Reply #64 on: 12/20/2013 05:15 PM »
It's worth mentioning that Polonium-210 is a viable alternative,
Not really, the half life is much to short for most the types of missions you would want to use RTGs for.  The Soviets used it for heaters on Lunokhod, but they didn't have a long cruise and had a design life of months. It would be no good for outer planets missions or long duration missions like MSL. Am-241 and Sr -90 could be used, but they have very significant drawbacks.

India does have substantial indigenous nuclear expertise, including working with plutonium, so there's little reason to think couldn't make RTGs if they wanted to. Looking at the cost and difficulty of the US restart should make it clear the suggestion they could do it in months is implausible.

Offline savuporo

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Re: Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« Reply #65 on: 12/20/2013 05:20 PM »
Not really, the half life is much to short for most the types of missions you would want to use RTGs for.  The Soviets used it for heaters on Lunokhod, but they didn't have a long cruise and had a design life of months.
Well, Lunokhod-2 worked for 4 months, and didnt die of cold. For applications like exploring lunar poles i think it would be entirely appropriate.
A complete guess, but i think there is a good chance that heaters in Chang'e are polonium as well, especially considering that Chinese specialists apparently have been to Sarov on couple of occasions. 
« Last Edit: 12/20/2013 05:24 PM by savuporo »
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Offline Avron

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Re: Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« Reply #66 on: 12/20/2013 05:20 PM »

is a 1950 technology using a heat source and thermocouples.. its very simple .. it will take India less that three months to get it running if needed.. the Russians could easy supply.

And the expertise you possess to make this kind of statement is ....?

Not sure why it has to be personal .. any way...

"According to the 2012 SIPRI Yearbook, the Indian arsenal comprises 80 to 100 warheads.[1] The ranges of such estimates are generally dependent on analyses of India's stockpile of weapons-grade plutonium, estimated at 0.54 ± 0.18 tons.[2] Although India has also stockpiled roughly 2.4 ± 0.9 tons of highly enriched uranium (HEU), some of this material is most intended for use in nuclear submarines and research reactors"

eh .. thats half a ton of  weapons-grade plutonium. And you thought that only the US had any capability.. well Russia has been running Lighthouses on RTG's..

edited to add ref link : http://www.nti.org/country-profiles/india/nuclear/
« Last Edit: 12/20/2013 05:26 PM by Avron »

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Re: Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« Reply #67 on: 12/20/2013 05:35 PM »
 RTG's use plutonium-238, weapons use plutonium-239; the processes of producing and refining the two are completely different.

Offline Avron

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Re: Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« Reply #68 on: 12/20/2013 06:24 PM »
RTG's use plutonium-238, weapons use plutonium-239; the processes of producing and refining the two are completely different.

Correct they are different..  one needs U238 and the other U235..  both need irradiated by reactor neutrons, P238 needs  a chemical separation and some more irradiated by reactor neutrons ..  and it you want you can get P238 from your spent fuel rods or plutonium producing reactors, just needs some separation that is a tad more expensive .
« Last Edit: 12/20/2013 06:26 PM by Avron »

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Re: Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« Reply #69 on: 12/20/2013 06:30 PM »
 That technique would require you to separate the Pu-238 from the Pu-239, which would be incredibly difficult. Actual production involves neutron bombardment of Neptunium-237 followed by chemical separation, and Np-237 isn't easy to produce in the first place.

Offline savuporo

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Re: Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« Reply #70 on: 12/20/2013 06:40 PM »
Am-241 and Sr -90 could be used, but they have very significant drawbacks.
ESA view on am-241 situation described here

http://www.lpi.usra.edu/meetings/nets2012/pdf/3029.pdf

Quote
The existing stocks of plutonium at Sellafield are more than sufficient for the production of multiple 241-Am-based RTGs each year for a number of years.

http://www.oosa.unvienna.org/pdf/pres/stsc2012/tech-18E.pdf
http://www.europeanthermodynamics.com/news/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/LeicesterUniSpace3.pdf

Oh, they are looking at stirlings too, and 4-watt RTG output prototype in testing.
« Last Edit: 12/20/2013 06:46 PM by savuporo »
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Offline hop

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Re: Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« Reply #71 on: 12/20/2013 07:53 PM »
Well, Lunokhod-2 worked for 4 months, and didnt die of cold. For applications like exploring lunar poles i think it would be entirely appropriate.
Yes, it works for short duration missions like this, but as I said this is a very narrow subset of the kind of space missions you want RTGs for. A dubious investment unless you are sure you aren't going to want to use them anywhere else.

Po-210 has a half life of 138 days, so even for lunar exploration it would be insufficient for missions that are intended to last much longer than Lunokhod-2, unless it was vastly overpowered to start with.
Quote
A complete guess, but i think there is a good chance that heaters in Chang'e are polonium as well, especially considering that Chinese specialists apparently have been to Sarov on couple of occasions. 
The Chinese have said they are using Pu-238. This was discussed quite a bit in the Chang'e thread.


Offline Avron

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Re: Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« Reply #72 on: 12/21/2013 05:42 PM »
That technique would require you to separate the Pu-238 from the Pu-239, which would be incredibly difficult. Actual production involves neutron bombardment of Neptunium-237 followed by chemical separation, and Np-237 isn't easy to produce in the first place.

Np-237 is made how? 

Take ur old spent fuel rods  and add barium and simmer at approx 1200C
2 NpF3 + 3 Ba → 2 Np + 3 BaF2

Offline savuporo

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Re: Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« Reply #73 on: 12/21/2013 05:44 PM »
The Chinese have said they are using Pu-238. This was discussed quite a bit in the Chang'e thread.
No, i dont think they ever talked about their fuel source. Discussed yes, but there is no information available from official sources that would confirm that. It could be either Po-210 or Pu-238, and its highly unlikely we will know.
« Last Edit: 12/21/2013 05:45 PM by savuporo »
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Offline Avron

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Re: Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« Reply #74 on: 12/21/2013 06:06 PM »
It would be nice for someone to get Americium-241  working.. ok its 25% power, and needs approx 2cm lead for enclosure but has a half life of 400plus years

Offline GuessWho

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Re: Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« Reply #75 on: 12/22/2013 01:18 PM »
That technique would require you to separate the Pu-238 from the Pu-239, which would be incredibly difficult. Actual production involves neutron bombardment of Neptunium-237 followed by chemical separation, and Np-237 isn't easy to produce in the first place.

Np-237 is made how? 

