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NASA Seeks Industry Proposals for Compact Nuclear Power Systems to be Used in Exploration of the Moon and Mars

  • NASA Seeks Industry Proposals to Put Nuclear Reactors on Moon and Mars
  • General Atomic Delivers Nuclear Propulsion Plans To NASA
  • Framatome Partners with ADAGOS to Use AI in Nuclear Engineering
  • CNL Announces SMR Research Partnership with Kairos Power
  • Approval Granted for Four New Chinese Nuclear Reactors

(SpaceNews) NASA and the Department of Energy will seek proposals for industry later this year for the development of a compact nuclear power system that can support the agency’s long-term lunar and Martian exploration plans.

NASA Simple-Compact-Nuclear-Reactor
NASA Conceptual Image of a Nuclear Power System for the Moon and Mars

In a Sept. 1 presentation to the Technology, Innovation, and Engineering Committee of the NASA Advisory Council, agency officials said they expected to release a request for proposals in late September or early October for the first phase of its Fission Surface Power effort. (Presentation – PDF file)

The project seeks to develop a 10-kW fission power system that could be placed on the moon as soon as 2027 The purpose of the system is to provide power to support long-term lunar surface activities, especially during the two-week night when solar power is not an option.

The DOE said 10 kW would be enough to power one-hundred 100-watt light bulbs or roughly 1/100,000 of the power produced by a typical 1,000-MW commercial reactor.

“That may not seem like a lot of juice, but it will be enough to power a portion of the infrastructure and equipment needed by astronauts on the lunar surface,” a speaker from DOE said at the briefing.

“It’s an enabling capability for a sustained lunar presence, particularly for surviving a lunar night,” said Anthony Calomino, nuclear systems portfolio manager in NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, at the meeting.

“The surface of the moon provides us an opportunity to fabricate, test and flight qualify a space fission system.”

NASA and the Department of Energy (DOE) have been working together in recent years on a space nuclear power project called Kilopower, which featured a demonstration of the technology at the Nevada Test Site in 2018 with a one-kilowatt reactor. That project used highly enriched uranium (HEU), which enables an efficient and lightweight reactor.

DOE issued a request for information for the Fission Surface Power effort in July to seek ideas from industry for these types of power systems.

According to SpaceNews Calomino said, “This is a new capability. The system is rather complex. There isn’t one provider that could be a one-shot do-all kind of thing,” he said. “Partnering is important, and we wanted to give ample time for the aerospace and nuclear industries to identify common needs and common capabilities, and build up those teams.”

SpaceNews reported that at the NASA meeting it was announced that DOE will lead the procurement in cooperation with NASA. A formal RFP is expected in October after the start of the new federal fiscal year.

The agencies expect to make several awards for phase one to work on preliminary designs that would be completed by the end of 2021. A second phase, starting in early 2022, would select one company to develop a unit that would be ready and qualified for flight and for launch in 2027.

It was not lost on people attending the briefing that the technologies developed for missions to the Moon and Mars might also have commercial prospects here on earth.

General Atomic Delivers Nuclear Propulsion Plans To NASA

(Nuclear Street) San Diego-based General Atomics Electromagnetic Systems said this week that it delivered a design concept of a Nuclear Thermal Propulsion (NTP) reactor to power future astronaut missions to Mars for a NASA-funded study. (DOE – Six things you should know about nuclear thermal propulsion)

The study, managed by Analytical Mechanics Associates (AMA), explored a design space defined by key performance parameters as well as figures of merit. The GA-EMS design exceeded the key performance parameters and optimized the NTP reactor for manufacturability, the highest ranked figure of merit.

“This is an exciting effort that directly aligns with our 60+ years of nuclear energy research and development, including nuclear reactor design and deployment and our expertise in space systems,” said Scott Forney, president of GA-EMS.

Dr. Christina Back, vice president of Nuclear Technologies and Materials at GA-EMS, said that NTP systems for NASA Human Mars Missions “are achievable in the near-term.”

Framatome Partners with ADAGOS for Use of AI in Nuclear Engineeringt Applications

Framatome has signed an exclusive partnership agreement with France-based computer software provider ADAGOS to bring advanced, parsimonious artificial intelligence technology to the nuclear energy sector.

adagos logoADAGOS’ NeurEco architecture introduces a third-generation neural network to solve large and complex problems using fewer computational and data resources compared to previous generations.

Neural networks analyse data and information in a way that mimics the human brain. Framatome said NeurEco addresses common challenges to artificial intelligence and deep-learning technology as its new neural network approach based on parsimony reduces resources such as the amount of learning data, energy consumption, size of neural network, requested memory and computing time required to implement deep-learning methods.

Calculation times for non-linear fields such as neutronics and computational fluid designs can be reduced from days to a few minutes, and the generated metamodel provides more information on the output.

Sensitivity studies are raised to the next level with extensive results verses one for consideration. Calculation files are several hundred times smaller and can be compressed and decompressed infinitely, saving time and money for operators.

