Summary of GAO Report on Plutonium-238 Production

DOE Could Improve Planning and Communication Related to Plutonium-238 and Radioisotope Power Systems Production Challenges

United States Government Accountability Office
GAO-17-673

Selected Excerpts

Why GAO Did This Study

NASA uses RPS to generate electrical power in missions in which solar panels or batteries would be ineffective. RPS convert heat generated by the radioactive decay of Pu-238 into electricity. DOE maintains a capability to produce RPS for NASA missions, as well as a limited and aging supply of Pu-238 that will be depleted in the 2020s, according to NASA and DOE officials and documentation. With NASA funding, DOE initiated the Pu-238 Supply Project in 2011, with a goal of producing 1.5 kg of new Pu-238 per year by 2026. Without new Pu-238, future NASA missions requiring RPS are at risk.

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GAO Report Raises Concern About Plutonium-238 for Deep Space Missions

WASHINGTON (House Science Committee PR) – U.S. House Science, Space, and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) today announced the release of a report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) on U.S. production of plutonium 238 (Pu-238), a critical component of certain spacecraft power systems. GAO recommended that the Department of Energy (DOE), which oversees production of Pu-238, undertake steps to ensure production meets NASA’s needs for future missions.

Chairman Smith: “Assessing NASA’s needs and DOE’s capabilities is important for planning future missions. GAO issued three recommendations to DOE, all of which DOE indicated they would immediately implement. We will monitor DOE’s action and hope they will enable NASA to complete future missions.”
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Will NASA Suffer as Trump Administration Tightens Control?

Mike Pence

President Donald Trump has signed an executive order reconstituting the National Space Council under Vice President Mike Pence to better coordinate space policy and activities across the government.

Experts are split on whether the council will succeed in its goal or simply add another level of frustrating bureaucracy on top of the existing system.

There is another concern, however, that has received minimal attention thus far.

This is the first step of the White House imposing more control over NASA. Step 2 will come when Trump gets around to nominating a new administrator and deputy administrator to lead the space agency.

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Trump Proposes Broad Range of Environmental, Energy and Health Cuts

Credit: NASA

If anyone had the slightest hope that Donald Trump might spare global warming research in his proposed spending plan, Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney stuck a knife through it during a contentious press conference on Thursday.

“As to climate change, I think the President was fairly straightforward saying we’re not spending money on that anymore,” he said. “We consider that to be a waste of your money to go out and do that.”

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DOE, NASA Test Fission Reactor Prototype

John Bounds of Los Alamos National Laboratory’s Advanced Nuclear Technology Division makes final adjustments on the DUFF experiment, a demonstration of a simple, robust fission reactor prototype that could be used as a power system for space travel. DUFF is the first demonstration of a space nuclear reactor system to produce electricity in the United States since 1965.

LOS ALAMOS, N.M., Nov. 26, 2012—A team of researchers, including engineers from Los Alamos National Laboratory, has demonstrated a new concept for a reliable nuclear reactor that could be used on space flights.

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