Take ur old spent fuel rods  and add barium and simmer at approx 1200C
2 NpF3 + 3 Ba → 2 Np + 3 BaF2

Actually no.  Np-237 is separated out using the PUREX process which uses tributyl phosphate (TBP).  That solution goes through a number of reductions in oxidation states before being precipitated out as neptunium oxalate and then calcined into neptunium oxide.  Then as stated before, the Np-237 is fabricated into targets and irradiated by a high neutron flux to produce Pu-238 which must then be separated, reacted to form PuO2, and then formed into high density compacts before it can be used as a radioisotope heat source.  And that is only the start as significant work post compact forming is needed to encapsulate and protect the PuO2.  And beyond that, one has to design a structural support around the PuO2 fuel forms to prevent release of the PuO2 under potential accident scenarios as PuO2 is highly toxic.  Hardly something one does in 3 months as you claim.  But perhaps you have an advanced degree in nuclear physics,  inorganic chemistry, materials science or specialty manufacturing that enables you to do all this in 3 months.  Hence my prior question; what expertise do you possess to make this kind of statement?

Offline john smith 19

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Re: Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« Reply #76 on: 12/25/2013 11:14 AM »
Actually no.  Np-237 is separated out using the PUREX process which uses tributyl phosphate (TBP).  That solution goes through a number of reductions in oxidation states before being precipitated out as neptunium oxalate and then calcined into neptunium oxide.  Then as stated before, the Np-237 is fabricated into targets and irradiated by a high neutron flux to produce Pu-238 which must then be separated, reacted to form PuO2, and then formed into high density compacts before it can be used as a radioisotope heat source.  And that is only the start as significant work post compact forming is needed to encapsulate and protect the PuO2.  And beyond that, one has to design a structural support around the PuO2 fuel forms to prevent release of the PuO2 under potential accident scenarios as PuO2 is highly toxic.  Hardly something one does in 3 months as you claim.  But perhaps you have an advanced degree in nuclear physics,  inorganic chemistry, materials science or specialty manufacturing that enables you to do all this in 3 months.  Hence my prior question; what expertise do you possess to make this kind of statement?
A succinct description of a very complex process. You also politely side stepped the fact most of this process has to be handled remotely due to radiation exposure, substantially complicating things.

And of course that just gets you to the raw material, not the finished RTG design itself. :(

That said it's an interesting idea that India could act as a niche supplier in this area, enabling any nation that wanted to build a long duration space mission.

But not a simple task.  :(
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Offline GuessWho

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Re: Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« Reply #77 on: 12/26/2013 05:12 PM »
Actually no.  Np-237 is separated out using the PUREX process which uses tributyl phosphate (TBP).  That solution goes through a number of reductions in oxidation states before being precipitated out as neptunium oxalate and then calcined into neptunium oxide.  Then as stated before, the Np-237 is fabricated into targets and irradiated by a high neutron flux to produce Pu-238 which must then be separated, reacted to form PuO2, and then formed into high density compacts before it can be used as a radioisotope heat source.  And that is only the start as significant work post compact forming is needed to encapsulate and protect the PuO2.  And beyond that, one has to design a structural support around the PuO2 fuel forms to prevent release of the PuO2 under potential accident scenarios as PuO2 is highly toxic.  Hardly something one does in 3 months as you claim.  But perhaps you have an advanced degree in nuclear physics,  inorganic chemistry, materials science or specialty manufacturing that enables you to do all this in 3 months.  Hence my prior question; what expertise do you possess to make this kind of statement?
A succinct description of a very complex process. You also politely side stepped the fact most of this process has to be handled remotely due to radiation exposure, substantially complicating things.

And of course that just gets you to the raw material, not the finished RTG design itself. :(

That said it's an interesting idea that India could act as a niche supplier in this area, enabling any nation that wanted to build a long duration space mission.

But not a simple task.  :(

Well, I didn't want to write a book. :-)  To complete the story, you also have to consider that everything that remotely touches the process is contaminated and the legacy costs to clean that contamination problem will haunt you for decades.

Offline john smith 19

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Re: Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« Reply #78 on: 12/29/2013 10:11 PM »
Well, I didn't want to write a book. :-)  To complete the story, you also have to consider that everything that remotely touches the process is contaminated and the legacy costs to clean that contamination problem will haunt you for decades.
Powdered Pu. One of the those deadly materials on the planet.  :(

Even with lower labour costs in India that's not going to be a trivial expense.  :(

I came across a book on "teleoperators" and it discussed the system used to build and take down the NERVA test engines at the delightfully named "Jackass Flats" test site.

That took some serious engineering work to pull off.  :(

I know high neutron flux is the preferred way to do this but I always felt devising a way to leverage the large number of US PWR's would make it possible without specialist reactors. Many hands make light work so to speak.

OTOH I think you've made it clear Avron was being (shall we say?) optimistic on their time scale.
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Offline akula2

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Re: Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« Reply #79 on: 01/06/2014 08:35 PM »
I doubt that India has either the infrastructure or the expertise to produce and separate the required plutonium isotope, and acquiring those would take a lot longer than three months.
I'm quite sure India would have tremendously progressed without those unfair technology restrictions  ???

Yes, it works for short duration missions like this, but as I said this is a very narrow subset of the kind of space missions you want RTGs for. A dubious investment unless you are sure you aren't going to want to use them anywhere else.
You were close  :)

So Thorium RTGs almost impossible or not worth (costs)?

Online Kryten

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Re: Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« Reply #80 on: 01/07/2014 03:23 AM »
So Thorium RTGs almost impossible or not worth (costs)?
It's not really an issue of cost or difficulty, but that they'd be completely useless; the heat produced from thorium decay is negligible.

Offline gospacex

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Re: Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« Reply #81 on: 01/07/2014 09:15 AM »
It would be nice for someone to get Americium-241  working.. ok its 25% power, and needs approx 2cm lead for enclosure

Why does it need shielding? Am-241 alpha-decays to Np-237 which is long-lived (iow: daughter isotope seems to be non-problematic).
Does it decay to an *excited* Np-237 nucleus which then emits gammas?

Offline akula2

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Re: Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« Reply #82 on: 01/07/2014 09:19 AM »
It's not really an issue of cost or difficulty, but that they'd be completely useless; the heat produced from thorium decay is negligible.
Thanks for responding. You're correct on the heat factor; it's just a few ideas on my mind about Thorium. Say, for Power generation for various applications. 

Offline Hog

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Re: Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« Reply #83 on: 01/07/2014 04:59 PM »
It's not really an issue of cost or difficulty, but that they'd be completely useless; the heat produced from thorium decay is negligible.
Thanks for responding. You're correct on the heat factor; it's just a few ideas on my mind about Thorium. Say, for Power generation for various applications.
Last night on Coast to Coast AM, the topic was Fukashima and other Nuclear issues. Mr Kamps, who was 1 of 3 experts on last night stated that using Thorium for power generation increases the possibility of nuclear proliferation. He also stated that during the "Manhattan Project" considered the Thorium cycle for plutonium production for the gun type "thin man" and implosion type "fat man" Plutonium proposals. (Thin Man was dropped because the fission rate was too great which blew the critical mass aparts "creating a fizzle". Then. conversly I read that using the Thorium Cycle for Plutonium production rate would be less than 2% of a conventional reactor, and the Plutonium produced would be unsuitable for nuclear detonation.

