Nuclear-Powered Drones Stopped by “Political Conditions”…Or Just Delayed

Monday, March 26, 2012
Scientists at a leading defense contractor and government research laboratory have been working on developing a new generation of drone aircraft that utilizes nuclear power.
Based on a vaguely worded report out of Sandia National Laboratories, Steven Aftergood at Secrecy News surmised that the unnamed “technology” was fission-oriented. The lead investigator for the research was a nuclear propulsion expert, Aftergood noted, and the report included references to “propulsion and power technologies that [go] well beyond existing hydrocarbon technologies,” “safeguards” and “decommissioning and disposal.”
Interest in making unmanned aircraft nuclear-powered stems from the desire to extend the length of missions from “days to months” at a time.
The U.S. Air Force has been studying the feasibility of nuclear-powered drones since at least 2002, when it funded two studies to consider the possibility of converting Northrop-Grumman Global Hawk UAVs to nuclear power.
For the time being at least, the government does not appear to be moving forward with the new kind of drone because “current political conditions will not allow use of the results,” reads the report.
-Noel Brinkerhoff
To Learn More:
Project Accomplishment Summary (Sandia National Laboratories) (pdf)

Nuclear-Powered Drone Aircraft on Drawing Board (by Duncan Graham-Rowe, New Scientist) 


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