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NASA Science

Will NASA Ever Recover Apollo 13's Plutonium From the Ocean 263

Posted by samzenpus
from the clean-up-your-mess dept.
An anonymous reader writes "'Houston, we've had a problem,' said astronaut Jack Swigert on April 13, 1970. But the problem wasn't as simple as three astronauts potentially trapped in the void of space, 200,000 miles from Earth. The catastrophic risk came from the SNAP-27 radioisotope thermoelectric generator (RTG), a small nuclear reactor that was going to be placed on the moon to power experiments, carrying Plutonium 238 in Apollo 13's lunar module. As luck would have it, NASA had experience losing RTGs – a navigation satellite failed to reach orbit in 1964 and scattered small amounts of plutonium over the Indian Ocean. The SNAP-27 had been engineered to make it back to Earth intact in such an incident. The plutonium, like the astronauts, apparently survived reentry and came to rest with what remained of the lunar module in the Tonga Trench south of Fiji, approximately 6-9 kilometers underwater (its exact location is unknown). Extensive monitoring of the atmosphere in the area showed that no radiation escaped."
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Will NASA Ever Recover Apollo 13's Plutonium From the Ocean

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  • No (Score:5, Informative)

    by bsane (148894) on Monday November 28, 2011 @12:56PM (#38191818)

    6Km under the ocean is probably the safest place for it.

    • Re:No (Score:5, Funny)

      by Oswald McWeany (2428506) on Monday November 28, 2011 @12:59PM (#38191848)

      Not if the mermen militarise the plutonium and use it against the land people.

      They're vicious SOBs down there.

      • Re:No (Score:5, Funny)

        by Oswald McWeany (2428506) on Monday November 28, 2011 @01:04PM (#38191912)

        According to the Merman religion they get 17 sturgeons in the afterlife if the die whilst killing the land people.

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by Tsingi (870990)
          I heard that the son of Neptune would come back and bring all of the devout merpersons to the great ocean know as seaven while bringing death and destruction to all who are not devout worshipers of Neptune.
        • Re:No (Score:4, Funny)

          by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 28, 2011 @03:44PM (#38193766)

          According to the Merman religion

          I believe they prefer to be referred to as The Church of Jesus Pike of Latter-day Skates.

          they get 17 sturgeons in the afterlife if the die whilst killing the land people.

          Also if they are killed by the Mafia. Either way, they sleep with the fishes.

      • I'm more worried about the Russian water tentacles. If you think creating tsunamis willy-nilly is bad, imagine radioactive tsunamis!

        • Re:No (Score:5, Funny)

          by Stele (9443) on Monday November 28, 2011 @01:55PM (#38192554) Homepage

          I'd be more concerned about those Japanese tentacles. Much more.

          • by AmiMoJo (196126)

            Check out the original Japanese version of Godzilla. The monster was created by US underwater nuclear testing, which needless to say got cut from English language release.

            Japan has always had a strong anti-nuclear movement because of those two tragedies, and now because of Fukushima. They keep flames from those events burning at various places around the country, and the first Godzilla movie was actually a fairly serious film. It was only later that special effects improved and the monster started looking s

      • by identity0 (77976)

        Oh but if the Undines from Yggdra Union [creativeuncut.com] could get a nuclear bomb, I'd totally welcome our new mermaid overlords.

      • by KonoWatakushi (910213) on Monday November 28, 2011 @02:01PM (#38192632)

        Not if the mermen militarise the plutonium and use it against the land people.

        They're vicious SOBs down there.

        This may be a joke, but it is worth pointing out that the Plutonium used in RTGs is not fissile, and can't be used to make bombs. Pu-238 [wikipedia.org] is only useful for RTGs. The isotope used in bombs is Pu-239, which is a common product of Uranium based reactors.

        Producing Pu-238 is actually very difficult, as described in the above link. Unfortunately, the worlds supply is dwindling, and this endangers many upcoming space missions. One attractive option for creating more is to use Liquid fluoride thorium reactors [wikipedia.org], where Pu-238 is one of many useful products [flibe-energy.com] created.