Any comments?
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Re: Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« Reply #84 on: 01/07/2014 05:18 PM »
  Both statements are mostly true, albeit the first is somewhat garbled. Thorium reactors are both terrible at producing plutonium, and capable of producing large amounts of fissile material; Uranium-233. It is, however, more difficult to produce bombs with (higher critical mass) and to work with in general (produces high levels of gamma radiation due to unavoidable U-232 contamination) than U-235 or Pu-239.

Offline kevin-rf

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Re: Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« Reply #85 on: 01/07/2014 05:32 PM »
And all of this has to do with RTG's, ASRG's, Pu-238, potential Pu-238 alternatives such as Sr-90,Po-210,Cm-242, Cm-244, Am-241, and deep space mission how?

Really over in the advanced topics and historical sections there are several other threads on reactors and fuel cycles in space. In reality this is more of spring board for RTG's and producing the "special" fuel that fuels them.
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Offline Blackstar

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Re: Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« Reply #86 on: 01/09/2014 01:56 AM »
I mentioned awhile back that there was news on the Pu-238 front.

This afternoon at the SBAG meeting in Washington, it was revealed that there are 35 kg of plutonium available for NASA missions. About 17 kg of this is suitable for the General Purpose Heat Source pellets (meaning high enough energy density). The remainder is lower quality, meaning that it would have to be reprocessed to get its energy density up.

« Last Edit: 01/09/2014 01:59 AM by Blackstar »

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Re: Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« Reply #87 on: 01/09/2014 02:07 AM »
I mentioned awhile back that there was news on the Pu-238 front.

This afternoon at the SBAG meeting in Washington, it was revealed that there are 35 kg of plutonium available for NASA missions. About 17 kg of this is suitable for the General Purpose Heat Source pellets (meaning high enough energy density). The remainder is lower quality, meaning that it would have to be reprocessed to get its energy density up.

Thanks for passing that along.

So from the charts we have, and assuming that the remaining mass after MSL is the 35 kg, without an ASRG develoment that likely puts any hope of a Europa mission clearly on the back-burner for some time, well beyond 2030 (not that there was much chance due to cost)
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Offline Blackstar

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Re: Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« Reply #88 on: 01/09/2014 02:12 AM »
I mentioned awhile back that there was news on the Pu-238 front.

This afternoon at the SBAG meeting in Washington, it was revealed that there are 35 kg of plutonium available for NASA missions. About 17 kg of this is suitable for the General Purpose Heat Source pellets (meaning high enough energy density). The remainder is lower quality, meaning that it would have to be reprocessed to get its energy density up.

Thanks for passing that along.

So from the charts we have, and assuming that the remaining mass after MSL is the 35 kg, without an ASRG develoment that likely puts any hope of a Europa mission clearly on the back-burner for some time, well beyond 2030 (not that there was much chance due to cost)

Huh? You're misreading this. There's more Pu-238 than previously acknowledged.

Offline robertross

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Re: Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« Reply #89 on: 01/09/2014 02:19 AM »
I mentioned awhile back that there was news on the Pu-238 front.

This afternoon at the SBAG meeting in Washington, it was revealed that there are 35 kg of plutonium available for NASA missions. About 17 kg of this is suitable for the General Purpose Heat Source pellets (meaning high enough energy density). The remainder is lower quality, meaning that it would have to be reprocessed to get its energy density up.

Thanks for passing that along.

So from the charts we have, and assuming that the remaining mass after MSL is the 35 kg, without an ASRG develoment that likely puts any hope of a Europa mission clearly on the back-burner for some time, well beyond 2030 (not that there was much chance due to cost)

Huh? You're misreading this. There's more Pu-238 than previously acknowledged.

Oh, we'll then awesome!
Now they only need to find the money for the spacecraft (and the reprocessing)
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Re: Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« Reply #90 on: 01/09/2014 02:51 AM »
A few questions: If this material became "available to NASA" does that mean it was originally planned for use in some other non-NASA project that has since been cancelled or re-designed such that it's no longer needed?

Other than NRO stuff, what else uses that much Pu-238?

Is there a use for the lower energy density Pu other than for RTGs?

Offline kevin-rf

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Re: Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« Reply #91 on: 01/09/2014 11:48 AM »
Other than NRO stuff, what else uses that much Pu-238?
I believe the DOD users of the stuff are not the NRO. The NRO has not launched anything that uses an RTG in a very long time.

I would wager to bet they are used in other DOD information gathering and monitoring missions that require power over the long term in inaccessible places. Things like cable taps on the sea floor...
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Offline kevin-rf

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Re: Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« Reply #92 on: 02/20/2014 12:16 PM »
Btw.


Emily Lakdawalla just tweeted:
Quote
MT @Shamrocketeer: #NASA's latest Discovery mission AO just came out: no radioisotope power; bad news outer planets https://prod.nais.nasa.gov/cgibin/eps/synopsis.cgi?acqid=159660

Not RTG's for You!
« Last Edit: 02/20/2014 01:41 PM by kevin-rf »
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Offline Star One

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Re: Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« Reply #93 on: 02/20/2014 12:25 PM »

Btw.


Emily Lakdawalla just tweeted:
Quote
MT @Shamrocketeer: #NASA's latest Discovery mission AO just came out: no radioisotope power; bad news outer planets https://prod.nais.nasa.gov/cgibin/eps/synopsis.cgi?

Not RTG's for You!

Get a flagged security warning on that link?

Offline robertross

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Re: Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« Reply #94 on: 02/20/2014 01:06 PM »

Btw.


Emily Lakdawalla just tweeted:
Quote
MT @Shamrocketeer: #NASA's latest Discovery mission AO just came out: no radioisotope power; bad news outer planets https://prod.nais.nasa.gov/cgibin/eps/synopsis.cgi?

Not RTG's for You!

Get a flagged security warning on that link?

I got a 'does not exist'
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Offline kevin-rf

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Re: Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« Reply #95 on: 02/20/2014 01:38 PM »
Quote

The schedule for fueling of radioisotope power systems (RPSs) cannot be met in time for the expected launch window of Discovery 2014 investigations. Therefore, Discovery Program investigations may not propose the use of RPSs. Proposed investigations may include the use of radioactive sources for science instruments and the use of radioisotope heater units (RHUs).


