With renewed interest in developing nuclear-powered deep space probes, attention will return to improving the metallurgical processing of potential nuclear fuels so that they remain dimensionally stable over the years required for a successful mission. Previous work on fuel alloys at the NASA Glenn Research Center was primarily empirical, with virtually no continuing research. Even when empirical studies are exacting, they often fail to provide enough insight to guide future research efforts. In addition, from a fundamental theoretical standpoint, the actinide metals (which include materials used for nuclear fuels) pose a severe challenge to modern electronic-structure theory. Recent advances in quantum approximate atomistic modeling, coupled with first-principles derivation of needed input parameters, can help researchers develop new alloys for nuclear propulsion.
Metals and Metallic Materials
Research and Technology 2002; NASA/TM-2003-211990