        • by s13g3 (110658) on Monday November 28, 2011 @02:54PM (#38193236) Journal

          This may be a joke, but it is worth pointing out that the Plutonium used in RTGs is not fissile, and can't be used to make bombs. Pu-238 [wikipedia.org] is only useful for RTGs. The isotope used in bombs is Pu-239, which is a common product of Uranium based reactors.

          Producing Pu-238 is actually very difficult, as described in the above link. Unfortunately, the worlds supply is dwindling, and this endangers many upcoming space missions. One attractive option for creating more is to use Liquid fluoride thorium reactors [wikipedia.org], where Pu-238 is one of many useful products [flibe-energy.com] created.

          It's also worth noting that you're talking about nuclear weapons. It can be used to make "dirty" bombs [wikipedia.org], however.

          • by icebike (68054) on Monday November 28, 2011 @03:20PM (#38193476)

            It's also worth noting that you're talking about nuclear weapons. It can be used to make "dirty" bombs [wikipedia.org], however.

            There are far more readily available sources than dredging up something 6-9 kilometers under the sea.
            Anyone with the resources to reach something that deep could make a dirty bomb without all the drama of launching a deep sea mission to do so.

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by interkin3tic (1469267)

              There are far more readily available sources than dredging up something 6-9 kilometers under the sea.

              Not for the mermen we were talking about initially!

          • by c6gunner (950153) on Monday November 28, 2011 @03:38PM (#38193684)

            It's also worth noting that you're talking about nuclear weapons. It can be used to make "dirty" bombs, however.

            Only a really stupid terrorist would bother with dirty bombs. The added impact (vs conventional bombs) is negligible, and the risk of detection goes up drastically.

            Dirty bombs are one of those "threats" that some military consultant dreamed up because he was asked to come up with an exhaustive list of possibilities, and the media latched on to it because most people are stupid, uninformed animals who react instinctively at the mention of the word "nuclear". A more real threat is chemical and biological (especially biological) warfare, though even there we've seen no serious attempts by any of the major players. Your standard suicide bombings are a much more likely scenario - personally I expected to see at least a few of those pulled off against targets like trains and busses by now, but the American feds seem to be doing an excellent job at stopping them.

            • by Oswald McWeany (2428506) on Monday November 28, 2011 @04:59PM (#38194610)

              All that is true. However the amount of terror it would cause with the general population is quite significant when compared to a dirty bomb (whole purpose of terrorism).

              If you think about the fukushima incident where people in the US were needlessly buying iodine pills.

              A dirty bomb would cause a much bigger panic amongst people- it wouldn't just be a few overly paranoid individuals. It would be a lot of overly paranoid individuals.

              The average terror plot doesn't really affect that many people physically- it is about the mental impact on the population as a whole. A dirty bomb would give a nation a big mental black eye.

          • by Tomato42 (2416694)
            There have been multiple radiation sources used in radio therapy lost (few dozen people lost their lives because of that). And we still haven't seen those "dirty" bombs.

            If you have enough explosives to make a bomb, the effect will be much "better" using depleted uranium balls around it than any kind of fissile materials...
            • If you have enough explosives to make a bomb, the effect will be much "better" using depleted uranium balls around it than any kind of fissile materials...

              For some values of "better". The scattering of radioactive material would make cleanup both expensive and very public. For a hypothetical terrorist, the propaganda surrounding the detonation of a "nuclear device" could far outweigh the actual damage caused.

      • They're vicious SOBs down there

        *knew this was a one way ticket but you know i had to come*_______ *luv u wife*

        (I know it's supposed to be in all caps, but the lame /. lameness filter won't let me quote properly.)

    • Re:No (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Thud457 (234763) on Monday November 28, 2011 @01:02PM (#38191888) Homepage Journal

      6Km under the ocean is probably the safest place for it.

      Putting it on the Moon would probably had been safer.

    • Re:No (Score:4, Funny)

      by Ukab the Great (87152) on Monday November 28, 2011 @01:10PM (#38191974)

      Plus it can be reworked into the plot of any Back To The Future reloads where Marty gets stuck in the 70's

    • by 0123456 (636235)

      6Km under the ocean is probably the safest place for it.

