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Topics Homepage> Nuclear-powered spacecraft should be banned by the international community > PRO side

Nuclear-powered spacecraft should be banned by the international community


1) Project Prometheus was established in 2003 by NASA to develop nuclear-powered systems for long-duration space mission and is still going on. The Project Prometheus goal, a 100-kilowatt reactor, is a thousand times the energy output of a moderate-sized solar panel like the ones used on the Pathfinder mission for the Sojourner rover. It is the difference between a desk light and a stadium lighting system.
2) In 1962, NASA's chief of nuclear energy stated, The energy available in radioisotopes is many orders of magnitude larger than that available in batteries, and thus they constitute a concentrated energy source that may be used for space purposes. Radioisotope power is reliable. Reactors for nuclear power have the capability to generate more than 100 kilowatts of electricity, making them much more powerful than other forms of energy generation in space.

1. Assertion: Nuclear spacecrafts disrupt the operation of other satellites.

Reasoning/Evidence: When a nuclear spacecraft is launched, it sends out a signal which can easily disrupt other satellites' operation.
To minimize mass and cost, orbiting reactors are largely unshielded. They thus produce strong emissions of radiation that can make it difficult for astronomical satellites to detect signals from distant sources.

This phenomenon, which was kept secret by the U.S. government until 1988, has already significantly interfered with the work of orbiting gamma ray detection systems such as that on board the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Solar Maximum Mission. Gamma rays are electromagnetic radiation of high frequency, so it is vitally important to have these types of detection systems. If these systems fail or even do not completely work, the lives of astronauts and also the success of the mission are at risk.

These interruptions of astronomical observations afflicted the Solar Maximum Mission spacecraft an average of eight times a day for much of 1987 and early 1988, when the nuclear spacecrafts were operating. Similar interference with the gamma-ray burst detector on board the Japanese Ginga satellite effectively blinded it during about a fifth of the same period. Emissions from the Soviet nuclear spacecraft daily disrupt the operation of scientific instruments flown by groups from nations including the United States, the Soviet Union, Japan and West Germany. This is sourced from the Scientific American.

2. Assertion: When accidental re-entries occur, they scatter nuclear waste which is extremely hazardous.

Reasoning/Evidence: Even at the launch of a nuclear spacecraft itself, accidents are very likely to occur and harm human beings. A Soviet surveillance satellite (Kosmos 954) reentered the earth's atmosphere over the Northwest Territories in 1978, littering radioactive debris over thousands of square miles. Two have reentered accidentally. Decontamination cost the Canadian government approximately $10 million. Proposed U.S. nuclear-powered spacecraft would produce hundreds of times as much radioactivity.

Judge, you may think that having these spacecrafts accidently re-enter Earth is only a temporary thing; however, it is actually the opposite. The problem with radioactivity is that it spreads via wind, rain, etc. This means that the whole WORLD will be affected by this, not just the area where the spacecraft landed.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, plutonium enters the bloodstream via the lungs, then moves throughout the body and into the bones, liver, and other organs. It generally stays in those places for decades, subjecting surrounding organs and tissues to a continual bombardment of alpha radiation and greatly increasing the risk of cancer, especially lung cancer, liver cancer and bone sarcoma.

3. Assertion: Nuclear-powered spacecraft often collide with orbital debris.

Reasoning/Evidence: Even those reactors that are launched or later boosted into a long-lived orbit present hazards because they can collide with orbital debris. A collision between a nuclear reactor and one of the thousands of sizable objects traveling at a relative velocity of 10 kilometers per second could yield an abundance of harmful radioactive fragments. Many of them would be driven into the lower orbits utilized by manned spacecraft and back into the earth's atmosphere within a few years.

Unfortunately, most of the nuclear-powered spacecraft in orbit now are in those parts of space near the earth that are most densely populated with debris, meaning that the possibility of a collision is extremely great. A disabling collision with a space rock or a piece of space junk could send a spacecraft hurtling toward Earth at a speed of over 50,000 miles per hour.

4. Assertion: Nuclear-powered spacecraft has an extensive history of accidents and failures, as proven especially by the Americans and Soviets.

Reasoning/Evidence: When these nuclear spacecrafts exit our atmosphere, they immediately have the potential to fail. When they DO fail, they have accidents that can have life-threatening effects to everyone on our earth.

About 10 nuclear-powered spacecraft have crashed worldwide, though Soviet secrecy makes specific numbers hard to get. "Space technology can and does fail," said Bruce Gagnon, coordinator of the Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space. "When you mix plutonium into the equation, we think you're asking for trouble. It's not theoretical. It's real."

In 1996, Russia's Mars 96 spacecraft fell back into Earth's atmosphere and broke apart, scattering debris across the Pacific Ocean, Chile, and Bolivia. The plutonium was never recovered or decontaminated.

In addition, the nuclear reactor from Kosmos 1402, a Russian spy satellite, broke up over the Atlantic Ocean east of Brazil. None of the uranium was recovered from Earth's atmosphere.

In what is often described as the worst nuclear space accident, Russia's Kosmos 954 spy satellite crashed in an area of northwestern Canada. Most of the uranium-powered reactor is thought to have broken down into fine dust and spread into the atmosphere. This is sourced from the St. Petersburg Times.