NASA Plans to Deploy Nuclear Power on Lunar Surface

  • NASA Plans to Deploy Nuclear Power on Lunar Surface
  • Tractebel Leads EU Project on Nuclear Space Power Technologies
  • Repowering Coal Plants with SMRs is the Largest Carbon Abatement Opportunity on The Planet’ – TerraPraxis
  • Nuclear Start-Up Raised €300M; Wants to Turn UK Waste Plutonium Into Clean Energy
  • Orano and TerraPower Awarded GAIN Vouchers to Help Advance Nuclear Technologies
  • Lightbridge Fuel in MIT Study of Accident Tolerant Fuels
  • BN-800 Fast Reactor Fully Loaded With MOX Fuel
  • SMRs Could Massively Expand US Nuclear Fleet By 2050 – NEI

NASA Plans to Deploy Nuclear Power on Lunar Surface

  • NASA Announces Artemis Concept Awards for Nuclear Power on Moon

NASA’s plan is that fission surface power systems could provide reliable power for human exploration of the Moon.  Three contracts, to be awarded through the DOE’s Idaho National Laboratory, valued at approximately $5 million, will fund the development of initial design concepts for a 40-kilowatt class fission power system planned to last at least 10 years in the lunar environment.

Relatively small and lightweight compared to other power systems, fission systems are reliable and could enable continuous power regardless of location, available sunlight, and other natural environmental conditions. A demonstration of such systems on the Moon would pave the way for long-duration missions on the Moon and Mars.

nasa stirling engine for lunar missions

The Phase 1 awards will provide NASA critical information from industry that can lead to a joint development of a full flight-certified fission power system. Fission surface power technologies also will help NASA mature nuclear propulsion systems that rely on reactors to generate power. These systems could be used for deep space exploration missions.

Battelle Energy Alliance, the managing and operating contractor for Idaho National Laboratory, led the Request for Proposal development, evaluation, and procurement sponsored by NASA. Idaho National Laboratory will award 12-month contracts to the following companies to each develop preliminary designs.

  • Lockheed Martin of Bethesda, Maryland – The company will partner with BWXT and Creare.
  • Westinghouse of Cranberry Township, Pennsylvania – The company will partner with Aerojet Rocketdyne.
  • IX of Houston, Texas, a joint venture of Intuitive Machines and X-Energy – The company will partner with Maxar and Boeing.

“New technology drives our exploration of the Moon, Mars, and beyond,” said Jim Reuter, associate administrator for NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate. “Developing these early designs will help us lay the groundwork for powering our long-term human presence on other worlds.”

“The Fission Surface Power project is a very achievable first step toward the United States establishing nuclear power on the Moon,” said Idaho National Laboratory Director John Wagner.


NASA’s fission surface power project is managed by NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland. The technology development and demonstration are funded by the Space Technology Mission Directorate’s Technology Demonstration Missions program, which is located at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. For more information, visit the fission surface power project website.

Returning to the Moon’s surface for human and robotic missions is within reach with the assistance of the Fission Surface Power (FSP) project. This project works toward providing a power-rich environment supporting lunar exploration.

The FSP project seeks to bring about new capabilities supporting a lunar sustainable presence and crewed Mars exploration while providing near-term opportunities for fabrication, testing and flight of a space fission system.

NASA’s fission surface power project builds on heritage projects spanning 50 years, including SNAP-10A, NASA’s Kilopower project, and recent developments in commercial nuclear power and fuel technology.

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Tractebel Leads EU Project on Nuclear Space Power Technologies

Tractebel has been selected to head the consortium of PULSAR. It is a research and innovation project funded by the European Commission to develop nuclear technology to power space missions. The project will be funded by the Euratom Research and Training Program (2021-2025), a complementary funding program to Horizon Europe covering nuclear research and innovation.

The technology could be used to explore the moon and Mars. It could also help establish a permanent base on the moon, the so-called “Moon Village” promoted by ESA. Moreover, the technology has applications beyond space exploration. The RPS could be easily adapted to provide power in challenging environments on earth such as in deep geological repositories for storing nuclear waste, the deep sea or in isolated areas where a deployable long-lived power system is required such as remote mines

Tractebel will conduct research on dynamic radioisotope power systems (RPS) fueled by plutonium 238 (Pu-238) for space applications. The project will complement the study that Tractebel has already been carrying out on behalf of the European Space Agency (ESA) to evaluate the possibility of producing Pu-238 in Europe. RPS are vital to providing spacecrafts and astronauts with electricity and heat where the sun does not provide sufficient power usually set as being beyond the orbit of Mars.


