As Japan’s recent Fukushima disaster and the boycott of nuclear power in Germany has shown, nuclear energy is a controversial and potentially dangerous energy source. In a perfect world, nuclear reactors would be constructed far away from population centers. Somewhere really remote. Like the moon. Despite man not having been to the moon since December 1972 with the Apollo 17 mission, one scientist believes that nuclear power plants should be built on the Moon, and other neighbouring planets, to power future manned settlements.

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Speaking at the 242nd National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS), James E. Werner said that innovative fission technology on the lunar surface would be very different from traditional nuclear power stations, which sprawl over huge tracts of land.

“People would never recognize the fission power system as a nuclear power reactor,” said Werner. “The reactor itself may be about 1 ½ feet wide by 2 ½ feet high, about the size of a carry-on suitcase. There are no cooling towers. A fission power system is a compact, reliable, safe system that may be critical to the establishment of outposts or habitats on other planets. Fission power technology can be applied on Earth’s Moon, on Mars, or wherever NASA sees the need for continuous power.”

Werner’s team is scheduled to build a technology demonstration unit in 2012, working in cooperation with NASA and the US Department of Energy (DOE). While many future space missions have proposed using solar energy, this form of renewable power does have its limitations.

“The biggest difference between solar and nuclear reactors is that nuclear reactors can produce power in any environment,” Werner explained. “Fission power technology doesn’t rely on sunlight, making it able to produce large, steady amounts of power at night or in harsh environments like those found on the Moon or Mars. A fission power system on the Moon could generate 40 kilowatts or more of electric power, approximately the same amount of energy needed to power eight houses on Earth.” In addition, he said that a fission power system could operate in a variety of locations such as in craters, canyons or caves.

“The main point is that nuclear power has the ability to provide a power-rich environment to the astronauts or science packages anywhere in our solar system and that this technology is mature, affordable and safe to use,” Werner said.

Well, that’s good to know. Now all we’ve got to do is develop a new space program, get back to the Moon (or go to Mars), build a settlement and colonize it. At least, we know how we’ll power it all.

+ American Chemical Society