Author Topic: Good news on the Plutonium production issue  (Read 58541 times)

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 »

Offline Herb Schaltegger

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.
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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/


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