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Intro: "American scientists have drawn up plans for a new generation of nuclear-powered drones capable of flying over remote regions of the world for months on end without refueling."

A conventionally powered MQ-9 Reaper drone, which has a flight time of 14 hours when loaded, could fly far longer with nuclear energy. (photo: Ethan Miller/Getty)
A conventionally powered MQ-9 Reaper drone, which has a flight time of 14 hours when loaded, could fly far longer with nuclear energy. (photo: Ethan Miller/Getty)

US Draws Up Plans for Nuclear Drones

By Nick Fielding, Guardian UK

04 April 12


Technology is designed to increase flying time 'from days to months', along with power available for weapons systems.

merican scientists have drawn up plans for a new generation of nuclear-powered drones capable of flying over remote regions of the world for months on end without refuelling.

The blueprints for the new drones, which have been developed by Sandia National Laboratories – the US government's principal nuclear research and development agency – and defence contractor Northrop Grumman, were designed to increase flying time "from days to months" while making more power available for operating equipment, according to a project summary published by Sandia.

"It's pretty terrifying prospect," said Chris Coles of Drone Wars UK, which campaigns against the increasing use of drones for both military and civilian purposes. "Drones are much less safe than other aircraft and tend to crash a lot. There is a major push by this industry to increase the use of drones and both the public and government are struggling to keep up with the implications."

The highly sensitive research into what is termed "ultra-persistence technologies" set out to solve three problems associated with drones: insufficient "hang time" over a potential target; lack of power for running sophisticated surveillance and weapons systems; and lack of communications capacity.

The Sandia-Northrop Grumman team looked at numerous different power systems for large- and medium-sized drones before settling on a nuclear solution. Northrop Grumman is known to have patented a drone equipped with a helium-cooled nuclear reactor as long ago as 1986, and has previously worked on nuclear projects with the US air force research laboratory. Designs for nuclear-powered aircraft are known to go back as far as the 1950s.

The research team found that the nuclear drones were able to provide far more surveillance time and intelligence information per mission compared to other technologies, and also to reduce the considerable costs of support systems – eliminating the need, for example, for forward bases and fuel supplies in remote and possibly hostile areas.

A halt has been called to the work for now, due to worries that public opinion will not accept the idea of such a potentially hazardous technology, with the inherent dangers of either a crash – in effect turning the drone into a so-called dirty bomb – or of its nuclear propulsion system falling into the hands of terrorists or unfriendly powers.

Sandia confirmed that the project had been completed: "Sandia is often asked to look at a wide range of solutions to the toughest technical challenges. The research on this topic was highly theoretical and very conceptual. The work only resulted in a preliminary feasibility study and no hardware was ever built or tested. The project has ended."

According to a summary of the research published by the Federation of American Scientists, an independent thinktank, computer-based projections were used to test the concepts. "Based on requirements and direction provided by Northrop Grumman, Sandia performed focused studies to translate stated needs into conceptual designs and processes that could be transferred easily from Sandia to industry design and production personnel," the document says.

So sensitive is the issue that the summary does not spell out the fact that it is referring to a nuclear-powered drone, referring instead to "propulsion and power technologies that went well beyond existing hydrocarbon technologies". However, the project's lead investigator at Sandia, Dr Steven Dron, is well known as a specialist in nuclear propulsion, having co-chaired a session at the 2008 Symposium on Space Nuclear Power and Propulsion, held at the University of New Mexico in 2008.

The research summary also stated that the results "were to be used in the next generation of unmanned air vehicles used for military and intelligence applications", where they "would have provided system performance unparalleled by other existing technologies".

It added that "none of the results will be used in the near-term or mid-term future", due to political constraints.

The potential impact of nuclear-powered drones can be gauged by comparing them with existing aircraft such as the MQ-9 Reaper, which is used extensively in Afghanistan and Pakistan in operations against insurgents. The Reaper presently carries nearly two tonnes of fuel in addition a similar weight of munitions and other equipment and can stay airborne for around 42 hours, or just 14 hours when fully loaded with munitions.

Using nuclear power would enable the Reaper not only to remain airborne for far longer, but to carry more missiles or surveillance equipment, and to dispense with the need for ground crews based in remote and dangerous areas.

Coles believes the increasing sophistication of drones poses many threats: "As they become low-cost, low-risk alternatives to conventional warfare, the threshold for their use will inevitably drop. The consequences are not being thought through." your social media marketing partner


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+11 # Erdajean 2012-04-04 09:55
How are the Human Beings in this country going to put an end to this sacrilege before Humanity in other nations decides they MUST?
The idea of what amounts to nuclear time-bombs circling the globe, landing/crashin g anywhere, doing only God knows what, is THE most appalling prospect we have to deal with.
Tell me now that there is an "intelligent being" minding the store in Washington, and that we can "relax" because we are the GOOD guys, and I will puke on your feet.
+4 # CaptD 2012-04-04 12:49
DC is now for themselves or haven't you noticed?

Compare the number of donation requests now as compared to years ago! The donation amount "check box" is even higher on your IRS tax form...
+11 # warkovision 2012-04-04 10:23
"A halt has been called to the work for now, due to worries that public opinion will not accept the idea of such a potentially hazardous technology, with the inherent dangers of either a crash – in effect turning the drone into a so-called dirty bomb – or of its nuclear propulsion system falling into the hands of terrorists or unfriendly powers."

