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The international community should ban nuclear-powered spacecraft

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 4/11/2013 Category: Science
Updated: 5 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 2,834 times Debate No: 32363
Debate Rounds (5)
Comments (12)
Votes (1)




Resolved: The international community should ban nuclear-powered spacecraft.

This resolution implies the following necessary definitions:

(a) International community
(b) Ban
(c) Nuclear-powered spacecraft

I propose the following definitions:

(a): According to the website of the International Council on Science (ICSU), the international community of scientists is comprised of "31 Scientific Union Members and 120 National Scientific Members covering 140 countries. In addition, ICSU has 22 International Scientific Associates" [1]. These members, as they constitute most of the world"s major institutions, have the most influence over academic and research matters, and thus should constitute the defining body of "the international [scientific] community."

(b): A ban is a complete and unequivocal halt, without exception, to the use of nuclear power (including Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generators, already in use by NASA) in space.

(c): According to the Free Dictionary by Farlex, a reference service that cross-references the contents of several encyclopaedias and dictionaries, nuclear power is "a form of energy produced by an atomic reaction, capable of producing an alternative source of electrical power. . ." [2] Specifically, this includes: (a) Nuclear pulse propulsion; (b) Nuclear power generation to power a propulsion mechanism; (c) Non-propulsion-oriented nuclear power; and any other mechanism of storing, generating, or transmitting nuclear-generated power to a spacecraft.

I assume that the resolution most clearly indicates nuclear-propelled spacecraft; however I will address nuclear power generation as well, as per my opponent's arguments.

[1]: (Center of page)
[2]: (Center of page)

Closing remarks:

Round 1 is not merely for acceptance; I expect the Proposition to make arguments in favor of the resolution. As such, they will have a response advantage. I accept this.

To any who choose to accept this: Please cite all sources, and do so in full, hyperlinked or URL form (and include footnote markers). Furthermore, contentions not responded to in the argument directly after their propositon should be considered "dropped arguments" and weighted in the victor's favor accordingly.

Please provide a rational/logical (reason-based) or evidence-based refutation of any and all contentions, as well as an explanation of evidence (if applicable) rather than merely linking to a source. Remember, this is debate. All that matters is what YOU say.

And, finally, much thanks to whosoever deigns to accept this, and good luck!


The international community should ban nuclear-powered spacecraft. We have nuclear weapons that are effective by airplane, boat, etc. Putting one in space is a dangerous idea. Other countries like North Korea could see this as a threat to their country. This is not needed what so ever. By doing this we are also wasting our defense budget, that has been limited because of the sequester.
Debate Round No. 1


Much thanks to BBlair for accepting. I wish you all a wonderful debate!

Let's first deconstruct BBlair's arguments before I advance my own.

Definitions--BBlair didn't challenge them, so I assume he is in concurrence.

"We have nuclear weapons that are effective by airplane, boat, etc. Putting one in space is a dangerous idea."
There are several responses to this argument. Firstly, according to a Note by Joseph J. MacAvoy (A.B. in Astrophysics, Princeton University; J.D and Master of Public Policy, College of William and Mary), "officials at NASA and the Department of Energy rejected the rhetoric of anti-nuclear and environmental activists, highlighting the extensive safety measures . . . [and] the minimal risks posed by the type of nuclear fuel" commonly used in RTGs, or Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generators, a major power source for spacecraft beyond the effective range of solar cells [3]. Secondly, nowhere in the definition of "nuclear-powered" is there mention of any sort of weapons mechanism. Furthermore, I'd like to draw attention to a possible interpretation of the definition that I alluded to in my previous statement: Nuclear power generated here on Earth, then transmitted to a spacecraft via a laser. Several example plans that would show a possible interpretation of the resolution justified will be addressed later.

"Other countries like North Korea could see this as a threat to their country"
I concede that belligerent, irrational regimes like North Korea could potentially see nuclear-powered propulsion systems as a threat, however we have been using nuclear power sources in our space program for decades. The Note previously cited was primarily concerning the Cassini-Huygens mission, which was launched in 1997. To save space (since I'm sure I'll need it later on...) I will not be citing any other examples, but this should serve as an adequate refutation to the idea that we do not currently use them. Since we have been using such mechanisms for decades, and North Korea has not acted in response to a purported threat, why should we stop now?