      Think of the fish-children!

    • Re:No (Score:4, Insightful)

      by gplus (985592) on Monday November 28, 2011 @01:29PM (#38192244)
      From TFA:
      "The plutonium was in an oxide form about one-tenth of a millimeter in diameter contained in fuel capsule, which itself was inside a graphite and ceramic fuel cask." - Leonard Dudzinski, a NASA program executive.

      Is this another example of a NASA guy who doesn't understand metric units, or is the plutonium RTG really just a sphere not much wider than a hair?
      • Re:No (Score:5, Insightful)

        by cruff (171569) on Monday November 28, 2011 @01:40PM (#38192376)
        My guess is that the unit is made up of multiple pellets of that composition from which the heat of decay is used to generate electricity. The Curiosity rover is said to use 4 kg of Pu 238 to power it.
      • Re:No (Score:5, Informative)

        by canajin56 (660655) on Monday November 28, 2011 @02:34PM (#38193006)
        The fuel is divided into 151g pellets, 4 per iridium capsule, and those capsules are contained in a graphite and ceramic cask. A 151g pellet should have a total volume of 13 cubic centimeters assuming that they get pretty close to theoretical density when sintering them. That would be a sphere with diameter about 3cm, but they are cylindrical not spherical. About 4cm height by 1cm radius (200 times greater diameter than indicated). The fuel capsules have vents so that the alpha decay products (helium gas) don't rupture anything, so perhaps those are 0.1mm thick and he read the wrong number from the tech sheet. Still, the size of individual pellets doesn't matter as much as how many there are total (24).
    • by Z00L00K (682162)

      I agree - and what they can do is to cover it with some additional material to make sure that it doesn't get far when it starts to leak.

    • Re:No (Score:4, Funny)

      by Mikkeles (698461) on Monday November 28, 2011 @02:05PM (#38192684)

      I'd bet on YES. That way I break even or win. Betting on NO allows only break even or lose.

  • Why would they? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jandrese (485) <kensama@vt.edu> on Monday November 28, 2011 @12:59PM (#38191846) Homepage Journal
    It would take a lot of effort and money to disturb this sleeping dog. Why go to the trouble?
    • by Dan East (318230) on Monday November 28, 2011 @01:01PM (#38191878) Homepage Journal

      At the rate things are going, that might be cheaper and easier than procuring it from Russia.

      • by vlm (69642)

        At the rate things are going, that might be cheaper and easier than procuring it from Russia.

        At the rate things are decaying, its gonna be about half U234 anyway, so they've got a substantial purification job up ahead if they wanna reuse it.

    • Re:Why would they? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by drhemi (414356) on Monday November 28, 2011 @01:11PM (#38192006)

      Because people believe the media's saber rattling and they believe Ralph Nader who said that plutonium is “the most toxic substance known to mankind.” Even though it isn't. It's just too bad Ralph didn't accept Dr. Bernard Cohen's challenge to ingest equal amounts of caffeine to plutonium.

      Basically it's a "Won't somebody please think of the children!" kind of response and the government loves to keep idiots happy.

      • by nharmon (97591)

        I believe the offer was to inhale an equal amount of plutonium as any anti-nuclear critic would ingest of caffeine.

        • Re:Why would they? (Score:5, Informative)

          by dcw3 (649211) on Monday November 28, 2011 @01:49PM (#38192470) Journal

          This is on Cohen's wikipedia page:

          When Ralph Nader described plutonium as "the most toxic substance known to mankind", Cohen, then a tenured professor, offered to consume on camera as much plutonium oxide as Nader could consume of caffeine,[17] the stimulant found in coffee and other beverages, which in its pure form has an oral (LD50) of 192 milligrams per kilogram in rats.[18]

          • Re:Why would they? (Score:4, Informative)

            by tunapez (1161697) on Monday November 28, 2011 @03:51PM (#38193848)

            Kinda like Thomas Midgley Jr's [wikipedia.org] public demonstrations on how safe leaded fuel is...