Odd, works from her Twitter feed. Try the direct link.

https://prod.nais.nasa.gov/cgibin/eps/synopsis.cgi?acqid=159660

Quote
NASA DISCOVERY PROGRAM DRAFT ANNOUNCEMENT OF OPPORTUNITY

Synopsis - Feb 19, 2014
General Information
Solicitation Number:   NNH14ZDA004J
Posted Date:   Feb 19, 2014
FedBizOpps Posted Date:   Feb 19, 2014
Recovery and Reinvestment Act Action:   No
Original Response Date:   N/A
Current Response Date:   N/A
Classification Code:   A -- Research and Development
NAICS Code:   541712


Contracting Office Address

NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center, NASA Headquarters Acquisition Branch, Code 210.H, Greenbelt, MD 20771

Description

NASA’s Science Mission Directorate (SMD) is releasing this Community Announcement for a Draft Announcement of Opportunity (AO) for Discovery Program missions by May 2014. The Discovery Program conducts Principal Investigator (PI)-led space science investigations in SMD’s planetary programs under a not-to-exceed cost cap. It is anticipated that approximately two to three Discovery investigations will be selected for nine-month, $3M (RY) Phase A concept studies through this AO. At the conclusion of these concept studies, it is planned that one Discovery investigation will be selected to continue into Phase B and subsequent mission phases. There will be no Missions of Opportunity (MO) solicited as part of this AO. All MOs are now solicited through the Stand Alone Mission of Opportunity Notice (SALMON) AO.
Discovery Program investigations must address NASA’s planetary science objectives as described in 2014 NASA Strategic Plan and the 2014 NASA Science Plan. Both of these documents will be publicly released following the submission of the FY 2015 budget to Congress.

Investigations may focus on any body in the Solar System, excluding the Earth and the Sun. Investigations may not focus on the identification or characterization of extra-solar planetary systems.

Discovery Program investigations may propose activities that have the potential to broaden the scientific impact of investigations as optional Science Enhancement Options (SEOs). SEOs include, but are not limited to, guest investigator programs, general observer programs, participating scientist programs, interdisciplinary scientist programs, and archival data analysis programs. Discovery Program investigations may also propose Technology Demonstration Opportunities (TDOs) to demonstrate new capabilities. TDO proposals, like Science Enhancement Opportunities (SEOs), are funded outside of the cost cap and may possibly not be selected even if the parent mission is selected for flight.

Discovery Program investigations involving entry, descent, and landing (EDL) into the atmosphere of a Solar System object (including the Earth) shall include an Engineering Science Activity, to be funded outside of the cost cap, to obtain diagnostic and technical data about vehicle performance and entry environments. Details of the goals and objectives of this activity will be posted on the Discovery Program Acquisition Website (discovery.larc.nasa.gov) in the Program Library.

The schedule for fueling of radioisotope power systems (RPSs) cannot be met in time for the expected launch window of Discovery 2014 investigations. Therefore, Discovery Program investigations may not propose the use of RPSs. Proposed investigations may include the use of radioactive sources for science instruments and the use of radioisotope heater units (RHUs).

NASA is considering providing additional technologies as Government-Furnished Equipment (GFE). Currently under consideration is a commercially produced version of the NASA Evolutionary Xenon Thruster (NEXT) ion propulsion system (two flight model power processing units and two thrusters). Also under consideration is the Heat Shield for Extreme Entry Environment Technology (HEEET) — a woven Thermal Protection System.

NASA is also considering requiring all investigations to carry a Deep Space Laser Communications (DSLO) package, to be provided as GFE. Given the success of the Lunar Laser Communication Demonstration (LLCD) on the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer mission, a demonstration of laser communications from deep space is a high priority for NASA.

Decisions on the three technologies described above, or any other technologies (e.g., Deep Space Atomic Clock, Advanced Solar Arrays), will be made before the release of a draft AO.

Launch Vehicle costs and procurement will be the responsibility of NASA. Launch vehicle standard services will be provided as GFE and the cost will not be included in the cost cap. The cost of mission specific and special launch services, including the use of radioisotope heating units (RHUs), is the responsibility of the PI and must be included within the cost cap. NASA is reviewing the possibility of offering options for different launch vehicle capabilities and their impact on the cost cap.

The constraint that the value of foreign contributions must not exceed one-third of the PI-Managed Mission Cost has been modified: the total value of foreign contributions may still not exceed one-third of the PI-Managed Mission Cost and the value of foreign contributions to the science payload may not exceed one-third of the total payload cost.

Investigations are capped at a Phase A-D cost of $450M (FY 2015), excluding standard launch services. The now-standard 25% minimum reserve on Phases A-D will be required within the cost cap. Operations costs (Phase E) are not included in the cost cap, but will be evaluated for reasonableness. Lower-cost investigations and cost-efficient operations are encouraged.

The time frame for the solicitation is intended to be:

Release of draft AO    May 2014 (target) Release of final AO    September 2014 (target) Preproposal conference    ~3 weeks after final AO release Proposals due    90 days after AO release Selection for competitive Phase A studies    May 2015 (target) Concept study reports due    April 2016 (target) Down-selection    October 2016 (target) Launch readiness date    NLT December 31, 2021

The Draft Discovery AO will be based on the Standard PI-led Mission AO Template available at http://soma.larc.nasa.gov/standardao/sao_templates.html . Proposers should read the Draft Discovery AO carefully when it is released.

NASA has not approved the issuance of the Discovery AO and this notification does not obligate NASA to issue the AO and solicit proposals. Any costs incurred by prospective investigators in preparing submissions in response to this notification or the planned Draft Discovery AO are incurred completely at the submitter's own risk.

Further information will be posted on the Discovery Program Acquisition Page at http://discovery.larc.nasa.gov/as it becomes available. Questions may be addressed to Dr. Michael New, Discovery Program Lead Scientist, Planetary Science Division, Science Mission Directorate, NASA, Washington, DC 20546; Tel.: (202) 358-1766; Email: [email protected]


Point of Contact

Name:   Dr Michael New
Title:   Planetary Science Division
Phone:   202-358-1766
Fax:   202-358-3097
Email:   [email protected]

« Last Edit: 02/20/2014 01:43 PM by kevin-rf »
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Offline yg1968

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Offline Blackstar

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Re: Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« Reply #97 on: 02/20/2014 03:35 PM »
Space Politics has an article on this:
http://www.spacepolitics.com/2014/02/20/next-nasa-discovery-solicitation-will-miss-congressional-deadline/

I don't understand the whole process of putting out an AO, but there is a whole process. NASA doesn't just spring these on a community of scientists. It takes people a lot of time to form their proposal teams and write the proposals, and so I imagine that if NASA has decided that issuing the AO has to be delayed, it is partly to give people some advance notice that the AO is coming so they can do the preliminary work. Proposals are a LOT of work. Plus, Congress can tell NASA to fund more stuff all they want, but if the money is not actually in the budget--and the White House keeps cutting the planetary budget--then NASA cannot comply.*

There were 28 Discovery mission proposals last round. Figure that there will be approximately that many this time as well. Of those 28, 7 were Venus missions (4 radar), about 7-8 were for asteroids and comets, probably 5-7 were for lunar missions, and the rest were scattered around other things, including TiME, an Io mission, and some observatories like NEOCam.

