Alternative Radioisotopes for Heat and Power Sources

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T. Tinsley; M. Sarsfield; T. Rice (2011), JBIS, 64, 49-53

Refcode: 2011.64.49
Keywords: Americium, radioisotope, 238Pu, 241Am, RPS, RTG, RHU

Production of 238Pu requires considerable facilities including a nuclear reactor and reprocessing plants that are very expensive to build and operate. Thus, a more economical alternative is very attractive to the industry. There are many alternative radioisotopes that exist but few that satisfy the criteria of performance, availability and cost to produce. Any alternative to 238Pu must exist in a chemical form that is compatible with the materials required to safely encapsulate the heat source at the high temperatures of operation and potential launch failure scenarios. The chemical form must also have suitable thermal properties to ensure maximum energy conversion efficiencies when integrated into radioisotope thermoelectric generators over the required mission durations. In addition, the radiation dose must be low enough for operators during production and not so prohibitive that excessive shielding mass is required on the space craft. This paper will focus on the preferred European alternative of 241Am, and the issues that will need to be addressed.

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