back to article NASA mulls nuclear Moon reactor

I see the moon/The moon sees me/Down through the leaves of the old oak tree/Please the the light that shines on me/Be home to fission surface power technology The Moon is terrific as far as desolate orbiting rocks go, but by all accounts it's rather lacking in the nuclear power generator department. Which is a shame because …


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  1. PunkTiger

    I've seen this before...

    Will Martin Landau be the commander of the moonbase?

    Mine's the one with the Eagle insignia on it.

    /13 September 1999 -- Never Forget!

  2. K. Adams

    The three "Esses": Small, Simple, Safe

    A fission reactor located at such a distant outpost would need to be small, simple, and safe, with high durability and a preponderance of graceful failure modes.

    Thus, niceties such as control rods and primary coolant pumps are off the table.

    One of the interesting designs that fit these criteria is the pebble bed fission reactor. Small, round slugs of radioactive material are encased within spherical graphite "pebbles", which are between a golf ball and bocce ball in size.

    Toss a bunch o' pebbles in a sturdy sealed can, fill it up with an appropriate heat transfer fluid (in the physics/chemistry sense - such as steam), hook up some tubing to carry the fluid, and bury the whole kit in the backyard. Voila! A self-moderating, low-maintenance, unobtrusively quiet power plant. (Not that you would hear much outdoors on the Moon, but you get the idea...)


  3. Solomon Grundy


    Why can't they use windmills?

  4. Graham Dawson Silver badge

    Bye bye moon!

    Remember, it was an exploding nuclear dump in the inimitable Space: 1999 that sent the moon hurtling off across the galaxy at improbably high speeds...

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Haven't they watched Space 1999?!

    They'll be piling up the nuclear waste which will be an accident waiting to happen and before long the moon will be knocked out of orbit!

  6. Anonymous Coward

    Angel of the North

    Clearly the geordies are way ahead of NASA. I drove past Newcastle's 'fission surface power system' only last week.

  7. Steen Hive


    Has the moon signed the NPT?

  8. Neoc

    Forget "Space:1999"...

    ...looks like we're on schedule for "Space:2099".

  9. sam
    Thumb Up

    I want one.

    Dumpster size nuclear generators!

    So that was the electric car power plant the oil companies were covering up!

  10. Kanhef

    Great idea

    Disposal of old fuel won't be an issue - throw it hard enough and it'll land a couple hundred miles away. If you made the reactor a bit larger, you could use it to heat the complex directly, rather than use electric heaters.

  11. Herby

    Windmills? Solar??

    Why not? You could erect quite a large windmill in 1/6 g space. Take quite a bit less steel. Solar would work as well, no atmosphere to bog things down.

    What? No atmosphere, no wind, dark 14 days in a row. Small details!

    Another idea: Scale up one of those black/white in globe things. It might even work. You just need large white panels (4) with black facings on the obverse. A nice bearing, and away it goes. With no atmosphere, it would spin quite nicely!

  12. Dave

    Hurry up!

    If they don't get a move on, it'll be too late. The moon will be full in a few days...

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Deja vu

  14. Anonymous Coward

    @Solomon Grundy

    Yea! Solar windmills using light pressure! That should be able to generate nanowatts galore!

  15. Jasmine Strong

    Pebble bed's no good

    ...there's no way on earth you're going to want to carry that sort of volume of moderator up there. It's just too heavy. I'd personally be thinking of something rather more like the Russian TOPAZ design.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    what's the issue?

    Not a bad idea - waste could be jettisoned to Sun under low G conditions no?

    Providing the mini-reactor itself could also be in case of emergency, I see no actual problem here?!?

  17. Anonymous Coward

    isotope thermocouple jobbies

    you know, like in those space probes.

    It would make sense to use them (and it would take several), as a baseline power supply for stuff like the life support systems. Even if you end up using a full reactor for the bulk of your needs, isotope thingies track record of reliability makes them an ideal choice.

    After all, if they have problems while facing away from the sun (assuming the base is not at the poles? Does the moon have a tilt relative to the sun?). Its either sealed-unit-with-reliable-output-for-30-years or its bycicles and dynamos, assuming food+o2 will last long enough to get main power back online.

    I apologise for any lack of sense making.

  18. E


    I can think of no better place for fission reactors, indeed fission power and breeder reactors, than The Dark Side of the Moon.

    If NASA decides to go solar instead then they can Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun.

    If they do that then perhaps we on Earth can all ride our Bike.

  19. E

    @K. Adams

    Why not dig a mine all the way to the centre of the moon and dump all our nuclear waste into it? The pit will get really hot and stay that way for thousands of years. We could then mine the pit for thermal energy for a very long time.