Taking the ASRG out of the equation of course cripples any proposal that would have used it, so no Io Mapper this time, and Comet Hopper is probably gone as well.

Oh, I don't think I've seen it discussed anywhere, but the total available Pu-238 supply is now 35 kg, of which about 17 kg is good enough to use without some kind of reprocessing. That's double the previously announced amount. Ta da.




*There's a catch to this: The White House keeps asking for less money for planetary science and Congress keeps putting more money in. Now even if that money does go into the budget, it's extremely difficult for NASA to do anything meaningful with it, because they cannot start projects without knowing that there will also be money for the projects in the next year budget, and with the White House cutting the budget, that's an indication that there will NOT be money in the budget. So NASA gets stuck in the middle of the budget fight, told to spend money that it cannot really spend.

Offline hop

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Re: Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« Reply #98 on: 11/26/2014 05:41 AM »
Alexandra Witze has a long article about the the PU production restart on the Nature news site http://www.nature.com/news/nuclear-power-desperately-seeking-plutonium-1.16411

Gives the impression that it's less restarting production than building new production capability, with years between the initial test batches and kg/year scale production.

Offline Blackstar

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Re: Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« Reply #99 on: 06/04/2015 10:26 PM »
This is a rather important study. It is the Nuclear Power Assessment Study, now public after a long security review. You can download it here or it is also attached:

http://solarsystem.nasa.gov/rps/docs/NPAS.pdf

The home site is here:

http://solarsystem.nasa.gov/rps/home.cfm


Offline Blackstar

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Re: Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« Reply #100 on: 06/04/2015 10:28 PM »
Attached is a report on Europe's radioisotope program. They are going to use a different radioisotope than the United States.

Offline robertross

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Re: Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« Reply #101 on: 06/05/2015 01:38 AM »
Attached is a report on Europe's radioisotope program. They are going to use a different radioisotope than the United States.

Interesting that they will have leftover 'clean' Plutonium.

Would it be possible that this remaining Plutonium be sold to/used by the USA? Or are there too many technical, political, security & other issues?
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Offline Blackstar

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Re: Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« Reply #102 on: 06/05/2015 04:00 AM »

Would it be possible that this remaining Plutonium be sold to/used by the USA? Or are there too many technical, political, security & other issues?

I think that you mean Pu-238, not the weapons-grade plutonium.

It is my understanding that the process that Europe uses produces very little Pu-238, which is why they did not choose to use it in their power sources. So I doubt that it's enough to be worthwhile.

I don't see any reason why it could not be sold or given to the U.S. It has been American policy in the past to accept radioactive materials to get it out of insecure places. However, Europe has secure facilities, so that's not really an issue.

Beyond the issue of the material, I wonder if the U.S. is going to share any data on safety technology. For instance, the U.S. has spent a lot of money on materials and procedures to make sure that fuel pellets cannot burn up in the atmosphere or release radiation upon reaching the ground. Some of that technology may be applicable to what the Europeans are doing, and it would be worthwhile to share it.

Offline Blackstar

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Re: Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« Reply #103 on: 09/11/2015 04:42 PM »
We don't seem to have a good, current thread for this subject, so I'm going to drop this here and maybe one other place.

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/within-nasa-a-plutonium-power-struggle/

New article on the subject. I have only read a few paragraphs, but I disagree with the premise. Things are looking better on the Pu-238 production issue than they have in a long time. DoE needs some more time (and possibly a bit more money), but stuff is finally working and the logjam is broken. And citing the Ohio politicians is an indication that the reporter may not understand what is really going on (they were making a political claim, not one based in reality).


Offline Blackstar

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Re: Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« Reply #104 on: 09/12/2015 12:45 PM »
I've now read the article all the way through and although it is not completely awful, it misses or misstates a bunch of things.

First, I don't think the Russian Pu-238 was lower quality than the American Pu-238.

Second, it is totally wrong to say that NASA did not build a Europa mission because of a Pu-238 shortage. The problem was always the cost of the mission itself.

Third, there's no good discussion of the ASRG issue, which is more complex than they portray it.

Fourth, although there is certainly a Catch-22 situation--whereby the lack of Pu-238 causes it to be ruled out for missions, lowering the demand, and allowing people to claim that it is not needed and therefore they don't make more--the bigger issue is that NASA cannot afford more missions that need it. The fuel is not driving the overall level of effort.

Fifth, there was no mention of the possibility of significantly increasing the efficiency of Pu-238 production. That's a really interesting development and should have been discussed here.

Sixth, they really miss the point with solar at Europa. They portray that as an unfortunate and crippling compromise, as if the mission designers would rather use Pu-238. No. Absolutely not. Using Pu-238 is expensive, even if there is a ton of stuff sitting around. And it creates all kinds of handling and certification requirements. Lots of paperwork. When the Europa Clipper designers discovered that solar worked for their mission I suspect that they were very happy.

Seventh, the discussion of the space policy requirement I think was misleading. These decisions are really driven by budget and engineering concerns, not some policy document.


There are some other problems with the article, but you get the gist of it.
« Last Edit: 09/12/2015 02:33 PM by Blackstar »

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Re: Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« Reply #105 on: 09/16/2015 12:16 AM »
Thank you for the updates and commentary, Blackstar. Much appreciated.
Ad astra per aspirin ...

Offline MickQ

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Re: Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« Reply #106 on: 09/16/2015 08:49 AM »
Ditto !

Offline iamlucky13

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Re: Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« Reply #107 on: 09/16/2015 08:52 PM »
Third, there's no good discussion of the ASRG issue, which is more complex than they portray it.

I've heard of vibration concerns affecting imaging platform stability, and the unproven long term reliability of the Stirling engines for decade-plus long missions.

Were there other significant issues you're aware of?

Offline Blackstar

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Re: Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« Reply #108 on: 09/16/2015 08:52 PM »
There's an active discussion of this going on here:

http://forum.nasaspaceflight.com/index.php?topic=27871.980


Offline Sam Ho

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Re: Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« Reply #109 on: 09/21/2015 08:51 PM »
Dan Leone has a new article on the Pu-238 status based on presentations at OPAG.  Blackstar has covered much of the content here already. 

Production of 400g in 2019, could ramp to 1.5kg in mid-2020s with infusion of money.

