Space contract for National Nuclear Laboratory

The European Space Agency is commissioning cutting-edge technology needed to launch future European space missions in the National Nuclear Laboratories at Sellafield.

This is fantastic news for West Cumbria.

The plan is that nuclear batteries will be produced to power new space flights, and the ESA has given £1 million to the laboratory to show that it can work.

Conservative energy minister Charles Hendry said that

“This is great news for the UK and its National Nuclear Lab. The government sees the lab as a centre of expertise that can support the clean-up of legacy nuclear waste and play a key role as a world class provider of technology solutions and research.

“Winning this huge European-wide contract gives me confidence in the current business model and is an excellent example of the UK using its traditional strong civil nuclear skill base in other high technology areas such as the space industry. I am sure that more commercial opportunities for the lab will follow.”

Once the technology using the radionuclide americium has been proved, it is hoped the agency will place a follow-up contract for a satellite battery production line to be set up in the NNL’s Sellafield Central lab.

Some 350 staff are employed there supporting nuclear operations.

The aim of the £1 million contract is to demonstrate the feasibility of using americium batteries to power future space exploration. Both the USA and Russia have used such batteries on previous space missions such as the Apollo series, Cassini and the Voyager satellites.

Americium, commonly used in smoke alarms, is seen as an alternative sustainable power supply to ensure mission success. Traditional solar panels used on long-term space missions have struggled to cope with power requirements once the distance from the sun becomes too great, essentially once a satellite travels beyond Mars.

Now the European Space Agency is looking to the NNL’s skills to prove the technology. The Sellafield facilities are uniquely suited to this role.

Under the previous Labour government, after hundreds of millions had been invested in getting the NNL nearly ready to operate, but the last ten million to actually get the lab fully operational was cut.

And now it is under a Conservative government that the NNL has won it's first major external contract.

Labour have constantly promised that they would support new nuclear build in West Cumbria, it is the Conservatives who are actually delivering the nuclear renaissance.


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