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The future of energy.

  1. Mar 10, 2013 #1
    I've just been thinking lately about reasons to explore space, and mars in particular, and what could be the most immediate applications of doing so. Putting nuclear power plants on Mars was something I was thinking about. We don't want the hazards of these things on Earth, but we are looking for alternative fuel sources. So why not put these things on another planet, refine it to a safer product, and bring it back here.

    I'm sure it's been thought of before but I am wondering, among all the reasons for exploring space, does this have significant weight in the matter? Is there research done in nuclear engineering - in space? Or are these ideas so far away that it doesn't have a place anywhere but in talking.
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 10, 2013 #2
    Refine what into what? You usually want the reactor grade fuel to be, you know, where the reactor is...
  4. Mar 10, 2013 #3
    I meant refine in a very general sense like from source to electricity. Probably wrong word to use I guess.
  5. Mar 10, 2013 #4
    Ah ok. Consider cost vs benefit though. For the foreseeable future, the interplanetary transport of goods (when we actually get around to it) is probably going to be expensive, extremely expensive. You're going to be hard pressed to find a way to mark up the benefits to make it worthwhile.

    Our current energy storage systems are also pretty terrible, with regards to both energy density and specific energy, for what you're suggesting.
  6. Mar 10, 2013 #5
    In other words nuclear engineering in space (do it there, make batteries, bring em back for example) doesn't have a shred of attention in any research since it IS so far from becoming worthwhile?
  7. Mar 10, 2013 #6
    I'm no expert, but I seriously doubt it - there's no economic basis for it.
  8. Mar 12, 2013 #7


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    Have you considered the energy return on energy invested (EROI) as well as the ROI here? The energy cost for getting a probe to Mars massing a few hundred kilos is huge, as is the economic cost. How much do you think a nuclear power station masses? Let alone how much the automation costs would be and how much regular return trips to bring back these magic batteries would be. This venture is senseless I'm afraid.

    For a fraction of the price you could fund public education to a much higher degree and invest in next generation reactors that are a lot safer.
  9. Mar 12, 2013 #8
    Im not doubting it's costs atm. I should say though that I AM contemplating a hypothetical scenario...a sci fi scenario I bet some would love to say....What if 200 years from now we may end up depleting the planet of resources and we are strapped for somehow getting our energy needs and people are scared by having the globe sprinkled with nuclear reactors everywhere. Even today, there are many corporations and groups of people that are incomprehensibly wealthy. If the world were to be held by the balls to figure out such an energy crisis in years to come, I don't think it would be hard to mobilize the funding if joint efforts were made. Obviously this would not be a non-for profit thing for government agencies. And that's another point. There would be fat energy royalties on this activity unlike the space programs today.

    This is probably more off-science-topic now but oh well..
  10. Mar 12, 2013 #9


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    I don't think you understood my post. It's not just a matter of the cost being high, it's the return being negative. There is pretty much nothing that would be cheaper (in terms of ROI) to do in space than to do somewhere on Earth.
  11. Mar 12, 2013 #10
    Well I dunno when it is possible to say that its returns must be be negative. You may say why must it be positive though I suppose, and to that I say I don't know for sure either but it is a definitive rule that the price of technology goes down over time. Only houses go up :D . It could be profitable in years to come and especially if there is a fire under it..
  12. Mar 12, 2013 #11


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    I'm not talking about price in currency only but in energy and it is certainly not definitive that over time the price of technology goes down. The narrative of progress is a strong one but don't fall totally for it.
  13. Mar 12, 2013 #12

    The hazards have largely been overblown. There's only been a handful of major incidents (only 2 of which were catastrophic like Chernobyl, the rest causing little to no damage outside of the reactor complex like Three Mile Island), and generally has killed fewer people than any other powersource. Coal on the other hand is very dangerous, not just in terms of mining deaths but the pollution itself has been estimated to cause a million premature deaths worldwide every year. It would take multiple Chernobyls a day to equal that kind of death toll. More modern designs like the AP1000, EPR, and the small modular reactors are far safer than the previous generations.

    Now that being said there will be nuclear power in space, but not to export back to Earth. We will use nuclear reactors to power future space stations, settlements and ships. It provides a power density that can't be matched by solar, unless you're much closer to the sun like inside the orbit of Venus.
  14. Mar 12, 2013 #13
    I've all of a sudden lost all aversion towards nuclear power.
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