Nuclear waste is set to play a role in space exploration

PARIS, Dec 10 — The European Space Agency may soon upcycle nuclear waste in its production of a new type of space batteries to be used in the exploration of the Moon and other far-flung places. Here’s what we know.

At present, the main process for dealing with nuclear waste is burying it very deep underground, in large concrete containers covered with lead. However, some of this nuclear waste could help space research.

The ENDURE (European Devices Using Radioisotope Energy) development programme aims to develop devices powered by americium 241, notably for a series of missions to explore the Moon scheduled for the 2030s.

Americium 241 is a radioactive element derived from plutonium that to this point has never been used as fuel. However, it is now a cheaper and more accessible alternative to plutonium, which is largely supplied by Russia.

In the long term, the idea is to use this technology to equip the future “Argonaut” Moon lander, which will participate in missions to study the lunar surface in less than ten years from now.

This type of battery could also be used to power satellites, as, at the moment, more than ever are being launched. They could also be particularly useful for missions where solar energy would not be sufficient.

This would be useful, for example, in the study of difficult planetary environments such as the long nights on the lunar surface, the cold and stormy conditions on Mars, or expeditions to the solar system beyond Jupiter.

If successful, this project will also allow the European agency to be less dependent on its American and Japanese partners for future space exploration.

In the coming years, the ENDURE team will develop prototypes that will be tested in real conditions to judge their effectiveness. — ETX Studio


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