"By doing this we are also wasting our defense budget, that has been limited because of the sequester"
I'm sure we could argue for days on end about the effects of the sequester, but I will primarily be addressing the purported opportunity-cost my opponent is suggesting (that of "wasting our defense budget"). There are also several responses to this. Firstly, spending money is not necessarily a bad thing. Especially if that money, as I will extend on later, provides important benefits to the space program. Additionally, the resolution addresses the international community banning nuclear-powered spacecraft, not any possible policy initiatives. This is not a reason for an outright ban. Governments can pursue nuclear-powered spacecraft if they wish to or not, but the US not pursuing nuclear-powered spacecraft is not a reason for banning them outright.

Now I will go on to my own points.

Contention One: Nuclear power is currently an important method of providing power in space

In order to power electrical components, propel itself, and conduct its mission, spacecraft require a power source. There are, however, only a very few power sources available. According to Dr. David W. Miller and Col. John Keesee, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the most feasible power sources for missions are: batteries; fuel cells; chemical dynamic power sources; nuclear power sources (which include Radioisotope, Thermionic and Thermoelectric power sources); photovoltaic panels; solar dynamic power sources; flywheel storage; and tether mechanisms [4].

All of these mechanisms have their own pros and cons. For example, batteries are only effective for about 10 days. Fuel cells suffer the same effectiveness duration. Only photovoltaic panels and nuclear power systems are currently capable of sustaining power throughout durations of months or even years [4].

At this, one might argue "then why not cut nuclear in favor of photovoltaic/solar dynamic power systems?" There are several responses to this. Firstly, just because photovoltaic panels are as effective as nuclear systems isn't in and of itself a reason to ban nuclear power systems. My opponent must first prove that a tradeoff exists, as he must do in the case of arguing that any sort of spending is a "waste." Secondly, nuclear power systems can sustain much higher power requirements, allowing for missions with power-intensive instruments (like the Curiosity mission, which uses a rock-drilling laser that uses in excess of one million watts (1000 kW) [5]) to be undertaken.

Since nuclear power systems can sustain much higher power loads than solar systems, they are used on missions requiring at least one kilowatt of power (1 kW) for a duration of greater than one month (otherwise, chemical or solar systems are used for their cheapness) [4].

And the rationale for this? No other power system can match nuclear power systems' power generation over time capacity [data extrapolated from 4]. Thus, in order to increase the capabilities of scientific missions, I urge you to vote CON and negate the resolution.

These reasons all seem great for nuclear power, but what are the consequences of banning these systems?

Without the capacity of nuclear-powered spacecraft to travel over a long duration with high loads of electricity, humanity would be confined to the inner solar system (because no other spacecraft power source could provide sufficient power to sustain a manned spacecraft, let alone an unmanned one [4]).

This leaves humanity vulnerable to gamma-ray bursts, coronal mass ejections, sudden unforeseen planetary catastrophes, and eventual extinction at the hands of an aging, expanding Sun. In the interest of prolonging human civilization, any advance should be taken to facilitate humanity's capability to travel beyond the solar system. Nuclear power systems facilitate this capability.

For these reasons, I urge you to vote CON on the resolution


[3]:;(pp. 191-233)
[4]:;(all pages)
[5]:;(middle of page)


BBlair forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 2


Extend all arguments. Ugh.

In response to CaseClosed's comments on Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generators being unfeasible:

1) RTGs are hardly the ONLY means of "nuclear power" to power spacecraft with. They just come to mind easily. Let me list a few more:

  • Nuclear power generated on Earth and transferred, through the use of projecting mirrors or lenses, to spacecraft;
  • Nuclear reactors, which unlike RTGs can be shut off;
  • and plain old nuclear-power charged batteries or other power mechanisms.
Remember, the resolution is talking about nuclear-powered. And that was defined very, veeery broadly (and let me note that no response was made...) Which basically gives leeway enough for any power mechanism, so long as it
  • Is initially charged by;
  • Employs;
  • Uses; or
  • In any other way applies
nuclear power as a means of "powering" any system on the spacecraft.

