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NASA Power Technology

NASA's Basement Nuclear Reactor 368

cylonlover writes "If Joseph Zawodny, a senior scientist at NASA's Langley Research Center, is correct, the future of energy may lie in a nuclear reactor small enough and safe enough to be installed where the home water heater once sat. Using weak nuclear forces that turn nickel and hydrogen into a new source of atomic energy, the process offers a light, portable means of producing tremendous amounts of energy for the amount of fuel used. It could conceivably power homes, revolutionize transportation and even clean the environment."
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NASA's Basement Nuclear Reactor

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  • by Moabz ( 1480009 ) on Friday February 22, 2013 @04:17AM (#42977033)
    There have been quite a few news reports about LENR lately. There seems to be a revival in legitimate scientific research into this area. University of Missouri is running a 5.5 million USD research project, and scientists at other institutes like Purdue, Illinois-UIUC, NASA, MIT, SRI, NRL are all looking into it.

    A couple of days ago the Nuclear Energy Institute was talking about it on their facebook page and the American Nuclear Society posted a similar story on their "nuclear cafe".

    The University of Missouri will host a cold fusion conference in July this year and George Miley from Illinois (UIUC) will discuss his research results in a talk at the upcoming "Nuclear & Emerging Technologies for Space (NETS-2013) organized by the ANS starting coming Monday. (http://iccf18.research.missouri.edu/)

    On a ANS meeting in November 2012 Mitsubishi Heavy Industries reported about their transmutation experiment and successful replications of the experiment at Toyota lab.
  • by fantomas ( 94850 ) on Friday February 22, 2013 @04:47AM (#42977141)

    Good luck with recycling that, where I live it's hard enough to get rid of used auto oil at the local dump (municipal recycling facility).

    And if it's like any other "white goods" it's going to be upgraded, have parts replaced, newer model put in.

      Going to love what happens when your old nuclear powerplant goes past its warranty date and you want some new hoses, want to chuck out the old model for a bigger model etc. How does that work for the local recycling facilities? or if you want to knock down an old house and level the ground so you've got to dump an old nuclear reactor somewhere?

    I'm sure there's a simple answer, please enlighten me. Apparently some cities have mountains of discarded washing machines/fridges/other white goods, will we have the same of nuclear reactors?

  • Cold fusion again? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by a_hanso ( 1891616 ) on Friday February 22, 2013 @04:51AM (#42977159) Journal

    "...is called Low-Energy Nuclear Reactions or Lattice Energy Nuclear Reactions (LENR). In the late 1980s, it went by the name of “cold fusion.”

    This claims you can harness the power of the weak nuclear force while turning nickel to copper without releasing ionizing radiation.

    And: "In past years, several labs have blown up while studying LENR and windows have melted".


  • by Jane Q. Public ( 1010737 ) on Friday February 22, 2013 @05:11AM (#42977231)
    This appears to be the same technology Andrea Rossi claimed to have developed, and is trying to sell. Except he isn't using any kind of radiation. He claims to have some kind of "secret ingredient" he adds to the nickel and hydrogen.

    But both the Navy and NASA have been saying the basic idea might be workable. Is this Rossi guy just borrowing the buzzwords to put together a scam? Or are these other folks actually making him more believable?
  • by c0lo ( 1497653 ) on Friday February 22, 2013 @05:49AM (#42977427)

    The only reason why we are not using our own generators right now is because they are too tedious and twiddly factor. If you could produce reliable energy without the twiddle factor we would not be in this mess we are.

    Ummm... I recently installed PVes on my roof. Tedious? I don't think so. Expensive? It was 1.5 month worth of my wage. Warranty for 25 years, I guess they'll last at least 12 without degrading in performance too much. Reliable? Well, as reliable as the Sun is... would I be able to invest in an 15K buffer system, I'm sure I could live "off power grid" even in winter time (summer time, I'm pushing on the grid twice as much as I'm consuming).

    What point I'm trying to make? I'm less dependent know on the power producers than I was 1 year ago and I didn't need to sell my first born for it.

  • by Phase Shifter ( 70817 ) on Friday February 22, 2013 @06:05AM (#42977487) Homepage

    From the article:

    This sets off a reaction in which one of the neutrons in the nickel atom splits into a proton, an electron and an antineutrino. This changes the nickel into copper, and releases energy without dangerous ionizing radiation.

    So l do not really see a recycling/upgrading/replacing process.

    Thanks for quoting that particular bit. This illustrates a point about trying to "dumb down" theories for the general public to understand.

    I love how they describe beta decay in the same breath as they say "without dangerous ionizing radiation" in that quote.

    More from TFA:

    Instead of using radioactive elements like uranium or plutonium, LENR uses a lattice or sponge of nickel atoms, which holds ionized hydrogen atoms like a sponge holds water.

