The Department of Energy wrote in a notice published on Friday that small nuclear reactors could provide the necessary power capacity for missions to be launch for space exploration and other information. The Department of Energy, NASA, and the Battelle Energy Alliance, the American contractor that manages the Idaho National Laboratory, plans to hold a government-industry webcast technical meeting in August about expectations for such a program.
The plan has two phases, the first one being developing a reactor design. Another is building a test reactor. Sending a second reactor to the moon and developing a flight system and lander that can successfully launch and place the reactor to the moon. Their target is to build a reactor, flight system, and lander by the end of 2026. Which can be sent to the Moon and Mars.
The reactor will be built in such a way that it is capable of generating at least 10 kW of non-stop power. According to the US Energy Information Administration, an average American residential home uses about 11,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity per year. The Department of Energy said that it would likely to send several connected reactors to meet power needs on the Moon or Mars. Also, the reactor cannot carry more than 7,700 pounds (3,500 kg) of weight. It can last for at least 10 years.
The Department of Energy said, "the reactor is intended to support research in the south polar region of the Moon." The agency said that a specific area on the surface of Mars has not yet been identified for research. Edwin Lyman, director of nuclear energy safety at the Association of Nonprofit Scientists, said his organization is concerned with design parameters.
He says, "his colleagues are trying to build reactors that use highly enriched uranium, which can also be used in weapons. Nations are generally attempting to reduce the amount of uranium produced for that reason."
He said that this could trigger a new kind of international space race to build and deploy new types of reactors or create the need for highly enriched uranium. Earlier this week, the United Arab Emirates began orbiting Mars and China launched an orbiter, lander, and rover. The US has already landed rovers on the Red Planet and plans to send another one next week.
Officials say, "the operation of a nuclear reactor on the moon would be the first step in creating a modified edition to operate under the various conditions found on Mars."
John Wagner, associate laboratory director of INL's Institute of Nuclear Science and Technology said, "the Idaho National Laboratory has a central role in emphasizing the United State's global leadership in advanced reactors. The prospect of deploying an advance reactor on the lunar surface is as exciting as it is challenging."