- a missile test
- involving “isotope power sources in a liquid propulsion system”
sounds seriously bad.
Am I reading too much between the lines or is this related to the crazy nuclear propulsion ICBM idea they threw out a while ago?
What’s being reported, given the context of their proclamation about nuclear powered missiles a while back, I think it’s a reasonable supposition in the absence of further information that they had something go very wrong with a static fire of a nuclear ramjet - probably not a nuclear detonation, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they a) had a supercritical moment and b) sprayed the reactor guts over a substantial area.
Can you explain this a bit more for those of us who know almost nothing about missiles/nuclear weapons. If I'm understanding the Project Pluto wikipedia correctly a ramjet isn't able to fire from a standstill and a nuclear ramjet would require both initial forward motion and then a nuclear detonation (not sure if that's the right word, perhaps just "reaction").
So I guess my question is, how would they safely static fire these types of missiles for testing purposes? Assuming Russia's project uses a similar setup to Project Pluto and has conventional rocket boosters to get the missile to ramjet speed is that what they'd be static firing - the boosters? And if they're testing the boosters attached to the nuclear ramjet without allowing the ramjet's reactor to go critical what would have to go wrong with the static fire that would result in radiation?
When this number is less than one things just peacefully sit there. If an atom fissions the chain soon dies out. If this number is more than one things get hotter and hotter until it comes apart. If this were the whole story there would be no nuclear power, but there's one very useful detail--a small number of those neutrons are not emitted at once. This gives you a margin to control things.
When the immediate neutrons are enough to cause more than one fission you have the state known as prompt critical, you have lost control, the reactor will run wild and destroy itself. (An atom bomb is the same idea, except rather than just edging past 1 a bombmaker pushes the ratio as high as possible so it takes a city with it in destroying itself.) I am aware of two cases where reactors had issues with control rods and crossed the prompt critical line, both were immediately destroyed. SL-1 and Chernobyl.
The zone between critical and prompt critical gives you a way to control things. You have time to turn the heat up or down as needed. A nuclear ramjet is going to be designed to operate at a very high power density, it's going to be a lot closer to the line than a reactor is normally run. Stick one toe over the line and you get what SpaceX calls a RUD.
Alternately, it might have run too hot, something softened or melted and the core shape changed to cross the prompt critical line, same outcome.
Thanks for such a thorough explanation that I could actually follow! Much appreciated.
Sorry, should have mentioned that the Americans came up with this ugly idea.
And in defense of the Americans they canned it:
"Despite these and other successful tests, the Pentagon, sponsor of the "Pluto project", had second thoughts. The weapon was considered "too provocative", and it was believed that it would compel the Soviets to construct a similar device, against which there was no known defense."
This is truly nightmare inducing stuff.
And this is what happens when your nuclear thermal propulsion system goes prompt critical on the ground. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_thermal_rocket#/media/... This was a nominal 1100MW design, the Pluto reactor was about half this output. It's insane that the Russians are testing this thing over their own territory.
It would also be insane if the Russians were testing this thing over someone else's territory.
It's just insane.
It poses basically no direct harm, the threat is your body taking it up and putting it in the thyroid where it decays and irradiates the thyroid. Hence when it's a threat you take potassium iodide tablets--basically flooding your body with as much iodine as is safe. The fallout iodine gets diluted by all the iodine in the tablets, you absorb a much lower amount of the dangerous stuff.
In any case, the point of the nuclear cruise missile is that it can be essentially a drone stealth nuclear-armed bomber flying just outside of the other country’s airspace 24/7/365. Or a fleet of such drone missiles.
Guess they are lying like in 1986.
They are already trying cover it up.
Of course, different winds could mean it won't be picked up by Northern Europe like last time.
* Russia has comparatively poor capabilities in traditional weapons so they use nuclear weapons to compensate.
* USA is developing nuclear weapons for submarines that they can park at the coast of strategically important places without having to bother with criticism from the host country.
* With Trump in office, European states are wondering about whether to launch a European nuclear program for self defense.
* Baltic states are hard to defend, easy to invade. The NATO presence in the Baltics serves mainly the goal to appease the local population than to prevent any serious invasion attempt.
Russian defense was always based on rockets anyway, they made the conscious choice long time ago as the most cost-efficient approach. So their air carriers can be weak, planes can be only half-stealth, ships can be outdated and falling apart, but rockets are always top-notch.
370km/h. Under water.