Federal Register: March 30, 2005 (Volume 70, Number 60)
Page 16308-16309                       



[Notice (05-065)]

National Environmental Policy Act; Development of Nuclear 
Reactors for Space Electric Power Applications

AGENCY: National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

ACTION: Notice of intent to prepare a Programmatic Environmental Impact 
Statement (PEIS) and to conduct scoping for the research and 
development activities associated with nuclear fission reactors to 
produce electrical power for potential use in space on future NASA 
exploration missions.


SUMMARY: Pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, as 
amended (NEPA) (42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.), the Council on Environmental 
Quality Regulations for Implementing the Procedural Provisions of NEPA 
(40 CFR parts 1500-1508), and NASA's policy and procedures (14 CFR 
subpart 1216.3), NASA, in cooperation with the U.S. Department of 
Energy (DOE), intends to prepare a PEIS for the research and 
development activities associated with space nuclear fission reactors 
for electric power production in potential future NASA missions. The 
design and development effort would take advantage of relevant 
knowledge gained from earlier space nuclear reactor development 
efforts. NASA will hold public scoping meetings as part of the scoping 
process associated with the PEIS. If the proposed technology proves to 
be feasible for space applications, the first mission could be launched 
from the Cape Canaveral, Florida area. A separate mission-specific EIS 
would be prepared prior to launch of a space nuclear reactor powered 

DATES: Interested parties are invited to submit comments on 
environmental issues and concerns in writing on or before May 31, 2005, 
to assure full consideration during the scoping process.

ADDRESSES: Hardcopy comments should be mailed to NASA Prometheus PEIS, 
NASA Headquarters, Exploration Systems Mission Directorate, Mail Suite 
2V-39, 300 E Street, SW., Washington, DC 20546-0001. Comments may be 
submitted by e-mail to: nasa-prometheus-peis@nasa.gov, or via the 
Internet at: http://exploration.nasa.gov/nasa-prometheus-peis.html.

Headquarters, Exploration Systems Mission Directorate, Mail Suite 2V-
39, Washington, DC 20546-0001, by telephone at 866-833-2061, by 
electronic mail at nasa-prometheus-PEIS@nasa.gov, or on the Internet 
at: http://exploration.nasa.gov/nasa-prometheus-peis.html.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: NASA is entering the next phase in its 
scientific exploration of the solar system that will increase the 
quantity, quality, and types of information collected on scientific 
exploration missions throughout the solar system including missions to 
the Moon, Mars and beyond. However, this phase of exploration missions 
cannot be accomplished with the current propulsion, energy production 
and storage technologies presently available. Space nuclear fission 
reactor technology may offer the potential to provide sufficient energy 
to enable long-duration spacecraft propulsion capabilities as well as 
provide abundant, continuous electrical power for spacecraft 
operations, high capability science instruments, and high data-rate 
communication systems. While a space nuclear reactor would possess a 
larger amount of stored energy, providing greater exploration 
capability than was previously available to spacecraft, the physical 
size and power output would be relatively small; about the size of a 
kitchen refrigerator and able to power a 400-pupil elementary school. 
NASA's development initiative responds to concerns raised by the space 
science community regarding limitations of current and reasonably 
foreseeable technologies for Solar System exploration.
    Space nuclear fission reactor systems could enable exploration 
missions requiring substantially greater amounts of electrical power 
(on the order of many kilowatts of electricity), where currently 
available and reasonably foreseeable energy systems are likely to be 
inadequate. The ability to generate high levels of sustained electrical 
power regardless of location in the solar system would permit a new 
class of missions designed for longevity, flexibility, and 
comprehensive scientific exploration. This new technology could enable 
multi-destination, multi-year exploration missions capable of entering 
into desired orbits around a body, conducting observations, and then 
departing to a new destination. Increased power and energy on-board the 
spacecraft would also permit: (1) Launching spacecraft with larger 
science payloads; (2) use of advanced high capability scientific 
instruments; and (3) transmission of large amounts of data back to 
Earth. The PEIS will articulate the purpose and need for space nuclear 
fission reactors for production of electric power and their relation to 
NASA's overall exploration strategy. The PEIS will also evaluate known 
and reasonably foreseeable power technologies to determine whether they 
are reasonable alternatives to meet NASA's purpose and need. NASA has 
commissioned early feasibility and conceptual studies for mission 
capabilities that could be enabled by space nuclear fission reactors 
for the production of electric power. The PEIS will include a high-
level discussion of the projected reactor technology development 
activities at NASA and DOE through final design,

[[Page 16309]]

testing, and fabrication of a system for use in space. Some early 
feasibility and conceptual studies identified a potential need for new 
facilities such as a land-based prototype reactor to test the reactor 
design before actual use, and launch site support facilities for final 
assembly and testing of the spacecraft before launch. Substantial 
modifications to existing facilities or their operations, or building 
new facilities for reactor development or launch site support 
capabilities, would not be done before considering the environmental 
impacts including preparation of the appropriate site-specific NEPA 
documentation. Mission-specific uses of a fission reactor would also be 
subject to separate NEPA documentation. Alternatives to be considered 
in this PEIS may include but would not necessarily be limited to:

--Alternative power generation technologies, such as advanced batteries 
and solar power.
--The No Action Alternative, where NASA would not pursue development of 
a spacecraft nuclear fission reactor.

Written public input and comments on environmental impacts and concerns 
associated with the development of a spacecraft nuclear fission reactor 
are requested. NASA is interested in public input on which 
environmental issues should be focused upon in the PEIS and what 
alternative power generation technologies should be considered. NASA 
also plans on holding two public scoping meetings to provide 
information on the Prometheus PEIS and to solicit public comments. 
These meetings are:

--April 19, 2005, from 1 p.m.-4 p.m. and 6 p.m.-9 p.m. at the Florida 
Solar Energy Center; H. George Carrison Auditorium; 1679 Clearlake 
Road; Cocoa, Florida 32922;
--April 26, 2005, from 1 p.m.-4 p.m. at the Hyatt Regency Washington on 
Capitol Hill; 400 New Jersey Avenue, NW., Washington DC 20001.

Persons interested in attending these meetings may request meeting 
information via electronic mail at nasa-prometheus-peis@nasa.gov, by 
telephone at 866-833-2061, or by visiting the Prometheus PEIS Web site 
at: http://exploration.nasa.gov/nasa-prometheus-peis.html.

Jeffrey E. Sutton,
Assistant Administrator for Infrastructure and Administration.
[FR Doc. 05-6317 Filed 3-29-05; 8:45 am]