            On October 30, 1924, Midgley participated in a press conference to demonstrate the apparent safety of TEL. In this demonstration, he poured TEL over his hands, then placed a bottle of the chemical under his nose and inhaled its vapor for sixty seconds, declaring that he could do this every day without succumbing to any problems whatsoever.

            After his hiatus to recover from lead poisoning...

            In 1923, Midgley took a prolonged vacation to cure himself of lead poisoning. "After about a year's work in organic lead," he wrote in January 1923, "I find that my lungs have been affected and that it is necessary to drop all work and get a large supply of fresh air." He went to Miami, Florida for convalescence.

            • Re:Why would they? (Score:4, Informative)

              by Anthony Mouse (1927662) on Monday November 28, 2011 @06:36PM (#38195708)

              That is kind of missing the point. The point isn't that Plutonium is nontoxic, it's that it isn't significantly more toxic than a variety of other common substances. If you ingest 50 grams of caffeine, you will die. That amount of Plutonium is not likely to do you any good either, but it's pretty hard to get much worse than "this will kill you." So if you don't like Plutonium then you need a better argument than "it's toxic," because we don't ban things from the world just because of that.

        • by Deadstick (535032)

          Swallow the oxide, not inhale.

          rj

      • by arth1 (260657)

        Also, the total amount of radioactive and poisonous substances on the earth actually go down as we speed up the fission process.
        And depositing it that inaccessible is far less of a concern than, say, the radon gas seeping up through your average basement or well, or the Uranium being mined.

      • Re:Why would they? (Score:5, Informative)

        by Waffle Iron (339739) on Monday November 28, 2011 @02:17PM (#38192796)

        Because people believe the media's saber rattling and they believe Ralph Nader who said that plutonium is “the most toxic substance known to mankind.” Even though it isn't. It's just too bad Ralph didn't accept Dr. Bernard Cohen's challenge to ingest equal amounts of caffeine to plutonium.

        You do realize that this RTG is powered by Pu-238, which is *completely* different from the Pu-239 found in fission reactors?

        Pu-239 is mildly radioactive. Maybe you wouldn't have ill effects from eating chunks of the ceramic oxide and pooped them out within a day or two. (Notice that he didn't offer to eat it in a bioavailable form. That's kind of like claiming that chlorine is always safe because it's in table salt.)

        Pu-238, OTOH, is hundreds of times more radioactive, and it glows red hot. That's a whole other ball of wax.

        So please, before you go around accusing people of being idiots, get your own facts straight.

    • Re:Why would they? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by dotancohen (1015143) on Monday November 28, 2011 @01:48PM (#38192456) Homepage

      It would take a lot of effort and money to disturb this sleeping dog. Why go to the trouble?

      Sleeping dog? You mean dead dog. The RTG was out of useful power 5 years after it was made. That was 40 years ago. The thing is now a uranium-contaminated rock that would be harder to purify than the raw materials from the ground.

    • by cellocgw (617879)


      It would take a lot of effort and money to disturb this sleeping dog. Why go to the trouble?

      Because it might possibly, you know, lead to the production of beta-hemoth (sorry I don't know the sekrit coding to write a "beta" there).

  • by fortapocalypse (1231686) on Monday November 28, 2011 @01:06PM (#38191920)
    Keepin' it in their back pocket to recover when a distraction is needed from some other larger screw-up.
  • by k6mfw (1182893) on Monday November 28, 2011 @01:06PM (#38191926)
    In the early 1970s book "The Flight That Failed" by S.F. Cooper mentions as the spacecraft was approaching earth, someone (I think from the AEC) said they need to consider where the RTG will land. Ugh, there was already enough going on as crews were powering up the command module, a looming storm in the landing area, spacecraft attitude close to gimbal lock as it positions for re-entry. All this when many had very little sleep, then this guy brings up the RTG. Interesting book as it was written years before the fame brought on by the movie, also lots of esoteric details for techies.
    • by k6mfw (1182893)
      Regarding Apollo 13, there was a 1974 TV movie "Houston, We've Got a Problem" which Sy Liebergot (EECOM) described as a terrible movie with awful amount of errors such as someone having a heart attack in Mission Control (no such thing happened) and portrayed Sy as cheating on his wife (that never occurred). They didn't think this movie would have so many things wrong when they did their film shots at Houston. After that, everyone (those that work the MOCR) said they need to be careful this kind of thing doe
  • by trout007 (975317) on Monday November 28, 2011 @01:07PM (#38191938)

