June 30, 2003

By Bruce Gagnon

NASA, in cooperation with the Department of Energy (DoE), is seeking public comment by July 30, 2004 on their plan to expand the development and testing of nuclear powered devices called Radioisotope Power Systems (RPSs) for space missions.
NASA is now preparing a major expansion of nuclear powered launches to the outer planets and Mars. 
  • Radioactive fuel processing and fabrication would likely occur at Los Alamos Nat'l Lab in New Mexico.
  • Advanced RPS assembly and testing would likely be performed at Argonne Nat'l Lab - West in Idaho Falls, ID.
  • Additional safety testing of advanced RPS could be performed at:  Sandia Nat'l Lab (Albuquerque, NM) and Army Aberdeen Proving Grounds (Aberdeen, MD).
  • Activities associated with the development, testing, and verification of the power conversion systems could be performed at:  NASA's Glenn Center (Cleveland, OH); Jet Propulsion Lab (Pasadena, CA); Boeing Rocketdyne (Canoga Park, CA); Teledyne Energy Systems (Hunt Valley, MD); Stirling Technology Corp (Kennewick, WA); and Lockheed Martin (Valley Forge, PA).
  • Eventual launch of these new nuclear space devices would be performed at:  Kennedy Space Center (Florida).
Please send your comments to NASA opposing this expanded program of nuclear power in space by July 30, 2004.  Comments from people outside the U.S. are also encouraged.
Send comments to: 
Dr. George Schmidt
Office of Space Science, Code S
Washington DC 20546
Suggested comments:
  1. The increase in plutonium production for space missions at Los Alamos laboratory, where DoE already has a bad health and safety track record, will lead to more contaminated workers and groundwater.
  2. The expanded numbers of launches of nuclear devices, on rockets with a historic 10% failure rate, guarantee an accident at some point of catastrophic proportions.
  3. Alternative power sources for deep space missions could be developed if NASA and the DoE put effort and investment into the task.
  4. The Pentagon has long sought to institutionalize nuclear power in space, which would then be available for military purposes.

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