Fifty Years of Space Nuclear Power
June 28, 2011 11:33 AM   Subscribe

Steven Aftergood at the Federation of American Scientists presents Fifty Years of Space Nuclear Power "A plutonium fueled RTG that was deployed in 1965 by the CIA not in space but on a mountaintop in the Himalayas (to help monitor Chinese nuclear tests) continues to generate anxiety, not electricity, more than four decades after it was lost in place. See, most recently, "River Deep Mountain High" by Vinod K. Jose, The Caravan magazine, December 1, 2010." (MeFi previously)
posted by HLD (8 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
note that the Voyagers and the new Mars rover use RTGs too. They will probably have to be used for any interplanetary manned exploration as well.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:51 AM on June 28, 2011

That Caravan piece is good reading. Thanks for sharing.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:11 PM on June 28, 2011

Kirk Sorensen gave a talk back in January about how the U-233 inventory at Oak Ridge National Labs could be harvested to provide the Pu-238 necessary for generators of this type.

Currently that stockpile is scheduled to be destroyed.
posted by Araucaria at 1:51 PM on June 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Seriously? Did you just deliver nuclear powered device to the Yeti? FOR FREE???

When humans start dying out and the Yeti population becomes more and more visible, us humans will have to concede the planet to them. And they'll probably make us say "Yes, you are more evolved than us".

And we should say it.
posted by hal_c_on at 2:25 PM on June 28, 2011

Currently that stockpile is scheduled to be destroyed.
How do you destroy something with a half life that is longer than human history?
posted by hal_c_on at 2:27 PM on June 28, 2011

Maybe the Indian government just took it and blamed and avalanche. They would bother looking for something that can't be found.
posted by humanfont at 4:44 PM on June 28, 2011

I'm not sure I've heard the expression 'lost in place' before.
posted by MtDewd at 5:17 PM on June 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

On November 16, 1996 a Russian satellite launch (Mars-96) failed with 200g of Pu onboard. (About 1/5 of the 1964 Transit ... so about 3400 curies.)

It came down somewhere near the Chile-Bolivian border. In a massive understatement, Chile's Manuel Baquedano said "Just half a gram dissolved in the drinking water is enough to poison half the population of Santiago."

Nothing was ever (known to be) recovered. One more demonstration (of a dozen or so Pu-sat failures) that these launches are inherently unwise. Supposedly RTG's have been re-designed to be much safer; I see no reason to take that assertion on faith.
posted by Twang at 8:01 PM on June 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

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