    You mean radiation can't penetrate 6,000 meters of water? If you look at the decay chain of PU 238 they are all solid until you get to radon. And at 6000 m of water the pressure is enough to keep it a liquid and too dense to bubble up.That means all of the decay products will sit there in the water and decay protected by an equivalent shielding of 1000 ft of lead.

    • by Dynedain (141758)

      1000m of lead does not move (easily). Water does.

      • by Zorpheus (857617) on Monday November 28, 2011 @01:20PM (#38192148)
        Are you worried about 3.8kg of Plutonium dilluted in the ocean?
      • Maybe there's some aspect of radioactive decay I don't understand. I'm really unclear here. So what if the water moves? Obviously you have some greater knowledge than I on the subject, so do please elaborate on how the movement of water affects its ability to absorb decay products?

    • by bmo (77928)

      radon

      Indeed. Radon is a bigger risk in your basement.

      --
      BMO

    • Heck, why not just dump it all in the ocean, then?

      I'm sensing a flaw in an ocean dumping theory. Is it a problem of quantity?

    • by tp1024 (2409684)
      What's worse: 3.8kg of Pu-238 in the ocean or 4.5 billion tons of Uranium, several million tons of Radium, Lead-210 and further decay products already there?
  • Pu238 not for bombs (Score:5, Informative)

    by advid.net (595837) <slashdot@adv[ ]net ['id.' in gap]> on Monday November 28, 2011 @01:07PM (#38191944) Journal

    The Plutonium 238 is suitable for RTG (radioisotope thermoelectric generator) but not for bombs.

    Maybe this info will spare us most "nuke" posts (terrorist jokes, etc).

    • by bmo (77928)

      Maybe this info will spare us most "nuke" posts

      Surely you jest. I have lower expectations. I was not surprised at post #38191852.

      --
      BMO

    • by dotancohen (1015143) on Monday November 28, 2011 @01:41PM (#38192390) Homepage

      The Plutonium 238 is suitable for RTG (radioisotope thermoelectric generator) but not for bombs.

      Maybe this info will spare us most "nuke" posts (terrorist jokes, etc).

      Furthermore, RTGs are not nuclear reactors as the summary states.

      Furtherfurthermore, why is this news now and not 40 years ago?

      • by fnj (64210) on Monday November 28, 2011 @02:47PM (#38193156)

        Actually, while the picture conjured up by "nuclear reactor" is ludicrously inappropriate to this device, the term per se is not actually incorrect usage. The Pu-239 undergoes alpha decay in the device, which is, after all, a nuclear reaction.

        'The often-quoted idea that "nuclear reactions" are confined to induced processes is incorrect. "Radioactive decays" are a subgroup of "nuclear reactions" that are spontaneous rather than induced.'

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_reaction [wikipedia.org]

      • Furtherfurthermore, why is this news now and not 40 years ago?

        Because 40 years ago, the technology and ability to search for fuel cask were all but non-existent. This is no longer true.

    • Well, put it this way, it is a hell of a lot easier to turn that Pu-238 into Pu-239 through bombardment in a small reactor than it would be to isolate a useful quantity of U-235 from anything you're likely to be able to find outside of weapons, including fuel rods. I'm not saying it would be easy, but excluding fissile isotopes, that would be by far the next most convenient isotope for making a type weapon, that lets face it, is really, really hard to make. Sure, you or I could not turn it into weapons grad
      • by tp1024 (2409684)
        But it is impossible to prevent the Pu-239 from being further transmuted into (non-fissle) Pu-240 (or fissioned) before a sufficient amount of Pu-238 has been turned into Pu-239 to get the weapon-grade Plutonium (IIRC with at least 93% Pu-239)
    • But couldn't the terr'ists use this to generate electricity in their caves?