A typical configuration of an ASRG. Image: NASA Glenn.

An RPS uses the heat from the natural radioactive decay of PU-238 to produce electric power. An RPS provides power for spacecraft by converting heat generated by the natural radioactive decay of its fuel source, plutonium dioxide, into electricity using devices called thermocouples.

European Consortium Stakeholders

The PULSAR project brings together leading stakeholders in the fields of aerospace and nuclear within a consortium led by Tractebel. The consortium includes the Joint Research Centre (JRC) of the European Commission, the Belgian Nuclear Research Centre SCK CEN, the French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission CEA, INCOTEC, ArianeGroup, Airbus Defense and Space, the University of Bourgogne Franche Comté and Arttic. Each partner will bring state-of-the-art expertise in its respective field, to contribute to the success of this Europe-wide project.

Weight to Power / Efficiency Ratiospu238 pellet

The project aims to address the issue in two ways. It aims to further develop technology and capabilities in Europe to produce Pu-238 to fuel radioisotope power systems (RPS). Its second objective is to significantly increase the efficiency and weight to power performance ratios of the RPS thanks to an advanced Stirling engine which has moving parts.

Current nuclear batteries, the so-called radioisotope thermoelectric generators (RTGs), have low conversion efficiencies. This means that substantial amounts of fuel and large RTGs are needed to power missions, which increases the weight to be launched by the space rocket, adversely affecting rocket payload capability. The project aims to address the issue in two ways. It aims to further develop technology and capabilities in Europe to produce Pu-238 to fuel radioisotope power systems (RPS). Its second objective is to significantly increase the efficiency of the RPS thanks to an advanced Stirling engine.

Every measure of weight for the power system is a claim on the payload weight of scientific instruments hence the drive for higher efficiencies and lower weights for the power systems. Higher levels of power increases the options for the instruments to be part of the payload and the bandwidth of data transmission to get the information from the spacecraft back to earth.

HEU v. LEU in Power and Propulsion Systems

A problem for all space faring missions that will use nuclear energy, is that if the power source is uranium fuel, highly enriched uranium (HEU) provides more electrical power per pound than fuel with enrichment levels below 20% U2325.  The trade off is that the lower enriched fuel is required in greater quantity, e.g., weight, than the HEU which means less weight available for science instruments. An early version of the Kilopower design concept called for the use of HEU to power the system. The LEU version was assessed to be three times as heavy as the HEU design.

In 2020 NASA banned the use of HEU in space power and propulsion systems. Opponents of civilian use of HEU welcomed the policy directive. Alan Kuperman, director of the Nuclear Proliferation Prevention Project at the University of Texas at Austin, told Physics Today, “It is essentially what we requested when we met with NASA and the National Security Council over the last few years.”

Anthony Calomino, nuclear systems portfolio manager in NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, told the news wire, HEU’s weight, cost, and performance advantages over LEU reactors won’t be sufficient to justify its use as fuel. Under the new directive, “it would really have to be that we can’t close a mission with LEU” for NASA to allow HEU in space.

Neither Pu-238 nor RPS are currently manufactured on European soil. As space has become a strategic and economic priority for Europe, Europe’s dependence on other countries in the fields of energy and aerospace is a major concern. PULSAR is a step forward for Europe to become an autonomous global leader in space exploration.


See also U.S. Department of Energy – What is a radioisotope system?

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Repowering Coal Plants with SMRs is the Largest Carbon Abatement Opportunity on The Planet – TerraPraxis

(NucNet) Repowering existing coal plant infrastructure, including with small modular reactors (SMRs), is the largest single carbon abatement opportunity on the planet and could greatly accelerate the clean energy transition while using existing infrastructure and maintaining vital jobs, according to a report.

The report by TerraPraxis, a non-profit organization focused on action for climate and prosperity, says replacing coal-fired boilers at existing coal plants with carbon-free SMRs, also known as advanced heat sources, would transform coal-fired power plants from polluting liabilities facing an uncertain future, into a central component of a clean energy system transition – an important part of the massive and pressing infrastructure buildout needed to address climate change.

TerraPraxis has assembled a consortium of partners including Bryden Wood, Microsoft, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and University at Buffalo, along with a consortium of global utilities, to launch the ‘Repowering Coal’ initiative. The aim is to provide standardized, pre-licensed designs supported by automated project development and design tools to enable customers to be ready to start construction on their SMR projects in the late 2020s.

Bryden Wood, a UK-based design and engineering firm, has created a new design and construction solution that the group says would make such a program possible at scale and speed, in part by deploying a new digital platform.