  20. Lucian Rosu

    What about meteor rains on the moon?

    What about the risk of beeing hit by a meteor. Like it happened this summer in august, multiple meteor hits on the moon.

    Doesn't look this project risky?

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    they'd fall over

  22. Aristotles slow and dimwitted horse

    They had better not build it on the 4 acres of moon that I own.

    And I've got the certificates to prove it.

  23. Ed

    Meh all i wanna know is...

    Will china launch a moon mission to try and disprove the luna landing....\

    If they did the good old US of A would have some splaining to do

  24. Anonymous Coward

    very technical....

    The first design is by Sunpower Inc, of Athens Ohio. It's described as using two opposed piston engines coupled to alternators that produce 6 kilowatts each

    Perhaps you might want to give this a name? Its a stirling Engine, more specifically a free piston stirling engine, powered by radioisotope emmission, and called the Stirling Radioisotope Generrator, or SRG for short.

    More on the wikiweb

  25. n

    moon is a rogue nuclear terrorist state responsible for 11/9...

    ...IF the moon people sell their energy in lunar credits instead of dollars.

  26. Corrine

    Harder then it sounds...

    No atmosphere and a lack of easily renewable water is going to make cooling this thing very very difficult. And the moons has some pretty wild temperature swings, which will mess with any kind of heat engines output pretty badly.

    I guess you could supplement with solar in the daytime when a nuke plant would be less efficient though.

  27. Anonymous Coward

    But surely...?

    ....a nuclear power station on the moon might contaminate all the cheese there!

  28. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Lets face it

    At the moment, nuclear power is the ONLY viable power source for long periods of time on the moon. Also, if they US decides to do it, theres nothing in the world that'll make them change their mind, OR accept responsibility if it goes wrong, so why complain?

  29. Alex

    @"What about meteor rains on the moon"

    Sod the meteors! What about the monthly quakes that happen??

    In my heart, I truly want the moon to have somesort of highly technical space port there, but in reality, I think it'll prove to be not the best idea...

    @E: I think I'm right in saying the the core is solid, yes, but the outer core is still fluid? Drilling down would be pretty labourious and down-right dangerous. Maybe someone with larger frontal lobes can elaborate my thinking...

  30. FlatSpot


    Isnt there submarine already on the moon? I read a news headline about it a few years back.. surely that already has a nuclear reactor in it they could hook up to??

  31. Scott Broukell

    Demonstration unit....

    I'd like to see human kind apply the greatest minds to building a working "technology demonstration unit" which would enable us to live sustainably on this rock please. I for one would rather stabilize our growth (population etc.) to levels we can continue with on this planet, than continue to waste trillions of $$$ "reaching for the stars" when the support our technological 'ladder' is perched on, good 'ol mother earth, is vandalized before our eyes.

    But then of course, in time, should we continue down this road, mother earth will do the good thing and erase human kind from existence through famine, pestilence, disease, climatic catastrophe and with a little help from our war-mongering greedtard capitalist overlord medievalist theologians.

    (Mine's the one with "The End is Nigh" on the back and front)

  32. amanfromMars Silver badge

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  33. Anonymous Coward
    Dead Vulture

    @Isotope thermocouple jobbies AC

    you mean a radiothermal generator?

    Sounds okay- half-life of ~90 years, 1kg of fuel = 1kW if it's a good efficient one.

    Like you say, it would be less practical for main power generation. But a collection of them would be a good idea for powering the life-support systems, basic comms with earth and so on.

    And a nice helium-3 fusion reactor providing most of the power. If that worked, how about a power-sat network that would take a very powerful microwave beam from the Moon's fusion power grid and bounce it around to receiver stations on the surface of the earth? Good green (cheap!) electrons for all! The ability to provide power to rocket propulsion systems from above them (lowering losses and almost removing fuel costs)!

    Conveient power for some sort of _good_ orbital base (I'm thinking more the Enterprise E than the ISS- with the better space-lifter tech there'd be less constraints on size/shape/weight of components)

    And an effective weapon against anyone who dares piss off the guy controlling the satellites :P

    The vulture got caught in the Microwave beam, unfortunately :(

  34. Steve Glover

    Harder than you'd think

    @AC: it's not cheap, chucking stuff into the Sun: anything in the Earth-Moon system has an orbital velocity of about 107,000 km/hr which you need to lose before anything's going to simply fall into the Sun....

  35. heystoopid
    Thumb Up

    Oh No

    Oh no the old SNAP's will be taken out of storage from a place called Hanford , Washington State and place on the big old but reliable Russian Launcher(US ones from M-T have a tendency go bang on the ground and there is no one left at NASA or the contractors left with the knowledge to build the Saturn Series again) .