The next New Frontiers competition has a good chance of RTG.  Discovery not so much.

http://spacenews.com/doe-to-crank-out-new-plutonium-238-in-2019/

Offline manboy

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Re: Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« Reply #110 on: 10/01/2015 05:31 PM »
NASA's Radioisotope Power Systems - Plans (July  27 2015)

http://ntrs.nasa.gov/archive/nasa/casi.ntrs.nasa.gov/20150018260.pdf
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Offline savuporo

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Re: Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« Reply #111 on: 10/01/2015 06:39 PM »
Summary on the state of stirling

Quote
The RPS Program will  continue to construct ASCs at Sunpower in  the  near  term,  but also  has  begun plans with DOE for a reformulated flight hardware development project.
This  plan  will  begin  with  a  release of a Request for Information to establish whether  the  industrial  base  for  Stirling converters  may  be  applicable  to  a  flight  system.  Based  on  the  availability  of  the converters,  Level  I  and  II  requirements will be written for a system  implementation.
Subject    to    funding availability, this would be followed by a Request  for  Proposal for   a   system  implementation,  beginning  with  a TM phase.
Quote
In   any   case,  it   was   concluded   the   outcome   resulting   from   these investments would be of significant benefit to the  future space science program

What a frustratingly colossal waste of time, money and talent.
So they cancelled the previous ASRG flight hardware contract, but associated civil servant people in the associated programs are obviously around and keep working on things. So they are winding down the program and collecting and re-purposing bits and pieces. They'll keep working on component technologies and demonstrators. Then they'll do another pass of RFIs and RFPs, hope to get funding, and maybe 10 years later something marginally better will come out of it. Also, the priorities have not changed, ASRG-like power sources are a top enabling technology for deep space missions.

Meanwhile, outer planets mission proposals consists of 'a tennis field of solar panels with two tiny instruments attached to it' as some people on twitter quipped.
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Offline D_Dom

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Re: Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« Reply #112 on: 10/01/2015 07:08 PM »
Not sure this is appropriate here, mentions reprocessing plutonium briefly. Is it possible this effort could lead to increased availability of Pu-238?
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Offline Blackstar

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Re: Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« Reply #113 on: 10/01/2015 08:07 PM »
Not sure this is appropriate here, mentions reprocessing plutonium briefly. Is it possible this effort could lead to increased availability of Pu-238?

Which effort? If they build an ASRG and have confidence in it, that will use less Pu-238, meaning that more is available for other missions--with a caveat: some missions require the MMRTG because they need the excess heat that an ASRG does not produce. Also, there may be missions that people don't want to use the ASRG on.

Now on the production front there are two issues:

1-if they spend more money, they can produce more Pu-238. I don't know how much more is required, but there is a direct relationship, that is why they are producing less than the 1.5 kg that they planned, they don't have enough money.

2-there is a proposed method for increasing production at minimal cost, but it has not been tested. Right now, as I understand it, they dilute the Neptunium fuel with an aluminum oxidizer and then stick it in metal (aluminum?) tubes that they then insert in a reactor. They dilute it to keep the temperature down. However, there is a method where they don't dilute it and simply pack it into a different metal tube (zirconium?). They can then get it much hotter in the reactor. This has three effects: it produces more Pu-238, the Pu-238 is higher quality, and there is no aluminum oxide that has to be removed from the material. The latter point is apparently a big time and cost sink for current Pu-238 production, so if they can eliminate that, they can produce more Pu-238 at no real increase in cost (I doubt it will cost less because nothing costs less). Apparently a similar process is currently used for commercial reactor fuel production, so they need to apply that to Pu-238 fuel production in a test form and see if that will work. Somebody has to fund that initial test.

Offline manboy

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Re: Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« Reply #114 on: 12/23/2015 11:29 PM »
ORNL achieves milestone with plutonium-238 sample

With the production of 50 grams of plutonium-238, researchers at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory have restored a U.S. capability dormant for nearly 30 years and set the course to provide power for NASA and other missions. The new sample, which is in the same oxide powder form used to manufacture heat sources for power systems, represents the first end-to-end demonstration of a plutonium-238 production capability in the United States since the Savannah River Plant in South Carolina ceased production of the material in the late 1980s.

Researchers will analyze the sample for chemical purity and plutonium-238 content, then verify production efficiency models and determine whether adjustments need to be made before scaling up the process.

“Once we automate and scale up the process, the nation will have a long-range capability to produce radioisotope power systems such as those used by NASA for deep space exploration,” said Bob Wham, who leads the project for the lab’s Nuclear Security and Isotope Technology Division.

With continued NASA funding, DOE’s Oak Ridge and Idaho national laboratories can ensure that NASA’s needs are met, initially by producing 300 to 400 grams of the material per year and then, through automation and scale-up processes, by producing an average of 1.5 kilograms per year.

https://www.ornl.gov/news/ornl-achieves-milestone-plutonium-238-sample
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Offline Blackstar

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Re: Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« Reply #115 on: 12/24/2015 01:26 AM »
I don't follow this stuff very closely (well, I do when I'm paying attention, but at this moment I am not paying attention), but I think this story keeps getting garbled. There have been a few times over the past year or so, I think, when it has been reported that plutonium production has been started, or alternatively, that it won't start for another 4-5 years. I think that's a result of how complex the production cycle is.

If I understand it correctly (somebody correct me if I am wrong) a few years ago DoE produced some new Pu-238, but it was only a test batch. I think that what they have started producing now is the actual production material. And I think that it will take several years before they actually start producing new fuel pellets that can go into RTGs.


Offline Targeteer

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Re: Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« Reply #116 on: 12/24/2015 01:47 AM »
ORNL achieves milestone with plutonium-238 sample

With the production of 50 grams of plutonium-238, researchers at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory have restored a U.S. capability dormant for nearly 30 years and set the course to provide power for NASA and other missions. The new sample, which is in the same oxide powder form used to manufacture heat sources for power systems, represents the first end-to-end demonstration of a plutonium-238 production capability in the United States since the Savannah River Plant in South Carolina ceased production of the material in the late 1980s.

Researchers will analyze the sample for chemical purity and plutonium-238 content, then verify production efficiency models and determine whether adjustments need to be made before scaling up the process.

“Once we automate and scale up the process, the nation will have a long-range capability to produce radioisotope power systems such as those used by NASA for deep space exploration,” said Bob Wham, who leads the project for the lab’s Nuclear Security and Isotope Technology Division.

With continued NASA funding, DOE’s Oak Ridge and Idaho national laboratories can ensure that NASA’s needs are met, initially by producing 300 to 400 grams of the material per year and then, through automation and scale-up processes, by producing an average of 1.5 kilograms per year.

https://www.ornl.gov/news/ornl-achieves-milestone-plutonium-238-sample

This story is probably based on the above release.  Here's a video linked in the story. 

http://www.popsci.com/plutonium-238-is-produced-in-america-for-first-time-in-30-years?src=SOC&dom=fb

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Offline sdsds

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Re: Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« Reply #117 on: 12/24/2015 04:03 AM »
So to double-check and also put this in perspective:

This production sample announced December 22, 2015 comprised 0.05 kg.
ORNL has set an initial production target rate of 0.3 to 0.5 kg/yr.
Their eventual production rate target is 1.5 kg/yr.
The RTG in the Curiosity rover required 4.8 kg.