  • by stox (131684) on Monday November 28, 2011 @01:14PM (#38192056) Homepage

    find that Mark 15 H-Bomb they misplaced somewhere near the coast of Georgia?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1958_Tybee_Island_mid-air_collision [wikipedia.org]

    • by vlm (69642)

      find that Mark 15 H-Bomb they misplaced somewhere near the coast of Georgia?

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1958_Tybee_Island_mid-air_collision [wikipedia.org]

      Fissile enriched U is much easier to detect than non-fissile Pu-238.

      Also, I don't think there was or is any consensus on what capsule if any was loaded into the casing. Lots of coverup and secret secret BS activity and falsified stories and documents. At this point, I donno if anyone really knows for sure what was lost.

  • wtf? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by iocat (572367) on Monday November 28, 2011 @01:18PM (#38192114) Homepage Journal
    Wow, that's a really poorly written article. From TFA:

    The catastrophic risk came from the SNAP-27 radioisotope thermoelectric generator (RTG), a small nuclear reactor that was going to be placed on the moon to power experiments, carrying Plutonium 238 Apollo 13’s lunar module.

    What does that even mean? Anyway, if it was in the LEM, did the LEM even survive rentry? Since it had no heat shield, etc.? Is the LEM still attched to the CM during re-entry even? Pretty sure it's not.

    • Re:wtf? (Score:5, Informative)

      by 0123456 (636235) on Monday November 28, 2011 @01:27PM (#38192230)

      Anyway, if it was in the LEM, did the LEM even survive rentry? Since it had no heat shield, etc.? Is the LEM still attched to the CM during re-entry even? Pretty sure it's not.

      The LEM was attached to the CM until just before re-entry; the SM was separated from the CM before the CM separated from the LEM, since the LEM was providing most of the life support and the SM was just dead weight. The LEM was not designed for reentry and burned up, but the RTG itself was designed to survive accidental reentry intact and is probably sitting on the sea-bed somewhere.

    • by bmo (77928)

      The CM came back with the LEM. If you remember, it was the lifeboat for 4 days.

      It was jettisoned before reentry. But it certainly did enter the atmosphere over Fiji and burn up.

      --
      BMO

  • by Gavin Scott (15916) on Monday November 28, 2011 @01:28PM (#38192234)

    We used to just set off fission and fusion bombs in the air and on the ground, so I would kinda think the long term risk from a small amount of PU238 at the bottom of the ocean is not all that much in the grand scheme of things, especially since it may be completely contained.

    Oh, and there may be a few people still walking around with similarly plutonium-powered pacemakers in their chests...

    http://www.theodoregray.com/periodictable/Samples/094.3/index.s12.html [theodoregray.com]
    http://www.orau.org/ptp/collection/miscellaneous/pacemaker.htm [orau.org]

    G.

  • by wisebabo (638845) on Monday November 28, 2011 @01:29PM (#38192240) Journal

    I always wondered whether or not recovering this would be viable, but I wasn't sure since I know next to nothing about nuclear physics if this plutonium (Pu) could be used to make a bomb. Still, I guess it could be used for a dirty bomb.

    When Cassini was launched I figured that (if the plutonium was the right kind), Saddam Hussein (remember him?) might be very interested in getting a hold of the 70(!) lbs. of Pu on board. Cassini was scheduled to do a flyby (gravitational assist) using the earth, passing overhead at an altitude of 800 miles I think, and it would be easy to redirect it so that it would instead impact the earth almost anywhere, say for example the Iraqi desert. Since the RTGs carrying the plutonium were specifically designed to handle the most horrific accidents like an explosion on launch or reentry, I figured that all Saddam had to do was get control of Cassini.

    He (or rather his minions) wouldn't need to control Cassini for a long period of time. All that would have to be done would be to make the appropriate course correction WHILE USING UP ALL THE FUEL. Then even if NASA (or most likely by then the CIA) wrested control back of Cassini, they could only watch helplessly while Cassini plummeted back to earth into Saddams greedy little hands (and into a James Bond like action movie as MI-6 tried to recover it).

