-4

Russia's space agency chief Yuri Borisov said that Russia and China consider putting a nuclear power plant on the Moon in 2033-2035.

Trouble is that on the moon there is no atmosphere and too little water. A thermal plant to work needs a heat flow and on the moon it could rely only on radiant heat flow which is inefficient. Such a power plant would be expensive and useless.

China as of now may have some money to splurge, but for the Russian federation, burdened by the cost of the war, this would be a big waste to shoulder. What can be the rationale behind such plan?

Update:

Please note the the Russians have no plan to put a permanent base on the moon and even if they added those plan now the target date of 2033-35 is infeasible.

Update 2:

I would like to point out that I did not state that the system would not work. I stated that it is expensive and inefficient. People might disagree with this premise. However this remains a question about the political motivations and the reasons to push such a risky option for their tight budget. Why should the Russian federation put a lot of money of an expensive project? Even more doubtful (1) considering that by 2035 for sure there would be no moon base to support. Probably not even by 2045 there could be a moon base. Even more doubtful (2) considering that such a project could consume a huge amount of U-235 which is very rare and the Russians desperately need to fuel their civilian power generation.

9
  • 14
    Put this in SE.Space or SE.Engineering if you must. Doesn't belong here. Commented Mar 6 at 15:44
  • 4
    This is too speculative. Once the first rocket with construction materials for such a plant takes lift off, I'd start thinking about. Before I would assume that is pure propaganda or illusional thinking. The only thing I'm 100% sure of is that it won't happen in 2033-35. Commented Mar 6 at 16:34
  • 2
    Russia actually has a long history of so-called RTGs: en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radioisotope_thermoelectric_generator. I assume it is this style of nuclear reactor they are planning to put on the moon, rather than the ones made of millions of tonnes of concrete and requiring an ocean worth of water to be pumped.
    – Steve
    Commented Mar 6 at 20:33
  • 2
    While the need for radiative cooling imposes a limit on all thermal power generation in space, space nuclear reactors are not a new or impractical concept, and they make a lot of sense if one wants lots of power without being reliant on sunlight. Russia has more experience with actually using nuclear reactors in vacuum environments than the USA.
    – ikrase
    Commented Mar 7 at 5:24
  • 1
    Not only is it a speculative, might or might not happen in the future topic. It also is more technical than political. What can one learn about politics from it? That sometimes governments make proposals that may not make a lot of economic sense? Commented Mar 9 at 0:51

3 Answers 3

7

Night

Nuclear is more a technical choice than a political one. The lunar day is ~30 Earth days long, so a Lunar colony will experience 2 weeks of daylight followed by 2 weeks of night. Since a colony will require power through the night for life support and operations, they must find a power source to last through 2 weeks of darkness.

The options for power are effectively a massive battery, or building the colony at the poles and elevating the solar panels so they are always sunlit, or using nuclear power.

Given those constraints, nuclear is a compelling option for this use case.

Kilopower

The US is looking into fission in space as well through a project called Kilopower.

Heat Sink

Since OP raises the issue of having a heat sink, the moon itself can be used. Just run some water pipes and then cover them with regolith. Heat conduction from the water to the pipes to the ground will dissipate the heat far more effectively than trying to radiate it to space.

Once you've decided to build a moon base, the technical constraints make Nuclear a good choice.

5
  • 1) 2035 is too early to build a moon base. The reactor would be supporting something else. 2) The question already mentioned that there is not enough water on the moon, bringing enough water and enough pipes from the Earth would add to the cost.
    – FluidCode
    Commented Mar 6 at 22:37
  • "The US is looking into fission in space as well through ..." The US had already conducted a lot of gigantic wasteful projects. That would be typical for them, but it is quite strange for Russia that in the past watched the costs way much better.
    – FluidCode
    Commented Mar 6 at 22:40
  • 2
    @FluidCode I am not entirely convinced that there is evidence that the USA makes more "wasteful" projects than Russia, or that there is any reason for this other than Russia usually having a more constrained budget. In any case, space nuclear power plants do not require water (and Russia's past space nuclear reactors often use liquid metal as coolant). So I think a nuclear reactor makes sense if there is a desire for numerous kilowatts of power on the Moon.
    – ikrase
    Commented Mar 7 at 5:27
  • 2
    There are suggestions of manufacturing water on the moon although I can't say how easy it would be to get the amount you'd need for a reactor. But certainly the answer to "why build an expensive and inefficient reactor?" is "because we can't build a cheap and efficient one".
    – Stuart F
    Commented Mar 7 at 10:52
  • @FluidCode - There's no real chance of Russia actually doing a manned Moon landing in the next 20 years. This announcement is all about Russia wanting to pretend it's still a superpower. But Nuke power on the Moon is pretty reasonable. If you don't believe me, ask about it on the space exploration SE.
    – codeMonkey
    Commented Mar 7 at 15:54
2

Some kind of power source is required to supply life support for the scientists living on the base and to power experiments. There are limited technical options.

When the US was considering building a manned military base on the moon (project Horizon) the power source was to be two nuclear reactors buried in pits. So it was considered to be the most effective option at that time, and probably still is a very viable option, perhaps still the best. Technical considerations are OT here, but your logic is clearly faulty, perhaps deliberately so. Thermal radiation is obviously not the only way to sink heat on the surface of a moon, for example, but I'm not going to get into an Engineering discussion on a politics SE.

In fact if we fast-forward to the 2030s and beyond, NASA's Artemis base camp would likely include a 10kW fission reactor power source even for a polar base. I doubt there has ever been any serious plan for a continuously-habitable moon base that did not include consideration of some form of fission power source.

2
  • The US had already conducted a lot of gigantic wasteful projects. That would be typical for them, but it is quite strange for Russia that in the past watched the costs way much better.
    – FluidCode
    Commented Mar 6 at 22:41
  • There were plenty of wasteful projects in Soviet Union, while some maybe just underfunded. Buran, Soviet Moon rocket, Siberia railway...
    – Stančikas
    Commented Mar 9 at 16:23
1

Since we are on the Politics site, the political answer to this announcement is to induce fear in the west. It's part of the nuclear rhetorics that Russia has been using to scare the west out of helping Ukraine. The rhetorics with nuking Europe worked up to a point, so this is just an escalation of that.

Building a nuclear power plant takes 10 years on Earth. Attempting one on the moon is probably somewhere in the 50-100 years time frame with the current technology for space travel. So the western public will assume Russia has a technology edge if they make such a bold statement. This will also mean Russia has an edge in nuclear weapons. That will strike fear into western society.

It is a rehash of the cold war rhetorics.

1
  • It's a fair point that there's probably a large "fear Russian tech superiority" aspect to the annoucement, but the kind of reactor they'd likely send would be more similar to a military/naval one, not a large civilian reactor. The former kind is typically assembled almost entirely in a factory before being dropped in a sub. Russia also has some experience with using such reactors for civilian purposes popularmechanics.com/science/energy/a30246990/… Commented Mar 13 at 23:02

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .