With manned Mars missions on the horizon, nuclear-powered rockets are finally getting reconsidered

I was a sophomore in high school when someone asked me, “what do you want to do when you graduate college?” To which I promptly replied, “make nuclear rockets.”

Nuclear-Powered Rockets Could Be The Best Option For Bringing Humans To Mars

Source: NPR

Finally, nuclear-powered rockets for space travel are getting some recognition.

Japan Crisis Continues

Daiichi Nuclear Plant

The No.3 nuclear reactor of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant at Minamisoma is seen burning after a blast following an earthquake and tsunami in this handout satellite image taken March 14, 2011.

Japanese engineers worked through the night to lay a 1.5 km (one mile) electricity cable to a crippled nuclear power plant in the hope of restarting pumps desperately needed to pour cold water on overheating fuel rods and avert a catastrophe. (Reuters)

Several sources have said that there was radioactive material released into the atmosphere, but they differ on just how much. They also differ on the severity of the disaster. Some say best case like Three Mile Island, worst case Chernobyl. Tokyo is less than 200 miles south of the plant and they afraid of radiation – levels spiked to 10 times normal a few days after the earthquake.

[6:28 a.m. ET Thursday, 7:28 p.m. Thursday in Tokyo] Japan’s National Police Agency reported at 6 p.m. Thursday (5 a.m. ET) that 5,457 people are confirmed dead; 9,508 have been reported missing; and 2,409 were injured following last week’s 9.0-magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami. (CNN)

A week after the earthquake and they are still fighting fires, trying to prevent total core meltdown to at least 3 of the 6 reactors at Daiichi, and trying to limit radiation release/exposure. The whole world has rushed to Japan’s aid.

First nuclear plant in 30 years

This is great news. I’m glad we finally got a power plant. I’ve been out of the nuclear game for 12 years, but I have always wanted more nuclear power in the United States.

The Obama administration yesterday (Feb 16, 2010) pledged a conditional $8.3 billion loan guarantee to support the construction of two nuclear reactors in Georgia, which would be the first new U.S. nuclear plants in more than three decades. Source: NYTimes.com | PETER BEHR | February 17, 2010 | DOE Delivers Its First, Long-Awaited Nuclear Loan Guarantee.

Thirty years ago a series of events led to the stoppage of nuclear power in the United States. The Three Mile Island accident occurred March 28, 1979. Then a severe recession began in December 1980 and the prime interest rate eventually reached 21.5% by June 1982. Nuclear power was deemed unsafe and too expensive.

Today, terrorism is more of a concern than accidents. Unfortunately for the industry I fear the results would be the same. If an attack was successful, I think the nuclear power industry in America would shift into reverse. Existing power plants would be taken offline, and their radioactive materials would be buried deep underground. I could be wrong. They might strengthen walls, increase security, and fight back, but that is less likely considering the tension between the public and nuclear energy.

Here’s an interesting comparison. In 1977 Crystal River began operating one PWR. Doing my ol’ back of the napkin calculations, the estimated cost (in 2006 dollars) to build would have been roughly $1,365,940,000. The an average overrun of 169% the actual cost would have been roughly $3,667,926,000. So, that tells me costs went up roughly 13%. This time its not inflation or interest its labor and materials that puts the price so high.

838 MW * $1,630,000/MW = $1,365,940,000

838MW * $4,377,000/MW = $3,667,926,000

Finally, 2010, The Year We Make Contact

2010 Movie Poster

Is this the year we make contact? With whom, you might ask. Well, if you ask that then you don’t know what I’m talking about. The year 2010…the movie 2010…this is the year! Will we make contact with aliens? Who knows.

What I do know is what I remember thinking about what will happen in 2010. I thought I’ll turn 39 in 2010, and that sounded old. When I graduated high school my first thought was that my 10 year reunion will be in 2000, and my second thought was that my 20 year reunion will be in 2010. I thought maybe I would be working on space nuclear power by 2010.

Things I didn’t know would happen include the death of both of my parents before 2010. I never thought I would be married let alone on my second marriage by 2010; or have 3 step kids. I didn’t know I would be living in Texas for 15 years in 2010.

It’s easy to say, “I wish I knew then what I know now,” but the truth is “life is like a box of chocolates,” you really don’t know what you’re going to end up with. I wish my mom and dad could have lived forever, but they’re in a better place now than where they were a few years ago. I wish I only married once – to avoid that pain – but I’m glad I met my second wife.

I’ve changed quite a bit in 25 years since the movie came out. In 1984 I turned 13 years old in 6th grade. I wasn’t thinking too much about the future. I was concentrating on making good grades in 6 classes per day in a new school. It wasn’t too long before I would start focusing on what I would do in college and beyond.

In high school I started thinking about space nuclear power, specifically space ships and nuclear powered rockets. It wasn’t until I went to college that I learned we had already made nuclear powered rockets, but we should not expect to use them any time soon. It’s 2010 – about 50 years after the first test of a nuclear rocket – and we still don’t have a nuclear rocket.