    So why are we starting the cold war again ?

  36. Graham Marsden


    It wasn't a submarine, it was a World War II bomber, as reported by the Sunday Sport!

  37. Joe Cooper

    @Scott Broukell

    We are. This is called ITER.

    NASA takes like half a percent of the federal budget. The fact that you single out NASA makes you come off like an anti-science populist, which is terrible since you're using a computer and the internet (a DARPA project!) to blast your message.

  38. Martyn Ranyard

    This has already will happen(ed)

    Temporal mechanics makes my head hurt, but H.G.Wells said they blew up the moon....

  39. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @Jasmine Strong

    Ah TOPAZ - you mean the completely unshielded nuclear reactor fuelled by highly enriched uranium?

    Nope, can't see a problem with that?

  40. Ross

    Cooling towers

    Eh? Why on Gods offwhite moon would you want cooling towers on the moon? First of all, ambient temperature on the moon spans over 200C so during the day you'd struggle to cool the steam below 100C, and at night it'd freeze solid in the pipes.

    Second, (and I may be mistaken here) there is no water cycle on the moon, so venting water vapour into the "atmosphere" is kind of a waste.

    The other problem is of course you need cooling towers for larger scale reactors. Larger scale reactors require more fuel. Ppl living in the middle of the Pacific and (especially) in Russia tend to get a bit twitchy if the Americans throw >15kg of fissile material up into space. To be honest a lot of other ppl do too...

  41. Mike

    A simpler solution

    would be to put a polar generating station on the moon with radial "arms" spread out on both the light side and dark side. With the proper fluid (water with antifreeze?) the 400F temperature differential that is continuously available should be able to provide all the power you need. Of course you would need some kind of backup system for those pesky eclipses, but that is what batteries are for ;)

  42. Melonfish

    Jintao says NO!

    Can you honestly see the chinese or even the russians agreeing to a nuclear site on the moon?

    "All the better to shoot nuclear weapons at you my dear"

  43. Scott Broukell

    @ Joe Cooper

    I thought I suggested we “apply the greatest minds” to the problems in our own backyard. Those most likely to be scientific I guess in order to apply material solutions.

    Those are biilions of dollars being spent you know;

    I think you will find that since 2004 NASA's budget has been around the 10$B mark. Whilst the war on terror and homeland security have been netween 480$B – 670$B (“war mongering”), many times more. High energy Physics has faced cut backs recently with US research on the fussion reactor project being at about 300$M, a paltry sum.

    What I suggest is we realign our goals for technology and kick out the drivers which are primarily focused on commercial benefit, not the longterm future of human kind.

    Remember - “Whatever your cause, it's a lost cause, unless we limit population”

  44. Steve

    NASA funding

    Perhaps this idea is to help provide more funding for NASA. Turning the moon into a giant advertising billboard needs a good power source...

  45. Geoff Mackenzie

    Waste into the sun

    From the Moon the Earth is handier, and 'downhill'. Screw those guys.

  46. Solomon Grundy

    @Jintao says NO!

    Actually they are entitled to some space on the moon too - everyone in the UN is entitled to a bit.

  47. Jasmine Strong

    What's the problem with "unshielded"?

    The lunar surface is a good place to put unshielded radioactive things. After all, the place is constantly deluged with radiation from the Sun anyway.

    If the radiation worries you that much, just dig a deep hole and bury the thing. It's not like there's any risk of groundwater contamination.

  48. Zmodem

    whats a matter with a submarine reactor

    they fit in a submarine. and have a full radiation shield, i dont see no big concrete pillars sticking out,

    less power = more journeys and less science and cups of coffee

  49. Kevin Kitts

    Isn't this kind of dumb?

    Putting a nuclear reactor in an area that has alternate freezing/heating ranges of over 100 degrees? Can the system physically handle that added heat/freeze alternation without suffering material stress, breaking and subsequently melting down?

    Go figure, nuking the Moon before we even set up our first settlement. Stupid.

    And yes, I know it's tiny. It's the thought that counts. The thought from the same minds who said that all the space junk would burn up in the atmosphere that they're currently tracking in orbit, and that the Challenger was ready to fly that one day. I want full specifications before I even think of signing on to such an idea.

  50. Anonymous Coward

    I've seen this movie somewhere before.....

    Do any of you Brits know someone who sells falling moonshard-proof umbrellas? I figured with all the rain over there you guys would be leaders in this kind of thing...

  51. Zmodem

    dont need umbrellas

    real brits dont care for nothing and get on with life. all saying shepton mallet in hardcore techno clubnights

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