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Congressman agitates for space fuel

November 08, 2011

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) was featured on the NPR program "All Things Considered" Tuesday morning making an impassioned plea for a specialized type of plutonium used for space exploration. The isotope, plutonium-238, is the main fuel for spacecrafts in the inky, cold vacuum of space.

The United States, however, hasn't produce any of the stuff for decades. Restrarting the program is expensive, and no one wants to be stuck with the bill.

From the piece

The price to restart production is expected to be $75 million to $90 million over five years. And NASA and the Department of Energy want to split the bill between them. That's how they've done this sort of thing in the past, because even though NASA will use the plutonium, only the Department of Energy can make and handle this nuclear material.

But some key decision-makers don't like that cost-sharing idea. Lawmakers in Congress have refused to give the Department of Energy the requested funds for this project for three years in a row.

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Earlier this year, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., pleaded with his colleagues to reconsider during an appropriations committee meeting. "Does anyone in this room think that we don't need the plutonium-238? Does anyone not want to continue to do deep space missions?" Schiff asked. "Well, the Russians won't give it to us, and we don't have enough of it."

-- Dan Evans, Times Community News

Twitter: @EditorDanEvans

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