Nukewatch Quarterly Fall 2019
Twelve days after the experimental nuclear reactor-propelled rocket exploded in Russia killing eight scientists, and with funeral services for the dead barely complete, President Trump signed a White House memorandum supporting the rocketing of US nuclear reactors into outer space. Trump’s Aug. 20 memo gives NASA managers “180 days to create an Interagency Nuclear Safety Review Board to ensure the safety of launching radioisotope power systems, fission reactors used for power and propulsion and more,” the New York Post reported. “The federal government and private companies have been eyeing nuclear-powered space exploration and nuclear reactors to fuel missions to the moon, Mars and beyond,” the Post reported.
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine bubbled with enthusiasm at an August meeting of the National Space Council, saying his scientists could harness the heat from nuclear reactors to accelerate propellants to tremendous speeds.
Rex Geveden, president and CEO of BWX Technologies, claimed that a reactor-powered rocket could cut in half the travel time needed to reach Mars. Geveden said at the Space Council meeting, “If we are to fulfill these objectives to establish a long-term presence on the moon and to send the first crewed mission to Mars, nuclear power is arguably the most important to enable these bold goals.” BWX Technologies sells reactor parts and reactor fuel to the government and the nuclear industry. NASA’s Bridenstine said nuclear-powered propulsion “gives us an opportunity to really protect life when we talk about the radiation dose when we travel between earth and Mars,” the Houston Chronicle reported. —New York Post; www.space.com; and Houston Chronicle; Aug. 20, 2019