    I actually knew the senior flight control engineer on Cassini at the time and asked him if anyone had offered him a couple of million dollars to make this happen. He laughed and said of course not and there were safeguards to prevent this from happening but then told me not to tell anyone about this idea. (Maybe he was afraid of someone making him an offer he couldn't refuse). Now that Cassini is safe orbiting Saturn, New Horizons is out of the inner solar system and MSL is on its way to Mars I guess it's okay to talk about it now! (All these probes have plutonium filled RTGs).

    Anyway, the other point that the summary makes is that with undersea technology now getting robust and cheap enough for non-governments to afford it, there are other nuclear prizes in the deep sea. Like what about the Thresher which even if it wasn't carrying nuclear warheads, certainly had a huge amount of nuclear fuel in its reactor? Or even more to the point how bout the nuclear sub the CIA tried to lift in the 70s using Howard Hughes and the Glomar Challenger as a cover? That sub WAS carrying nuclear warheads and that was the part of the sub they were unable to recover. (There are lots of other nukes lost at sea, I'm sure Google or Wikipedia can enlighten you).

    So if Al-Qaeeda starts developing undersea technology, you know what they're after. Or maybe they'll just use it to smuggle drugs like the south american drug cartels are doing.

  • by Squidlips (1206004) on Monday November 28, 2011 @02:00PM (#38192618)
    The Russian Mars-96 probe never left orbit and dumped 200 grams of Plutonium 238 over Bolivia, none of which has been recovered...at least no one is talking about it. Some of this Plutonium 238 was in ground penetrators that were designed to survive atmospheric entry and impact so it is probably still out there unless someone has quietly snatched it up. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mars_96#Fate_of_the_plutonium_fuel [wikipedia.org]
  • by afabbro (33948) on Monday November 28, 2011 @02:01PM (#38192646) Homepage

    Rather, it's the SNAP reactor buried in an avalanche at the headwaters of the Ganges river.

    Autumn 1965 [isu.edu]

  • "a small leak" (Score:2, Informative)

    by sgt101 (120604)

    The snap-9a accident was not a small leak.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_military_nuclear_accidents [wikipedia.org]

    Indeed NASA (in the 1995 Cassini FEIS)[35] indicated that the SNAP-9a plutonium release was nearly double the 9000Ci added by all the atmospheric weapons tests to that date.[40][41]

    1 pCi exposure typically will kill in 10^-8 of cases, but there were 9000^12 pCi dispersed by SNAP9. You can take any view you like about how many of them have actually been exposed to humans.

  • by gestalt_n_pepper (991155) on Monday November 28, 2011 @02:41PM (#38193078)

    It all sounds kind of fishy to me.

    Oh, c'mon. Would you rather I said, "Really rad, man!"

    Cheers!

  • Bond plot? (Score:3, Funny)

    by notKevinJohn (2218940) on Monday November 28, 2011 @03:31PM (#38193612)
    How has the recovery and development of this plutonium into a weapon NOT been featured as the plot of a James Bond movie?
  • Maybe (Score:5, Informative)

    by databaseadmin (1978316) on Monday November 28, 2011 @05:51PM (#38195248)

    I'm a nuclear engineer.

    These things are not cheap. We have recovered one from the ocean floor before to fly it on a later mission. (albeit, the relative shallows of the florida coast.) If its possible to build a remote sub that could find it, I would bet the cost of recovery would be less than the cost of manufacture. (radar, sonar? how many right angles are on that thing? HOW would you find it?)

    Its not dangerous. PU-238 cannot be used to make weapons.

    Ref:
    http://www.ne.doe.gov/space/neSpace2c.html [doe.gov]
    ---
    SNAP-19B2

    Nimbus-B-1

    Meteorological

    18-May-68
    Status: Mission was aborted because of range safety destruct. RTG heat sources recovered and recycled.
    ---

"Our reruns are better than theirs." -- Nick at Nite

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