The history of portable reactors
After the failure of the ML-1, the US government ceased its funding and focused on developing other types of nuclear energy . It was not until the 1980s that the idea of portable nuclear energy emerged into the forefront again. Two scientists, Stanley Pons and Martin Fleischmann, began investigating the technology behind portable nuclear energy and rediscovered Low Energy Nuclear Reactions, or LENR. Research with LENR had first began in the 1920s and 30s, but had subsided because of the failure of the ML-1. In 1989, Pons and Fleischmann announced their findings to the scientific community, reawakening research into LENR and the idea of creating a portable reactor .
How does LENR work?
NASA’s best method of creating the Widon-Larsen process involves interacting hydrogen ions with a nickel lattice (Fig. 2) . In Figure 2, the metal hydride represents the nickel lattice. This lattice attracts the hydrogen gas ions while oscillating at a high frequency. These oscillations excite the electrons from the nickel and form slow moving neutrons with the hydrogen ions. The nickel absorbs these slow moving neutrons and becomes unstable, regaining stability after a neutron is removed from an electron—changing the neutron into a proton and turning the nickel into copper. This process is difficult to achieve because the lattice must oscillate at a very high frequency, generating a large amount of energy during the transformation.
Why use LENR technology and small reactors?
Current portable reactor developments
As well as private companies, various governments are also investigating the technology; for example, both NASA and the Department of Energy have budgeted towards researching and building small modular reactors. A statement released by the Department of Energy claimed, “SMRs (small modular reactors) may play an important role in addressing the energy, economic and climate goals of the U.S” . NASA is currently working to build portable reactors that could power lunar or martian colonies . These reactors could be used to supply energy to oxygen or hydrogen generators, as well as charge devices for scouting vehicles. The solar cells currently used in space are sometimes unreliable because of the lack of light sources; however, a small reactor could generate more energy and be much more reliable.
Are small modular reactors a reality?
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