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Darlington power plant helps fuel NASA’s space exploration – CTV News

A local nuclear plant is stepping up to ensure NASA’s ongoing exploration of deep space continues for years to come.

CTV News Toronto has learned that the Darlington Nuclear Generating Station in Clarington, Ont. will produce and harvest Plutonium-238, a spacecraft fueling agent, for NASA.

Ontario Power Generation (OPG) and its venture arm, Canadian Nuclear Partners, have teamed up to fill the gap left after the United States stopped producing the glowing oxide pellet back in 1988.

Since then, their main source of Plutonium-238 dwindled and, aside from two remaining fuel packs, have practically dried up.

Now, NASA is teaming up with OPG’s nuclear facilities to replenish their inventory and fuel their existing (and future) fleet of space probes.

Plutonium-238 acts like a battery to space craft. By emitting steady heat through natural radioactive decay, it produces electricity aboard the craft to fuel it and keep scientific equipment warm enough to function in space.

Space probes like the illustrious Voyager 1 — which left Earth more than 40 years ago to explore Jupiter and Saturn and now floats beyond Pluto — requires Plutonium-238 for power.

With more than 19 billion kilometers between Voyager 1 and the sun, it can take hours for the craft’s signals to reach the station on Earth.

Without the spacecraft’s Plutonium-238 batteries, none of this would be possible.

A source told CTV News Toronto that the proposed plan would have rods produced by Pacific Northwest National Laboratories (PNNL) in Washington State and shipped to Darlington where they would be inserted into the “reactor core” to produce the Plutonium-238.

The next time the rods need to be refueled, the new partly-Canadian made space batteries would be inserted.

The collaboration with PNNL is expected to be “more efficient” both for costs and timing than alternative routes.

Unlike Plutonium-239, the 238 isotope is not weapons grade, thus practically…

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