Photokina 2014 highlights


NASA's research holds the promise of a home nuclear reactor (Image: NASA)

If Joseph Zawodny, a senior scientist at NASA’s Langley Research Center, is correct, the future of energy may lie in a nuclear reactor small enough and safe enough to be installed where the home water heater once sat. Using weak nuclear forces that turn nickel and hydrogen into a new source of atomic energy, the process offers a light, portable means of producing tremendous amounts of energy for the amount of fuel used. It could conceivably power homes, revolutionize transportation and even clean the environment.  Read More

Artist's rendition of the Nuclear Cryogenic Propulsion Stage (NCPS), a nuclear engine inte...

Nuclear-powered rocket engines are not new. In the 1960s, both the U.S. and the Soviet Union developed and tested thermal nuclear rockets fitted with flight-worthy components. However, Project Rover and NERVA (Nuclear Engine for Nuclear Rocket Application) programs were defunded in the early 1970s just before test flights were to start. Now, as part of the Advanced Exploration Systems program at NASA, the Nuclear Cryogenic Propulsion Stage team is tackling a three-year project to demonstrate the viability of and to evaluate materials for thermal nuclear propulsion systems for use in future deep space missions.  Read More

Scientists have discovered that graphene oxide flakes are very effective at removing radio...

Removing radioactive material from contaminated water, such as that in Japan’s Fukushima nuclear power plants, could be getting a little easier. Scientists from Houston’s Rice University and Lomonosov Moscow State University have discovered that when flakes of graphene oxide are added to such water, it causes the radionuclides to condense into clumps. Those clumps can then be separated and disposed of.  Read More

Hitachi's ASTACO-SoRa robot will remove rubble from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in...

Following the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that crippled TEPCO's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, the Japanese robotics industry was criticized for developing expensive walking humanoids rather than more practical robots. It seems the country won't have to rely on foreign robots to do the dirty work much longer, as Hitachi has announced a compact, dual-armed heavy duty robot that will begin removing rubble at the plant next year.  Read More

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries' MHI-MEISTeR can hold a pipe while it cuts it with a tool (Pho...

Over the past few weeks, Japan has unveiled robotic exoskeletons and quadrupeds designed to work in radioactive areas, and today Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) has revealed its own inspection and maintenance robot. The MHI-MEISTeR (Maintenance Equipment Integrated System of Telecontrol Robot) has two arms which can be equipped with various tools to remove obstacles and collect samples in areas where people cannot go.  Read More

Artists concept of spacecraft using the Los Alamos reactor

Exploring the regions of deep space beyond Mars means sending probes where solar power isn’t practical. Since the 1960s, NASA has equipped its Apollo missions and unmanned explorers with Radioisotope Thermal Generators (RTGs). These have worked very well, but they run on plutonium 238, which is currently in short supply. Therefore, the Los Alamos National Laboratory is developing a new small nuclear reactor for spacecraft that uses uranium instead of plutonium to power Stirling engines and generate electricity.  Read More

Toshiba's quadrupedal robot climbs stairs in a press demonstration (Photo: NHK)

Toshiba has unveiled a four-legged inspection robot, which will carry out work at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, where people cannot go. The newly developed robot – simply called a Quadruped walking robot – comes equipped with a smaller wheeled robot that can be deployed to navigate hard-to-reach areas. The legged robot can negotiate stairs, uneven terrain, and is able to avoid low-lying obstacles.  Read More

Professor Yoshiyuki Sankai presents the modified HAL exoskeleton during Japan Robot Week 2...

Since the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in March 2011, the Japanese government has been testing robotics technologies to help deal with future accidents. The Hybrid Assistive Limb (HAL) exoskeleton, developed by the University of Tsukuba spin-off Cyberdyne, is being considered for first responders.  Read More

Three Sandia neutrister neutron generators mounted in a test box under vacuum

Neutron generators provide materials analysis and non-destructive testing tools to many industries, including oilfield operations, heavy mechanical construction, art conservancy, detective work, and medicine. Many of these applications have been limited by the rather large size of current industrial and medical neutron sources. Now Sandia National Laboratories, the lab that develops and supports the non-nuclear parts (including neutron generators) of nuclear weapons, has developed a new approach toward building tiny neutron generators.  Read More

A disc of highly enriched uranium from the Y-12 National Security Complex Plant

The world’s estimated reserves of uranium are only 6 million tons and with the growing demand for reliable energy free of greenhouse emissions leading to more and more nuclear plants being built, that supply may not last very long. Some estimates place the time before all the uranium is gone at between 50 and 200 years. However, the oceans of the world contain 4.5 billion tons of uranium dissolved in seawater. That’s enough to last something on the order of 6,500 years. The tricky bit is getting it out, but a team at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Tennessee has come a step closer to economically extracting uranium from seawater with a new material that is much more efficient than previous methods.  Read More

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