Converting 5,000 – 7,000 coal plant units globally between 2030 and 2050 (250 – 350 per year) will require a “redesigned delivery model” that has to de-risk the construction process. This means providing coal plant owners and investors with high-certainty schedules and budgets. Purpose-built automated tools can achieve rapid, repeatable, and confident project and planning assessments.


Kirsty Gogan, co-founder and managing partner of TerraPraxis, said: “The challenge is not only to build enough clean electricity generation to power the world, but to do so quickly while building the infrastructure required to decarbonize end-use sectors such as heat, industry, and transport,” she said at the Nuclear Innovation Conference in Amsterdam.

Grogan told the conference that there will be regulatory challenges to repurposing coal plants. They vary widely and developing a new SMR design for each plant would be complex, costly, and slow. Rather than thousands of individual projects, TerraPraxis’ aim is to develop a unified approach where the design is simplified and standardized to make this plan a reality as quickly as possible.

According to TerraPraxis, some policymakers, climate modelers and activists assume that countries will simply shut down their coal plants to reduce carbon emissions. However, because more than half of coal plants worldwide are less than 14 years old, it is unrealistic to expect such young assets to simply retire, especially considering growing energy demand and supply shortages.

“Even in countries with relatively old coal plants, such as the US, Canada and Europe, closing coal plants is difficult and controversial because the loss of jobs and revenues can be devastating for communities, and utilities continue to value the reliable electricity generated,” TerraPraxis says.

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Nuclear Start-Up Raises €300 million; Wants To Turn UK Waste Plutonium Into Clean Energy

lead cooledA nuclear power start-up is seeking to create clean energy from 140 tonnes of waste plutonium stored in Cumbria. Nucleo hopes to use spent fuel in a new reactor design. The firm’s lead-cooled reactor models use a mixture of uranium and plutonium, which is a waste product from existing plants in the UK.

While the company’s designs are still in the early stages, it raised €300 million (£257 million) this week to help fund its first reactors after raising €100 million last year from investors including ex-Goldman Sachs banker Claudio Costamagna and asset manager Azimut.

According to Italian physicist Stefano Buono, chief executive officer, London-based Nucleo will likely place its first reactor on British soil, setting a precedent for private operators of nuclear plants in Britain. At specific site has not yet been selected.

There firm says there is no problem with fuel supply as the UK has the largest civilian plutonium stockpile in the world, which includes material from nuclear programs of other countries such as Japan.

Nucleo also intends to build 30MWe of sealed reactor units, which can be used to power ships at a cost of €150 million each. The proposed sealed units would last for 15 years and would be filled with all the fuel needed to operate during their time at sea.

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Orano and TerraPower Awarded GAIN Vouchers to Help Advance Nuclear Technologies

gain logoThe Gateway for Accelerated Innovation in Nuclear (GAIN) initiative awarded vouchers today to Orano Federal Services (Charlotte, NC) and TerraPower (Bellevue, WA) to help advance their nuclear technologies. Both voucher recipients will gain access to the U.S. Department of Energy’s national lab complex.

Orano is partnering with Oak Ridge National Laboratory to develop a new technical study that updates the physical chemistry limits of uranium hexafluoride gas enriched up to 10 percent that can be safely transported in existing shipping containers. The new study will be used for review and approval by radioactive material transport regulators.  Abstract

TerraPower will leverage the neutron testing capabilities at Los Alamos National Laboratory to measure the properties of chlorine isotopes to determine how they will behave in the company’s Molten Chloride Fast Reactor Experiment. The data generated will help reduce regulatory uncertainty of chloride salt reactors. Abstract

GAIN voucher recipients do not receive direct financial awards but are provided access to the national labs at no cost. All awardees are responsible for a minimum 20 percent cost share, which could be an in-kind contribution.

GAIN was established by the Department’s Office of Nuclear Energy and provides the nuclear community with the technical, regulatory, and financial support necessary to move innovative nuclear technologies toward commercialization while ensuring the continued, safe, and economic operation of the existing fleet.

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Lightbridge Fuel in MIT Study of Accident Tolerant Fuels

  • Lightbridge Announces U.S. Department of Energy Award to MIT to Study the Deployment of Accident Tolerant Fuels in Small Modular Reactors

Lightbridge Corporation (Nasdaq: LTBR), an advanced nuclear fuel technology company, announced that the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has been awarded approximately $800,000 by the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Nuclear Energy University Program R&D Awards to study the deployment of Accident Tolerant Fuels in Small Modular Reactors (SMRs).

