Earth to Mars in 100 days: The power of nuclear rockets

An image of a nuclear-powered rocketIt may sound like science fiction, but it’s not. Thanks to nuclear technology, traveling from Earth to Mars in 100 days could be a reality in the near future.

At the August 20 National Space Council meeting, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine gave a presentation on developing nuclear propulsion technology.

Using nuclear thermal propulsion is one way that could help the space agency meet its goal to send astronauts to Mars in the 2030s.

“That is absolutely a game-changer for what NASA is trying to achieve,” Space.com reported Bridenstine as saying.

Currently, using a chemical-powered rocket, it would take approximately eight months to travel from Earth to Mars. This means a longer period of time for astronauts to be exposed to radiation from space travel.

A nuclear-powered rocket could cut the travel time by more than half, reducing the time in space and exposure to radiation.

“That gives us an opportunity to really protect life, when we talk about the radiation dose when we travel between Earth and Mars,” Bridenstine explained.

New research shows the need to speed up the time traveling in deep space and reduce exposure to radiation is important. A University of California, Irvine (UCI) School of Medicine study found that mice exposed to interplanetary space travel radiation levels for six months suffered from serious learning and memory impairment.

Reduced travel time would also reduce the amount of food, water and oxygen a crew would have to carry for the journey.

How does it work?

Phys.org explained the technology this way: “A marble-sized ball of uranium fuel undergoes fission, releasing a tremendous amount of heat. This heats up hydrogen to almost 2,500 degrees Celsius, which is then expelled out the back of the rocket at extremely high velocity, giving the rocket two to three times the propulsion efficiency of a chemical rocket.”

Using nuclear power for deep space exploration is not a new idea.

The U.S. military and NASA began research on the concept in the 1950s, with the Project Rover program and in the 1960s with the Nuclear Engine for Rocket Vehicle Applications (NERVA) program.

Several tests were conducted on nuclear-powered engines, but the program was canceled in 1973 before any flight tests of the engine took place as NASA decided to scrap moon and Mars missions and focus on the space shuttle program.

But now, the idea of a nuclear-power rocket is making a comeback at NASA.


CNA Sponsor Spotlight: Power Workers’ Union

The Power Workers’ Union (PWU) is a proud Canadian union and the largest in Ontario’s electricity sector. The PWU has been representing skilled workers in the energy sector for more than 75 years. These men and women have delivered decades of safe, affordable and environmentally responsible electricity to Ontario homes and businesses.

One of Canada’s most flexible, democratic and progressive unions, the PWU is a knowledgeable and experienced player in the energy sector. It has a proven track record of strong union representation and bargaining quality collective agreements with excellent pay rates, job security provisions, working conditions, pensions and benefits ― without work stoppages.

The PWU represents more than 15,000 people — about 70 per cent of the unionized electricity workers in the province. The membership is represented through more than 50 collective agreements.

The PWU is the Gold-level sponsor of the conference bag.

To register for the conference, visit https://cna.ca/cna2020/registration/.

CNA Responds

CNA responds to the Ontario Clean Air Alliance

The CNA sent the following letter to the Hamilton Spectator in response to an opinion piece by the Ontario Clean Air Alliance.

Re: It’s time Ontario said no to nuclear (Feb. 3)

The Ontario Clean Air Alliance is using the recent false provincial alert regarding the Pickering Nuclear Generating Station as an opportunity to engage in fear-mongering about nuclear power.

The opinion piece is full of misleading and distracting statements at a time when clear and accurate information about nuclear has never been more important.

Canada’s nuclear industry is among the safest and most strictly regulated in the world. The Pickering station is a CANDU design with a long history of safe performance. It is regularly upgraded to ensure alignment with international codes and standards.

In 2019, the station achieved its best-ever year of safety and reliability, and was recently recognized for performance excellence by the World Association of Nuclear Operators.

Like all Canadian nuclear plants, the station benefits from strong oversight by an independent and highly regarded regulator, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission.

Nuclear energy provided 60 per cent of Ontario’s electricity in 2019 and has enabled the province to phase-out coal. Across Canada, the industry accounts for 76,000 direct and indirect jobs.

Last year, I shifted from advocating for solar energy to promoting nuclear energy. It was a logical outcome of the realization that the climate emergency requires us all to pick up the pace of transformation.

I’m proud to be part of an industry that, along with solar, wind and hydroelectric, provides clean electricity that is virtually free of the emissions and helps mitigate climate change.

The critical transition to a low-carbon economy will be almost impossible without the reliable, safe and clean energy that nuclear technology provides.

John Gorman
President and CEO
Canadian Nuclear Association
Ottawa, ON


Reconciliation in the workplace

Portrait of Gabrielle Scrimshaw
Gabrielle Scrimshaw
Photo by Jon Chase, Harvard Staff Photographer

CNA2020 delegates are sure to be inspired and well-informed by the Friday breakfast keynote speaker, Gabrielle Scrimshaw. She will discuss what delivering on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls for action can look like in today’s workplace.