The substance in question is 238PuO2.

All correct?
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Offline spacetraveler

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Re: Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« Reply #118 on: 12/25/2015 03:11 PM »
So broadly, it seems like there were/are 4 major phases to restarting production.

1. Research phase
2. Production test phase
3. Initial production run
4. Production scale up

It sounds like phase 2 is now complete and we will be moving into phase 3 over the next few years, followed by phase 4 in the 2020s.

Offline Star One

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Re: Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« Reply #119 on: 01/08/2016 02:14 PM »
Here's another article.

Quote
new batch of plutonium-238 at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee.

“This significant achievement by our team mates at DOE signals a new renaissance in the exploration of our solar system,” said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA’s science mission directorate, in a press release. “Radioisotope power systems are a key tool to power the next generation of planetary orbiters, landers and rovers in our quest to unravel the mysteries of the universe.”

http://spaceflightnow.com/2016/01/07/u-s-lab-generates-first-space-grade-plutonium-sample-since-1980s/


Offline AegeanBlue

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Re: Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« Reply #120 on: 01/10/2016 05:20 AM »
I've ready maybe 6 articles on the issue, all of them just copy the ORNL release. A few actually talked about missions, but in general when describing the production milestones it seems all they can do is copy the press release word to word

Offline sdsds

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Re: Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« Reply #121 on: 01/10/2016 05:52 AM »
I've ready maybe 6 articles on the issue, all of them just copy the ORNL release. A few actually talked about missions, but in general when describing the production milestones it seems all they can do is copy the press release word to word

I think DoE people tend not to be very talkative. In that world, when in doubt about whether something can be said in public, they seem to stay silent.

No, the Pu-238 itself isn't fissile. But don't you think its production requires something that is? So their caution is understandable.

That said, there must be plenty of other people who understand what it will take to ramp up Pu-238 production to the levels described, but I think those people aren't always the kind that journalists like to quote as sources.

All that is just my humble guessing. Take it with a big grain of salt.
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Offline Burninate

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Re: Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« Reply #122 on: 01/10/2016 08:38 AM »
Meanwhile, outer planets mission proposals consists of 'a tennis field of solar panels with two tiny instruments attached to it' as some people on twitter quipped.

And this would be *perfectly fine*, except we resolutely refuse to prioritize the production of tennis courts worth of solar panels, a product that is useful in the inner system, the Earth orbit, and the outer system (as a first choice out to maybe Saturn, and a backup option farther out).  Lots of powerpoints, very few, very small grants.

Why is the 300kw Government Reference Array (3kw at Saturn, 300W at Neptune) still posed as being years off?  Why aren't we building and testing them by the dozen?
« Last Edit: 01/10/2016 08:46 AM by Burninate »

Offline Blackstar

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Re: Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« Reply #123 on: 01/12/2016 06:30 PM »
A lot of people who write articles for so-called news sites are either lazy or under extreme production/deadline pressures. So all they do is rewrite press releases. They don't call anybody or email anybody because that would take time and they don't have time. They just need to spit out new articles immediately.

There's lots of other information on this available if you just do a little digging. And there are people who will/can talk about it. For example, as I understand it, there are two ways to significantly increase production. One is the traditional method, just using more material. The other is switching to a different process that should work, but has to be tested first. There are people who could talk about the general outlines, pros and cons, and costs, of these two processes. But most people writing web articles don't care.


Offline baldusi

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Re: Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« Reply #124 on: 01/12/2016 08:24 PM »
I understand that the first method is to irradiate Neptunium-237. The other is to irradiate Americium, right? In both cases then you have to chemically separate the Pu.
Unless the other method is centrifuge separation which I understand is a lot more expensive.
I do know here they are working on laser Uranium enrichment, but I ignore if it is possible to apply to PU238 production.

Offline Blackstar

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Re: Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« Reply #125 on: 01/12/2016 11:08 PM »
I understand that the first method is to irradiate Neptunium-237. The other is to irradiate Americium, right? In both cases then you have to chemically separate the Pu.

No, I was referring to two methods to get Pu-238 out of Neptunium-237. The first method is the one they are currently using. To increase the amount of Pu-238 they produce, they have to put more Neptunium into the reactor and irradiate it. This is expensive, but I don't know why. I presume it is because they essentially "rent" spaces inside that reactor, and if they want more spaces, they have to pay more for them (because those spaces are being used for other things instead).

The other method is to cook the Neptunium-237 at a higher temperature inside the same reactor. Right now, the Neptunium is mixed in with an aluminum powder to keep it cooler so it does not melt inside the reactor. But if they make the containers out of zirconium, they do not need the aluminum powder. The Neptunium gets much hotter and produces more Pu-238. I described it earlier in this thread and provided a link to a DoE presentation about it.


Offline kevin-rf

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Re: Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« Reply #126 on: 01/13/2016 12:40 AM »
From what you described, it's not really cook it at a higher temperature, but pack it more densely (by not mixing it down with Al powder). The higher temperature is a side effect of denser packing with the same volume to radiate away heat generated by the decay of the Pu-238 and Neptunium-237.
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Offline Star One

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Re: Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« Reply #127 on: 05/18/2016 04:55 PM »
Full-scale production of plutonium-238 still years away

Quote
“What we’re shooting for is to get to an interim production level of around 400 to 500 grams [14 to 18 ounces] per year in 2019, and then full-scale, a kilogram and a half [3.3 lbs.] — if everything goes right — in 2023,” Bob Wham, the Pu-238 project lead in the Nuclear Security and Isotope Technology division at Oak Ridge, said last month during a presentation with NASA’s Future In-Space Operations (FISO) working group.

http://spacenews.com/full-scale-production-of-plutonium-238-still-years-away/

Offline Blackstar

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Re: Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« Reply #128 on: 05/18/2016 10:17 PM »
This has me scratching my head, but I think I know what is going on.

When the U.S. stopped production of Pu-238 back in the late 1980s they were stopping what was essentially a small side-part of a much bigger operation. But soon a lot of that big operation got shut down too with the end of the Cold War. People retire, facilities are shut down, equipment is left to sit and rust.

Now here we are, a quarter century later (yeah, let's repeat that: A QUARTER OF A CENTURY LATER) and a lot of people have retired, and the infrastructure is either gone, or rusted. And so it has to not only be restarted, but in some ways re-invented because we cannot do it the way we previously did it.

I think that it's just turning out to be more complicated than anybody thought 6-7 years ago when people first started the ball rolling to get production restarted.

In a few months I'll be working with Ralph McNutt again and Ralph probably knows more about the overall history and the infrastructure issues than anybody. So I'll have to get some perspective from him on this.

Offline robertross

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Re: Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« Reply #129 on: 05/18/2016 11:40 PM »
...
{snip}
In a few months I'll be working with Ralph McNutt again and Ralph probably knows more about the overall history and the infrastructure issues than anybody. So I'll have to get some perspective from him on this.