    A bit misleading there, since there may be no radioactive fuel sitting around, but they supposedly produce a radioactive nickel isotope in the process. (Nickel and copper are naturally slightly radioactive, but it's so weak I'll cut them some slack on that point) Still, I'd like to see some numbers to back up the idea that all slow neutrons would immediately react with the nickel, with none escaping into nearby materials.

    At this point, I'm thinking the author is trying too hard to simplify his explanation. Or I might be giving him too much credit since he seems to be whitewashing the subject just a little bit.

    Still more from TFA:

    In past years, several labs have blown up while studying LENR and windows have melted – showing that if it really works, it can produce an impressive amount of energy.

    Or, this could have nothing to do with LENR, and simply indicate that some LENR researchers are ignorant of the fact that nickel (along with palladium and platinum, if the LENR experiment used one of those instead) are commonly used as catalysts for reacting hydrogen with unsaturated molecules like oxygen, and promptly blew up the experiment by not removing/excluding said element from the apparatus.

    OK, forget what I said about the author oversimplifying this for the public. He's clearly either trying to share his kool-aid, or hopelessly ignorant. Probably both.

  • by Sockatume ( 732728 ) on Friday February 22, 2013 @06:23AM (#42977547)

    Yes, NASA Langley Research Centre, those famous cranks. While I really don't think it's true, it's certainly newsworthy that a NASA group of all people are proposing it.

  • by seanellis ( 302682 ) on Friday February 22, 2013 @06:25AM (#42977561) Homepage Journal

    Nickel-64, at a natural abundance of about 1%, would be a better candidate, as neutron capture would result in Nickel-65 which decays to stable Copper-65 with a very short half-life of 2 hours. This is a "clean" beta-emitter with an energy of about 2.1MeV.

    The overall reaction seems to be p + Ni-64 -> Cu-65 + ve + anti-ve + 2.1MeV. This is at least physically plausible as a reaction. The electron (removed from both sides above) acts as a sort of catalyst, a way to get the proton through the coloumb barrier by transforming it into a neutron.

    Getting the neutrons to collide with Ni-64 nuclei rather than escaping implies a lot of Ni-64, and any escaping neutrons would irradiate everything else nearby, or impurities in the nickel such as the aforementioned Ni-62, or worse Ni-58 which would produce Ni-59, a positron emitter with a half-life of 76000 years.

    But to me, the real red flag on this is getting the hydrogen atoms to collapse into neutrons, a process which I've never heard of before. Even if it's possible, can you get a net gain? Does it take more than 2.1MeV? Slashdot - educate me!

  • by tbird81 ( 946205 ) on Friday February 22, 2013 @06:29AM (#42977583)

    Actually, newer HDD drives tend to be much more reliable.

  • Don't believe a word (Score:2, Interesting)

    by physburn ( 1095481 ) on Friday February 22, 2013 @07:46AM (#42977939) Homepage Journal
    This device is never going to work, converting protons in neutrons in the metal isn't going to happen, the process requires nearly a MeV of energy that isn't there, (and Terahertz waves are no were near a MeV). This is a cold fusion under different name, cold fusion didn't work, and neither does this. Shame on NASA for supporting research so obviously wrong, and previously debunked.
  • by Electricity Likes Me ( 1098643 ) on Friday February 22, 2013 @08:02AM (#42978037)

    Also born of ignorance: conspiracy theories depend on every allegedly greedy company acting with surprising benevolence for it's community of allegedly greedy companies.

    They all fall down where they simply assume that all these companies unanimously feel they'll be better off if they collaborate and suppress something. They never manage to explain why every individual conspirator wouldn't be working as hard as they can to eliminate the others, which gets especially murky when you consider that the individual companies aren't companies but people, and people get concerned about things like legacy and principles and whatever (which simultaneously leads to good things - tech companies building spaceships - and bad things - the Koch brothers believing they're still fighting communism or something).

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 22, 2013 @11:39AM (#42979953)

    but places like NASA and MIT and (allegedly) some folks in industry are working on this.

    Or more like: people at places like NASA and MIT. There have been a few proponents that worked at those places that worked on LENR in their off-time, that later in either PR or otherwise gets reported as NASA and MIT officially working on such research. Even in one case, one NASA research quite explicitly states several times in his blog that he is doing that as a side project completely unrelated to his job at NASA, but people continue to insist that his research is a sign of official support from the NASA organization. Unfortunately, a few case of being loose with the information, or even purposely changing information (a few scientists who don't work on or even support such work get their names attached to work without their knowledge...) results in a wave of misinformation that doesn't go away, even though that is something such a field needs to be really careful about.

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