Nuclear Power and Associated Environmental Issues in the Transition of Exploration and Mining on Earth to the Development of Off-World Natural Resources in the 21st Century
Campbell, Michael D., King, Jeffrey D., Wise, Henry M., Handley, Bruce, Conca, James L, and Campbell, M. David. “Nuclear Power and Associated Environmental Issues in the Transition of Exploration and Mining on Earth to the Development of Off-World Natural Resources in the 21st Century,” AAPG Memoir 101: Energy Resources for Human Settlement in the Solar System and Earth’s Future in Space., 163-213, 2013, doi: 10.1021/es204006k.
Energy & Utilities, Nuclear Energy
Once humans landed on the Moon on July 20, 1969, the goal of space exploration envisioned by United States President John F. Kennedy in 1961 was already being realized. Achievement of this goal depended on the development of technologies to turn his vision into reality. One technology that was critical to the success of this goal was the harnessing of nuclear power to run these new systems. Nuclear systems provide power for satellite and deep space exploratory missions. In the future, they will provide propulsion for spacecraft and drive planet-based power systems. The maturation of technologies that underlie these systems ran parallel to an evolving rationale regarding the need to explore our own solar system and beyond. Since the Space Race, forward-looking analysis of our situation on Earth reveals that space exploration will one day provide natural resources that will enable further exploration and will provide new sources for our dwindling resources and offset their increasing prices or scarcity on Earth. Mining is anticipated on the Moon for increasingly valuable commodities, such as thorium (Th) and samarium (Sm), and on selected asteroids or other moons as a demonstration of technology at scales never before imagined. In addition, the discovery of helium-3 on the Moon may provide an abundant power source on the Moon and on Earth through nuclear fusion technologies. However, until the physics of fusion is solved, that resource will remain on the shelf and may even be stockpiled on the Moon until needed. It is clear that nuclear power will provide the means necessary to realize these goals while advances in other areas will provide enhanced environmental safeguards in using nuclear power in innovative ways, such as a space elevator or by a ramjet space plane to deliver materials to and from the Earth’s surface and personnel and equipment into space and a space gravity tractor to nudge errant asteroids and other bodies out of collision orbits. Nuclear systems will enable humankind to expand beyond the boundaries of Earth, provide new frontiers for exploration, ensure our protection, and renew critical natural resources while advancing spin-off technology on Earth. During the past ten years, China, Japan, India, and other countries have mounted serious missions to explore the Moon and elsewhere.