Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Little Green Glowing Men

For the past few decades New Zealand has been "Nuclear Free'. A bit of a misnomer really as there is nuclear material in the country in small research labs, but never the less a political position that had its genesis in the destructive nuclear testing in the Pacific, most notably by France and US.

While am not a rabid anti-nuclear campaigner, I think most New Zealanders are supportive of the stance. There have been& political repercussions, most notably the downgrading of our status with the USA from 'ally' to 'friend'. Only in recent times and administrations has there been a thaw in the relationship with the NZ Navy (what's left of it) rejoining strategic military exercises with the US. But nuclear-fueled& vessels are still not allowed in new Zealand ports.

This has not stopped the Americans putting their nuclear fuel rods to other forms of propulsion. The latest is nuclear-driven vehicle which has just been dropped on to the surface of Mars. If there is any life on the planet I hope it is staying well away from the batteries. Little Green Men might run the risk of becoming Little Green Glowing Men if they don't.

One of the first images taken by NASA's Curiosity rover, which landed on Mars early Monday, August 6.  The clear dust cover that protected the camera during landing has been sprung open. Part of the spring that released the dust cover can be seen at the bottom right, near the rover's wheel. Photo: NASA.

Frivolity asides, this is a marvelous scientific and engineering accomplishment.. To travel for 9 months across billions of miles (without accruing any airpoints) and to land on the surface of the Red Planet takes some doing.

Given the form of propulsion for the Mars vehicle (nuclear rather than solar) the life expectancy of the craft could be several years, yielding a wealth of scientific results. One hopes that the fuel rods powering the vehicle are using the latest technological innovations. Traditionally a 'spent' nuclear rod has only used 5% of its potential power.

Scientists at the US Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory now think they have found a way of utilising the remaining 95% of the uranium in the fuel rod. Their technique could produce hundreds to thousands of years worth of carbon free energy just by reusing the uranium that has already been mined, and is currently considered ‘spent’.

Mr Brown's Singapore version of the Mars Landing!
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