The project will be funded in its entirety by the DOE, with the goal of bringing collaborative teams together to solve complex problems to advance nuclear technology and understanding. Among other objectives, the project will simulate the fuel and safety performance of Lightbridge Fuel inside a small modular reactor (SMR) designed by industry leader NuScale Power (NYSE: SMR). An abstract of the study can be found here

Seth Grae, President and CEO of Lightbridge commented, “We are honored to have the opportunity to collaborate with MIT’s prestigous Department of Nuclear Science & Engineering (NSE) in this important study, where MIT will simulate the usage and safety performance of Lightbridge fuel inside of a NuScale Power small modular reactor. Importantly, this research dovetails with our strategic focus on fueling SMRs of the future and the potential additional benefits Lightbridge fuel rods will bring to SMRs.”

José N. Reyes, Ph.D., Co-founder and Chief Technology Officer of NuScale Power commented, ”NuScale is proud to have our groundbreaking SMR technology as a part of this important study. We share the goals of the DOE and the Nuclear Energy University Program in expanding access to nuclear energy, the nation’s largest source of clean power, while collaborating with the next generation of nuclear industry leaders at MIT.”

“SMR’s enhanced safety features provide flexibility in adoption of future advanced fuel technologies for improved performance,” commented Koroush Shirvan, Principal Investigator of the study and assistant professor in MIT’s Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering.

“We also appreciate the lasting commitment demonstrated by the DOE to support the development of advanced nuclear technologies like Lightbridge Fuel. Previously, Lightbridge had been awarded two GAIN vouchers by the DOE, relating to our fuel and our proprietary manufacturing process, respectively. This announcement provides Lightbridge another non-dilutive opportunity to advance our fuel development, while further strengthening our association with the DOE,” concluded Mr. Grae.

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BN-800 Fast Reactor Fully Loaded With MOX Fuel

(Nuclear Engineering International) The BN-800 fast reactor at unit 4 of Russia’s Beloyarsk NPP will be fully loaded for the first time with innovative uranium-plutonium mixed oxide (MOX)) fuel.

“Prior to this, for half a year, the BN-800 operated at a 60% load of the core with mox fuel,” explained Ivan Sidorov, director of the Beloyarsk NPP. “After the current refueling, for the first time in the history of global nuclear energy, a fast reactor will be fully operated on fuel from a mixture of depleted uranium and plutonium.”bn-800-large-image_thumb.png

According to World Nuclear News, in 2021 the BN-600 was loaded with 60% MOX fuel.  The unit is a sodium-cooled fast reactor which produces about 820 MWe. It started operation in 2016 and in 2020 achieved a capacity factor of 82% despite having an experimental role in proving reactor technologies and fuels.

WNN also reported that the uranium came from depleted uranium tails left over from the enrichment process that creates fuel for light-water reactors. In this way MOX uses depleted uranium that had no other immediate use and was held in storage with plutonium recycled from previously used fuel.

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SMRs Could Massively Expand US Nuclear Fleet By 2050 – NEI

(NucNet) The Washington, DC,-based Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) is expecting that about 300 new small modular reactors (SMRs), at 300 MWe each, could be deployed in the US by 2050, adding roughly 90 GWe of new nuclear capacity to the national grid, according to the institute’s CEO Maria Korsnick.  (speech)

what-are-SMRs_thumb.pngMs Korsnick, who spoke at the NEI’s Nuclear Energy Assembly conference, said the industry’s challenge is not the lack of demand for nuclear but being able to build fast enough to meet those needs.

She said the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) will face “a rapidly growing volume of applications for new reactors” and they must have the capacity to efficiently go through the review and licensing processes. The NRC funds much of its work by recovering its costs from fees charged to applicants for licenses.

“There is a “growing list” of utilities who are new to nuclear and are demonstrating interest in advanced technologies, Ms Korsnick said.

According to Ms Korsnick, the US Department of Energy (DOE) loan program office is working on several applications for nuclear projects in the US while the US Export-Import Bank is working to mobilize funding for overseas customers.

Asked about the cost of nuclear new-build, Ms Korsnick said the US nuclear industry “had not built in a while”, which led to supply chain effectiveness and efficiency losses.

“We need to get on with it, and a natural process of improvement will bring costs down,” she said while also noting that SMRs could have their costs controlled by being manufactured in a factory setting.

Separately, Korsnick called for the government’s support to re-establish a “US leadership” in fuel conversion and enrichment capabilities in the aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

She said: “We are working with the administration, with congress, and with our allies to establish a secure and reliable uranium fuel supply that will eliminate the need for Russian imports.”

“I won’t sugarcoat the current difficulties. While the decision is simple from a diplomatic and moral standpoint, it won’t be easy to execute — and it can’t be done overnight,” Ms Korsnick warned.

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