“Artificial intelligence is a game changer for advancing technologies and increasing the competitiveness and efficiency of the nuclear energy industry now and in the decades to come,” said Catherine Cornand, senior executive vice president of the Installed Base Business Unit at Framatome.

“This partnership combines Framatome’s engineering expertise and ADAGOS’ cutting-edge technology to automate and resolve complex issues,” said Alexis Marincic, senior executive vice president of the Engineering and Design Authority at Framatome.

CNL Announces SMR Research Partnership with Kairos Power

(WNN) Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL) has announced a collaboration agreement with US-based Kairos Power, which is working to develop and license fluoride salt-cooled small modular reactor (SMR) technology. The agreement is funded through CNL’s Canadian Nuclear Research Initiative (CNRI) programme and will cover research and engineering of technologies to separate, analyze and store tritium generated through the reactor’s operation

The reactor, known as Kairos Power FHR (KP-FHR) (interactive graphic) uses tri-structural isotropic (TRISO) ceramic fuel combined with a low-pressure fluoride salt coolant. The heat generated through the nuclear reaction is then converted into electricity through a flexible steam cycle. Tritium – a radioactive isotope of hydrogen – will be produced as a by-product of reactor operations, and this means the company must incorporate and maintain engineering controls to ensure the protection of workers and the environment.

CNL President and CEO Joe McBrearty said partnering with Kairos Power on this research was a “natural fit” at CNL’s Chalk River Laboratories.

“With four projects now under way through our CNRI program, it’s clear that there is a need for this type of collaborative research and financing to advance SMR technologies here in Canada.”

Kairos Power has conducted extensive testing and analysis related to tritium behaviour and management, and is now working to identify and assess options for a tritium recovery and storage system.

CNL said it will work with Kairos to identify the best engineering designs for tritium recovery from various locations within the reactor system. Researchers will also work to identify experimental instrumentation and testing methods to measure tritium in various chemical forms, including nitrate salts.

In November 2019 Kairos Power was selected alongside Moltex Canada, Terrestrial Energy Inc and UltraSafe Nuclear Corporation as one of the first recipients of funds under the CNRI, which was launched in July last year to provide reactor vendors access to CNL’s research facilities.

Approval Granted for Four New Chinese Nuclear Reactors

(WNN) China’s State Council has approved the construction of four Hualong One reactors: two as phase one of the San’ao plant in Zhejiang province and two as the second phase of the Changjiang plant in Hainan province. Total investment in the projects exceeds CNY70 billion (USD10 billion).

At a September 2, 2020, meeting, the State Council noted that actively and steadily promoting the construction of nuclear power projects is an important measure to expand effective investment, enhance energy support, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Following the new approvals, two Hualong One units will be built as phase two – units 3 and 4 – of the Changjiang plant by state-owned China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) and China Huaneng Group. Construction of unit 3 is scheduled to be completed in 2025, with unit 4 following in 2026.

hualong one profile

Hualong One profile, a 1000 MW PWR. Image: IAEA

CNNC and Huaneng are also cooperating in several other projects

  • phase one of the Changjiang plant (which comprises two CNP-600 pressurized water reactors),
  • the Shidaowan HTR-PM project (a demonstration high-temperature gas-cooled reactor in Shandong province) and
  • the 600 MWe demonstration fast reactor at Xiapu, Fujian province.

The State Council has also approved the construction of two Hualong One units at China General Nuclear’s (CGN’s) new San’ao site in Zhejiang province.

This project will mark the first Chinese nuclear power project involving private capital, with Geely Technology Group will take a 2% stake in the plant. CGN holds 46% of the shares of the project company Cangnan Nuclear Power, with other state-owned enterprises holding the remainder.

The South China Morning Post reported that a number of factors have provided new impetuses for the approval of more nuclear plant projects. The coronavirus pandemic has strained the national economy, tensions are rising with the United States, and China is looking to cut its reliance on fossil fuels while reducing pollution.

Liu Jing, an analyst at Huajin Securities, said the State Council’s decision meant that China’s construction of nuclear plants would return to a more active track, with four to six projects expected to be approved annually over the next few years.

“Nuclear power … plays a pivotal role in ensuring China’s energy security and in achieving the [government’s] goal for non-fossil energy to account for 20 per cent [of China’s energy consumption] in 2030,” Liu wrote in a note to lients

There are now seven Hualong One reactors under construction in China and two in Pakistan. Two are planned for Bradwell in UK. Fuel loading has commenced at the first of the Chinese units – Fuqing 5.

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Dan Yurman's picture

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Discussions

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Sep 14, 2020 11:16 am GMT

For all the domestic debate on nuclear and other energy technologies, there seems to be no debate that when energy density is at the premium it is for space travel that there really is nothing that can compete with nuclear 

Dan Yurman's picture
Dan Yurman on Sep 14, 2020 1:28 pm GMT

There are fundamental physical limits to the propulsion power of chemical rockets either solid or liquid fueled. They are useful for getting the payload into orbit, but once in space, it makes more sense to use a propulsion system that has more thrust and weighs less than the equivalent mass of chemicals that would be needed for the same mission.

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