DOE Could Improve Planning and Communication Related to Plutonium-238 and Radioisotope Power Systems Production Challenges
United States Government Accountability Office GAO-17-673
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.
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.” (more…)
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