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Plans for installing a joint nuclear power plant on the moon’s surface within the next decade are being considered by Russian and Chinese officials, the head of Russia’s space agency said Tuesday, a project he said could allow for the development of lunar settlements amid similar efforts by the U.S.

https://www.forbes.com/sites/tylerroush/2024/03/05/russia-china-planning-for-joint-nuclear-power-plant-on-the-moon-by-2035/?sh=786ac6af60e1

Is there any ban that prevents the militarization of the moon? Although a nuclear power plant is not necessarily seen as a military use of technology, this nuclear power plant could be used to power military vehicles. I was thus wondering if there's any legally binding agreement that would prevent deploying military-use technology or infrastructure on the moon just like we have for the region of Antarctica.

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    Well, it's not quite Project A119, but I don't doubt that some of the consequences could be the same.
    – Obie 2.0
    Commented Mar 6 at 2:01
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    Your quote doesn't relate to your question in any reasonable way. Any source of power on the moon could also be used to power military technology on the moon.
    – quarague
    Commented Mar 6 at 8:44

2 Answers 2

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The Outer Space Treaty.

https://www.unoosa.org/oosa/en/ourwork/spacelaw/treaties/introouterspacetreaty.html

Specifically: "the Moon and other celestial bodies shall be used exclusively for peaceful purposes;"

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With regard specifically to nuclear power sources, the US put multiple plutonium-based nuclear power sources (RTGs) on the moon starting Apollo 12 (fall 1969) and ending with Apollo 17 (1972), and presumably they felt they were compliant at that time.

The main concern with such power sources is not so much a potential belligerent having a power source on the moon, but what happens to the extremely toxic plutonium if the craft fails in the atmosphere (as they rather frequently do- including manned craft).

The later 1979 Moon Agreement would have been more restrictive:

  1. The establishment of military bases, installations and fortifications, the testing of any type of weapons and the conduct of military maneuvers on the moon shall be forbidden. The use of military personnel for scientific research or for any other peaceful purposes shall not be prohibited. The use of any equipment or facility necessary for peaceful exploration and use of the moon shall also not be prohibited.

However, no country with any hope of putting anything like that on the moon any time soon has ratified the treaty, so it's a dud.

According to UN documents, Saudi Arabia recently withdrew from the Moon Agreement.

The Government of Saudi Arabia, on 5 January 2023, notified the Secretary-General of its decision to withdraw from the Moon Agreement with effect from 5 January 2024 in accordance with article 20 of the Agreement.

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    as they rather frequently do- including manned craft Wait, what? Launch aborts of manned flights are very rare. There was just one manned spacecraft destroyed during ascent (Challenger), 2 in-flight aborts, and a single pad abort, and only one of these happened in the last 45 years.
    – Frax
    Commented Mar 6 at 18:25
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    About 1-3% failure rate is not low. Two shuttles destroyed in 135 launches. 19 of the 644 people going to space died as a result (almost 3%). The plutonium core of Apollo 13's RTG was dumped over the Pacific (along with the rest of the lander). Space is a quite difficult and high-risk activity compared to everyday activities. Physics doesn't give us a lot of room for error with chemical rockets. Commented Mar 6 at 18:37
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    Yet last fatality was a bit over 20 years ago. Currently we have Falcon 9 that didn't miss a landing in last 200 launches. Counting failure percentages from the very beginning of spaceflight history when taking about likely future performance seems a bit dishonest, frankly.
    – Frax
    Commented Mar 6 at 18:47
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    It's worth noting that an RTG and a nuclear reactor are two very different things. While they both involve nuclear material, an RTG uses the latent heat of spontaneous fission to produce, at most, a few hundred Watts; it's about as safe as a lump of plutonium can be. Apollo 13's RTG is sitting deep, deep in the Pacific ocean with the plutonium contained for 10 half-lives at which point the 3800 g of plutonium will be 3.8 g of plutonium. A nuclear reactor is a complex machine to induce fission potentially putting out megawatts of power and, depending on its design, could melt down.
    – Schwern
    Commented Mar 6 at 21:53
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    NASA's RTGs are designed to survive launch accidents, as happened with the launch of a Nimbus B-1 weather satellite in 1968. But I suspect that other agencies and countries may have different standards.
    – Barrington
    Commented Mar 7 at 3:53

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