That would be very much appreciated, thanks.

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Offline baldusi

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Re: Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« Reply #130 on: 05/19/2016 12:08 PM »
The article also confirms that they have baselined the solvent separation method. If I understood you right the last time, this was something that even back then they wanted to do and they appear to have decided to do this time. It would make sense that if you are going to have to design, validate and certify the process again, to start with the cheap and easy one, since you don't have the nuclear weapon subsidy now.

Offline Blackstar

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Re: Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« Reply #131 on: 05/20/2016 11:55 AM »
The article also confirms that they have baselined the solvent separation method. If I understood you right the last time, this was something that even back then they wanted to do and they appear to have decided to do this time. It would make sense that if you are going to have to design, validate and certify the process again, to start with the cheap and easy one, since you don't have the nuclear weapon subsidy now.

Although I might have commented on the solvent separation method, I think the real upgrade is using zirconium as the containers instead of aluminum. That allows them to get rid of aluminum in the target material, which later has to be removed. With the zirconium, they can cook more material and at a hotter temp/radiation, and then they don't have to remove as many impurities. It speeds up and simplifies the process and produces more Pu-238 with very little change in the actual irradiation process. I don't know the status of that switch.


Offline as58

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Re: Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« Reply #132 on: 06/22/2016 08:07 PM »
Not really related to Pu-238 production, but interesting nonetheless: in May issue of Physics Today there's a nice article about the development of nuclear powered artificial hearts in the 60s and 70s. One AEC design from the early 70s was driven (mechanically, using flexible drive shaft) by a Stirling cycle engine powered by 60 grams of Pu-238. Artificial heart would have replaced patient's diseased heart, while the power source would have been implanted in the abdomen.

The article is available at http://scitation.aip.org/content/aip/magazine/physicstoday/69/5.

Offline iamlucky13

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Re: Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« Reply #133 on: 06/24/2016 12:02 AM »
I'm sorry for jumping back to relatively old posts. I don't have time to keep up with interesting topics like this regularly.


Which effort? If they build an ASRG and have confidence in it, that will use less Pu-238, meaning that more is available for other missions--with a caveat: some missions require the MMRTG because they need the excess heat that an ASRG does not produce. Also, there may be missions that people don't want to use the ASRG on.

Are you aware off the top of your head of specific mission studies where the lower heat output of an ASRG would have been a problem. It may only 1/4 as much waste heat as an MMRTG, but 400-500W still seems like a decent amount for keeping electronics boxes and bearings warm.

Offline iamlucky13

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Re: Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« Reply #134 on: 06/24/2016 12:23 AM »
Meanwhile, outer planets mission proposals consists of 'a tennis field of solar panels with two tiny instruments attached to it' as some people on twitter quipped.

And this would be *perfectly fine*, except we resolutely refuse to prioritize the production of tennis courts worth of solar panels, a product that is useful in the inner system, the Earth orbit, and the outer system (as a first choice out to maybe Saturn, and a backup option farther out).  Lots of powerpoints, very few, very small grants.

Why is the 300kw Government Reference Array (3kw at Saturn, 300W at Neptune) still posed as being years off?  Why aren't we building and testing them by the dozen?

Cost and mass. Current prices for multi-junction cells put the cost of a 300W array in the ballpark of $75 million. Costs would probably drop a moderate amount if such a large order were placed because as I understand it that would cause a big increase in the overall production, but we're probably still talking about the same rough order of magnitude. Such an expenditure is not going to happen unless a mission is actually committed to that needs it.

It won't happen for outer solar system missions because the estimated mass is around 4 tonnes:
http://ntrs.nasa.gov/archive/nasa/casi.ntrs.nasa.gov/20140000360.pdf

It might be a possible trade for Saturn. Cassini's RTG's were rated for about 800 Watts at the beginning of the mission, so for a mission with similar energy requirements you'd be looking at ~1 tonne of mass. That would increase the dry mass of Cassini by almost 50%. That's not exactly encouraging, but probably not entirely out of the question.

Offline Blackstar

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Re: Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« Reply #135 on: 06/24/2016 12:50 AM »
I'm sorry for jumping back to relatively old posts. I don't have time to keep up with interesting topics like this regularly.


Which effort? If they build an ASRG and have confidence in it, that will use less Pu-238, meaning that more is available for other missions--with a caveat: some missions require the MMRTG because they need the excess heat that an ASRG does not produce. Also, there may be missions that people don't want to use the ASRG on.

Are you aware off the top of your head of specific mission studies where the lower heat output of an ASRG would have been a problem. It may only 1/4 as much waste heat as an MMRTG, but 400-500W still seems like a decent amount for keeping electronics boxes and bearings warm.

Yeah. There have been proposals for Titan balloons that would use an RTG power source. Apparently the RTG would produce enough heat for the balloon, but an ASRG would not. I imagine that any spacecraft that needs the heat for more than electronics boxes would have that problem. I think Ralph Lorenz of APL created a list.

Online gongora

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Re: Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« Reply #136 on: 10/04/2017 09:48 PM »
[This is the most recent thread on the topic I could quickly find, if there is a more recent active thread let me know.]

The GAO released a report entitled "DOE Could Improve Planning and Communication Related to Plutonium- 238 and Radioisotope Power Systems Production Challenges."  I find it convenient that you can know their conclusion without even opening the report.  A copy is attached.

Offline Blackstar

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Re: Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« Reply #137 on: 10/05/2017 02:05 AM »
I watched the hearing. One of the speakers is somebody that I worked with on the Pu-238 issue back in 2009. I thought that many of the questions from the Congress members were rather dumb. The bottom line is that DoE and NASA are on the way to getting production up and running and there are no real problems now. But if you watched the hearing, you might have noticed a number of times that the witnesses were puzzled by the questions.


Offline Star One

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Re: Good news on the Plutonium production issue
« Reply #138 on: 10/10/2017 04:28 PM »
Plutonium supply for NASA missions faces long-term challenges

Quote
While NASA and the Department of Energy (DOE) have restarted production of a plutonium isotope used to power some space missions, a new report warns of challenges that could threaten its long-term supply.

The Oct. 4 report by the Government Accountability Office, tied to a House space subcommittee hearing on the subject, said that while there is sufficient plutonium-238 in stockpiles now for missions planned through the mid-2020s, scaling up production of the isotope faces a number of technical issues.

“DOE is making progress towards producing new plutonium-238,” said Shelby Oakley, director of acquisition and sourcing management at the GAO, in testimony at the hearing. “However, DOE faces challenges in hiring and training the necessary workforce, perfecting and scaling up chemical processing, and ensuring the availability of reactors that must be addressed or its ability to meet NASA’s needs could be jeopardized.”

http://spacenews.com/plutonium-supply-for-nasa-missions-faces-long-term-challenges/

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