Space.com reported the other day that in a new agreement NASA will now foot the entire bill to ramp up our Plutonium-238 production. Originally the bill was going to split between the U.S. Energy Department and NASA, however as NASA is the only expected user of the Pu-238 they’ve been told they’ll now foot the entire bill.
Now this may not seem like too big of a deal but keep in mind, that we as a country, have not produced any Pu-238 in over 25 years. Now this is not used for bombs, it’s the wrong type of fuel, Pu-238 is used to fuel deep space probes (Voyager 1 and 2), and even some long running rovers (Curiosity).
Since the U.S. stopped producing it’s own, we’ve been getting our Pu-238 from Russia. Our last shipment was in 2010 and we’re starting to run out. Add to this that NASA is being tasked with getting deeper and deeper into space, we’ll need more Plutonium-238 sooner rather than later. This restart will cost an estimated $75 million to $90 million.
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