A proud Dene from Treaty 10 Territory in northern Saskatchewan and Alberta, Scrimshaw is an education and Indigenous leadership expert and an advocate for all things Indigenous. The skilled storyteller has a passion for creating social impact.

Scrimshaw runs a consultancy, working with First Nations communities across North America, helping address questions of economic development, leadership and governance. Based in San Francisco, she is a sought-after expert on Indigenous issues by North America’s largest national media outlets. She is a regular contributor for North America’s largest national media outlets and has been profiled by The New York Times, Forbes, The Globe and Mail and others.

Growing up in a rural Indigenous town of about 800 people, Scrimshaw was raised in a single-parent home. A first-generation student, she has studied international business and policy across six continents. Scrimshaw has an MBA from Stanford and is a Gleitsman Fellow at the Center for Public Leadership at Harvard University, where she earned an MPA.

She is the co-founder of the Indigenous Professional Association of Canada, a non-profit organization that is a global thought leader on Indigenous leadership.

Scrimshaw will be speaking during the Friday breakfast, which will be held from 07:30 to 09:00 on February 28.

Find the complete schedule at https://cna.ca/cna2020/program/.

To register for the conference, visit https://cna.ca/cna2020/registration/.


CNA Sponsor Spotlight: AECOM

AECOM is the world’s premier infrastructure firm, delivering professional services throughout the project life cycle. They are planners, designers, engineers, consultants and construction managers driven by a common purpose to deliver a better world.

In Canada and in the nuclear domain, AECOM has provided engineering design for waste storage and disposal, and has supported the licensing processes for nuclear organizations in Canada.

Globally AECOM provides engineering, procurement and construction services to nuclear utilities and designs, constructs, and operates nuclear repositories. Their public and private sector clients count on them to take on the most complex challenges and pioneer innovative solutions that push the limits of what’s possible. Their projects span energy, the environment, transportation, buildings and water.

In January, AECOM twice received recognition.

AECOM earned a perfect score on the Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s 2020 Corporate Equality Index (CEI) and was designated a Best Place to Work for LGBTQ Equality in the United States. The Corporate Equality Index is the national benchmarking tool on corporate policies and practices pertinent to LGBTQ employees. The perfect score puts AECOM among the top-ranked firms within the engineering and construction sector for a third year.

Employers earning top ratings took concrete steps to ensure greater equity for LGBTQ workers and their families in the form of comprehensive policies, benefits and practices. The CEI rating criteria have three key pillars: non-discrimination policies across business entities, equitable benefits for LGBTQ workers and their families and supporting an inclusive culture and corporate social responsibility.

AECOM was also named to Fortune magazine’s list of the World’s Most Admired Companies for the sixth consecutive year. The annual survey is conducted by Fortune and global management consulting firm Korn Ferry, with top executives, directors and securities analysts rating enterprises in their industry on nine criteria, including innovation, people management, social responsibility and global competitiveness.

AECOM is the Gold-level sponsor for the CNA2020 Friday breakfast and keynote address.

Find the complete schedule at https://cna.ca/cna2020/program/.

To register for the conference, visit https://cna.ca/cna2020/registration/.


CNA Sponsor Spotlight: EnergySolutions

Headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah, EnergySolutions is an international nuclear services company with operations throughout the United States, Canada and Japan. EnergySolutions is an industry leader in the safe recycling, processing and disposal of nuclear material. It provides a full range of decommissioning and decontamination services to shut down nuclear power plants.

EnergySolutions’ Canada Walker Operations is a radioactive waste and materials management facility that safely manages nuclear material. The Brampton, Ontario, facility operates under a broad Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) Waste Nuclear Substance License. The 12,000-square-meter facility is specifically designed to provide services for reactor tooling storage and refurbishment, as well as low-level radioactive waste management for Canadian utilities, hospitals and research facilities.

The licensed facility offers unique industry services, including

  • design of specialized processing systems and customized licensed areas to eliminate the need for client on-site facilities;
  • cost-effective solutions for radioactive materials management and classification;
  • decontamination and free release capabilities;
  • temperature-controlled, secure storage of radioactive waste, tooling and equipment;
  • emergency response support services for a large segment of the Canadian nuclear industry;
  • onsite certified shipping brokers and health physicists with expertise in requirements for management and transportation of radioactive materials; and
  • import/export authorization for cross-border transport between Canada and the United States.

EnergySolutions is the Gold-level sponsor of the CNA2020 round table lunch on Friday, February 28.

Find the complete CNA2020 schedule at https://cna.ca/cna2020/program/.

To register for the conference, visit https://cna.ca/cna2020/registration/.