2) As of yet, these are technical limitations, yes. But they're also the best power-for-cost/power-over-duration systems we've got. Which means that the alternatives suffer from one of a variety of shortcomings.

I hope this clarified, CaseClosed.

Oh, and I started this as response-farming for a DCUDL/MSDL tournament in California this weekend. Just because you were wondering.



BBlair forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 3


Extend all arguments.


BBlair forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 4


IX forfeited this round.


BBlair forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 5
12 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 10 records.
Posted by IX 5 years ago

...? lol?
Posted by Beginner 5 years ago

...I am unworthy. D:
Posted by IX 5 years ago

WAIT...WAIT...YOU'RE ALSO GOING TO LA! yay! Representing a school in the DC-Metro area. Can't get more specific, I'm afraid, but I'll be the only team from my school. (Hint: NOT Sidwell)

In response to the interference aspect:
A nuclear power alternative includes the possibility of a large, fresnel-type lens being placed in Lagrangian orbit, then an orbital power station (or the Sun) beaming a huge laser into it. With sufficient power, and the lens/mirror system, the only thing that could really block it would be a body moving directly in front of it (which is possible, but it'd only be for a few hours at most; the spacecraft could feasibly have a battery system that could prevent such lapses from being sufficiently damaging.

In response to pulse propulsion:
That satisfies the resolution, true, but that is still only one method of propelling spacecraft. The other methods I outlined would also negate the resolution, but have none of these flaws. Furthermore, pulse propulsion is an AWESOME idea. Just not in atmosphere. So if it could be assembled in orbit, then it would both negate the resolution and have none of the flaws.

See you at LA, too!
Posted by CaseClosed 5 years ago
Thank you IX
For the statement that nuclear power could be beamed up provides the possibility of interference
RTGs might not be able to shut off their systems but they can cut power supply and instead of the electricity going to motors it could be stopped and rerouted to batteries
Fission reactor crafts are the pulse propulsion which release nuclear waste during reentry

Thanks IX and see u at LA...
Which school are u representing?
Posted by IX 5 years ago
@CaseClosed...I'll refute those contentions in a later round if I have time. Thanks for watching this and sharing your insights!
Posted by CaseClosed 5 years ago
Thanks again, IX, you have been helpful.
Posted by CaseClosed 5 years ago
And whether or not your opponent refutes all you contentions, I would like to challenge your case if you don't mind. First off, RTGs, like that that propelled Galileo and Cassini are unable to control. At least the power. You cannot vary the intake based on how much you want. Plus, you cannot stop the system once it has started. You must use rechargeable batteries, which add additional weight and factors. Next, if you were to make Nuclear powered spacecraft, it would only be fission (because we don't have fusion). Fission is highly volatile and susceptible to meltdowns in space. Though that might not be of your greatest concerns, a meltdown during re entry can cause severe hazardous waste. Project Orion was one of these experiments, which deposited a lot of radioactive waste on the floor of the launch pad. Such disasters are injurious to health, and thus must be avoided.
Posted by CaseClosed 5 years ago
Hey, @IX Could you by any chance tell me what inspired you to give this topic? Because it is worded very acutely, I was simply wondering where you got it from. Thanks, CaseClosed.
Posted by CaseClosed 5 years ago
Hey so, what are current nuclear spacecraft programs going on? Like I know that a couple have been experimented with Cassini and Galileo space probes, but what are the current topics? I can only find background on Project Orion, which is a Nuclear Fission Pulse experiment. And it failed. So when you guys research could you please inform me in the comments? Thanks.
Posted by Ragnar 5 years ago
There are sides to argue, for example it'd be in essence placing a nuclear weapon in orbit. Plus the risk if the shuttle is lost in reentry (not of nuclear explosion, but of radiation leaks).
1 votes has been placed for this debate.
Vote Placed by Beginner 5 years ago
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Total points awarded:10 
Reasons for voting decision: BBlair forfeits with IX getting the final argumentative extension.