D'ya think??? Good lord.
+7 # CaptD 2012-04-04 12:46
The FAA is in the middle of changing the Reg.'s to allow UAV's access to public airways, does that give you a hint of what is coming!
+4 # CaptD 2012-04-04 12:47
It would give an entirely new meaning to the now NON-Nuclear term "Software CRASH"...
+10 # Windy126 2012-04-04 10:53
We don't need them! We have paid millions for spy satellites now we are supposed to pay for more Drones? How about the 99% getting a break instead of the 1% that own the companies that make all of this stuff. I am tired of paying for military equipment that gets dumped on the world market at fire sale prices when we paid Tiffany prices for it.
+2 # CaptD 2012-04-04 12:44
Satellites cannot carry weapons, YET...
+10 # John Locke 2012-04-04 11:48
Does anyone believe the project has ended?

Trust our government to find a way to annihilate this planet…If any government can, it will be us!
+6 # CaptD 2012-04-04 12:44
From mdinoregon on HP:
USA Nuclear Drones capable of ‘months’ of flight

American scientists are announcing this week that they’ve got plans to release new unmanned aircraft with capabilities for months of flight without refueling. These new drones would be nuclear-powered and will be developed by Sandia National Laboratories – this being the US government’s principal research and development agency. They’re also working with defense contractor Northrop Grumman, who are the ones who specifically noted that these drones will have an increased flying time over previous models “from days to months”, this including more power for operating equipment as well.

Flying dirty bomb....what could possibly go wrong?

The team of Sandia-Northrop Grumman are working with patented drone technology that works with a helium-cooled nuclear reactor...........
From Me:
Note they have already been flown for a while now...

What is next, using the UAV itself to crash into your countryside, to make it radioactive?
Maybe they can use these to monitor the debris from Japan as it nears Hawaii...
+6 # Barbara K 2012-04-04 12:59
I say "NO" to nuclear drones. so many people have been accidentally killed by the drones, just think what it would be like if they were nuclear. Besides, enemies could get them and send them over here too. Think this one thru really hard, and then DON'T DO IT!
+6 # John Locke 2012-04-04 15:05
Barbara: They don't have to think to do these stupid things they are on automatic robot.
+2 # cadan 2012-04-04 16:31
I think "could" should be "will".

I don't think we will actually deploy these kinds of drones because they will certainly be captured.

And once one is captured, i think it can be sent right back here to make trouble (after it is copied, of course).
+2 # Stephanie Remington 2012-04-04 23:43
Or used as an excuse to attack another country without proving who actually captured it.

Or accidentally obliterate a city somewhere in the world...

Our government is so insanely out of control it's frightening. Nothing is too far outside the bounds of reason, law, or morality to balk at throwing massive amounts of money at it.
0 # Stephanie Remington 2012-04-04 23:44
Well, then I hope after you vote for Obama you do more than post on this website to stop him from doing these kinds of things.
+5 # Dave_s Not Here 2012-04-04 13:38
Here's what's next. Nuclear powered nuclear armed drones.

They could have those suckers orbiting over the ocean in international airspace at, say, 80,000 feet in a dozen places, ready to go at the push of a button.
+10 # Activista 2012-04-04 14:40
US military - government think and act as TERRORISTS - we should change "War on Terrorism" slogan to War BY Terrorism
+2 # Kootenay Coyote 2012-04-04 16:57
So if a nuclear drone were to crash other than in the USA, would that not be an immediate War Crime as well as an Act of War?
+2 # Subliberal 2012-04-04 20:18
These people are nuts - completely certifiable. Melting nuclear plants are going China Syndrome and now they'll be crashing out of the sky and into your kiddies' wading pool.

Dear Lord, when will this madness end?
0 # Willman 2012-04-04 20:55
How about some actual research on a solar option that could be utilized on the ground here in the USA. Imagine all the money the MIC can command what they could come up with.
I can see it now, green environmentally friendly drones.
+1 # Anarchist 23 2012-04-05 11:36
These are the same people who exploded the atomic bombs code named Teak and Orange at 50 and 28 miles respectively above the atmosphere in late 1958. On August 27, 30 and Sept 6 1958 they launched 3 nuclear warheads from X-17 rockets from the deck of USS Norton sound into space where approximately 300 miles up they detonated. All this is recorded in the book Area 51 by Annie Jacobsen who is a contributing editor at Los Angeles Times Magazine and has also appeared in National Review and Dallas Morning News. Area 51 has been playing with wireless controlled drones and nuclear propelled rockets since 50's -do you really think anything is going to stop them now?
0 # futhark 2012-04-06 07:24
Another good reason to make revisting the Hague Conventions a periodic exercise, like the Olympics or the nations with the biggest economies meeting annually to coordinate their efforts to exploit the planet (the name of this conference escapes my benumbed brain right now). Warfare technology is advancing so rapidly that we can't afford to sit on our hands while thousands or millions are slaughtered until we wake up to the need for some regulation. We need a pro-active regulatory mechanism for military technology.
0 # feloneouscat 2012-04-06 18:44
What the world DOESN'T need.

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