Patterico's Pontifications


Russian Nuclear Accident

Filed under: General — DRJ @ 9:00 am

[Link from DRJ]

Russia’s nuclear-powered doomsday missile, explained:

A doomsday weapon promoted by Russian president Vladimir Putin lost some of its sheen after seven people were killed during a test accident last week. The incident represents the most serious release of radiation since the 2011 Fukushima incident and underscores the dangers of world powers seeking to expand their nuclear arsenals.

Wait, what’s a nuclear-powered missile?

One popular way militaries deliver explosives is with a cruise missile, which you can think of as a jet engine with a bomb on the front. The jet engine flies the bomb to its target, often at very high speed and low altitude to help avoid air defenses. These can only carry so much fuel, limiting their range. If the jet engine on a missile was instead driven by a nuclear reactor, a missile would theoretically be able to fly almost indefinitely, with unlimited range. A missile like this could fly for days or weeks to sneak up on its targets, from the other side of the world if necessary.

However, designing one of these is hard work. The US tried during the Cold War. But the effort, known as “Project Pluto,” couldn’t find a safe place to test the flying nuclear reactor, which sprayed radioactive material out its back. And the US never figured out how to build an engine that didn’t spew contaminants.

More at the link.

I know many readers and commenters understand the science and issues, and they may find this article too simple. Please feel free to add more information in the comments but I needed something basic to understand this incident.


20 Responses to “Russian Nuclear Accident”

  1. Saw this last week. I’m still trying to wrap my head around ‘isotopic drive’.

    The crazy thing was it wasn’t the only huge explosion in Russia last week, an ammo dump in Siberia went up in spectacular fashion:

    harkin (58d012)

  2. The incident ….. underscores the dangers of world powers seeking to expand their nuclear arsenals.

    Untrue. It underscores the dangers of nuclear-powered delivery systems, not of nuclear arsenals themselves.

    rip mudock (d2a2a8)

  3. Russia sucks. They even suck at picking the US president.

    Dustin (6d7686)

  4. “Despite the missing of Chechnya, I think this is happiest I have probably ever been in my life… Project Burevestnick is going super great.”

    —- Goran Pazar, last letter home

    Colonel Haiku (2601c0)

  5. The explosions will continue as long as Russians drink vodka for breakfast.

    steveg (354706)

  6. DOJ reassigns warden at MCC pending investigation…

    Colonel Haiku (2601c0)

  7. Well, the good news it, his nuclear power device ddn;t work, and the top five scientists involved in it were killed.

    Sammy Finkelman (324ec1)

  8. “Russia sucks. They even suck at picking the US president.”

    Couldn’t even get their main guy nominated – Hillary and Debbie made sure the fix was in. The Russkis were so mad they removed WI from all her campaign maps.

    harkin (58d012)

  9. 9… LOL… Russia sucks balls but that theory is the King of Sucks Balls Mountain.

    Colonel Haiku (2601c0)

  10. Incredibly stupid. It is totally irresponsible and completely idiotic to attempt to use any nuclear powered propulsion system for powered flight through Earth’s atmosphere.

    As noted on another thread, had an opportunity, decades ago, back in the day, to briefly chat w/Von Braun on this very topic in the wake of the NERVA rocket engine tests and the heady Apollo days. There were very preliminary concepts kicking around discussing possibly developing and mounting a nuclear-powered third stage on top of a Saturn V for proposed future interplanetary space missions. Von Braun stated that igniting a propulsion system of that design–even at that altitude– would result in residue contaminating the atmosphere, which cratered the concept.

    DCSCA (797bc0)

  11. They missed the anniversary of Nagasaki by one day. Incompetents.

    Dave (1bb933)

  12. The issue is this: It is a violation of the atmospheric test-ban treaty.

    They haven’t learned. We should break them economically, again.

    Kevin M (21ca15)

  13. Russia sucks. They even suck at picking the US president.

    To be fair, we suck at nominating them.

    Kevin M (21ca15)

  14. Russia wasn’t testing an atomic bomb. It was testing a nuclkear powered rocket, and it wasn’t supposed to explode.

    Sammy Finkelman (102c75)

  15. “They missed the anniversary of Nagasaki by one day. Incompetents”

    Shoulda run it by CNN:

    John Cazale – Fredo – The Godfather (1972) – Born Aug 12, 1935

    harkin (58d012)

  16. A conventional nuclear power plant works by heating water, turning it to steam to drive a turbine generator, producing electricity. The nuclear reactions occurring within the radioactive fuel provide the heat. Nuclear powered airplanes were also investigated post WWII, but didn’t go anywhere because, really, who wants to deal with the fallout from a crash. The engine would be similar to the conventional power plant but use radioactive material as a source of heat instead of combusting jet fuel. I assume the radioactive material would be jacketed to contain it, but with the Russians, who really knows? In any case, it should not be spewing radioactive material as a normal condition of flight.

    Colliente (05736f)

  17. I haven’t researched the technology, but if your delivery vehicle is full of fissile material, how would it make sense to carry anything except a nuclear weapon? If you deliver a conventional warhead, it breaches the reactor and creates the effect of a dirty bomb, getting you all the blame for using nuclear weapons without the gratifying mushroom cloud to make it worthwhile

    I suppose the idea might be to make the delivery vehicle recoverable, like a bomber aircraft that returns to base (it drops or shoots its payload at the target without destroying itself).

    There are other ways to use radioactive material to generate power, through electronic thermocouples (many spacecraft have used these, including the Mars rovers). The ones I’ve read about aren’t nearly powerful enough to drive a missile engine, though.

    Dave (1bb933)

  18. …but rovers are so last millennium.

    A radioisotope thermal generator will power NASA’s “Dragonfly” mission to Saturn’s moon, Titan, launching in 2026 and arriving in 2034. This is a radioisotope-powered drone that will zip around wide stretches of Titan, landing in different places to take and analyze samples.

    It helps that Titan’s atmosphere is four times the density of earth’s (it wouldn’t work in the super-thin atmosphere of Mars).

    Dave (1bb933)

  19. @17. Except they do spew contaminants- and containing same has always been the problm. Besides, a ‘steam-powered’ airgract fueled by a reactor-heated engine isn’t plausible chiefly due to weight constraints. Works for ships and subs, but not a wise risk for powered flight within the atmosphere.

    @19. Sure, they use RTGs on probes to the outer planets and beyond – NASA has done that for years for electrical and thermal purposes– but not as elements of the primary or secondary propulsion systems and certainly not to ignite for powered flight within the Earth’s atmosphere. Even the Apollo ALSEP stations deployed by the astronauts on the moon carried RTGs to power and warm the instruments left behind on the surface – [the AEC was spooked about the RTG plutonium fuel which had not been deployed on Apollo 13, still secured in its ‘crash’ canister aboard the returning LM; it was key factor in the decision of where NASA directed the LM to burn up and splash– in a very deep part of the Pacific.]

    DCSCA (797bc0)

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