cold fjord writes with this excerpt from Wired: "Most of what humanity knows about the outer planets came back to Earth on plutonium power. ... The characteristics of this metal's radioactive decay make it a super-fuel. ... there is no other viable option. Solar power is too weak, chemical batteries don't last, nuclear fission systems are too heavy. So, we depend on plutonium-238, a fuel largely acquired as by-product of making nuclear weapons. But there's a problem: We've almost run out. 'We've got enough to last to the end of this decade. That's it,' said Steve Johnson, a nuclear chemist at Idaho National Laboratory. And it's not just the U.S. reserves that are in jeopardy. The entire planet's stores are nearly depleted. ... what's left has already been spoken for and then some. ... Political ignorance and shortsighted squabbling, along with false promises from Russia, and penny-wise management of NASA's ever-thinning budget still stand in the way of a robust plutonium-238 production system." The plutonium shortage has been deepening for a long time, leading to some creative solutions. The Wired article alludes to the NASA project underway to create more, but leans toward gloom.
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