A new generation of American nuclear-powered drones is being researched, according to a report by the government’s principal nuclear research and development agency. These drones would possibly be able to fly over remote regions of the world for months on end without refuelling.
The project summary by Sandia National Laboratories, obtained by The Guardian, says nuclear power would solve several drone problems: insufficient “hang time” over a potential target, lack of power for running sophisticated surveillance and weapons systems and lack of communications capacity.
The work has been temporarily halted because of concerns about public opinion over the potential dangers, such as a crash turning the drone into a dirty bomb or of its nuclear propulsion system falling into the hands of terrorists or unfriendly powers — as happened last year when Iran captured a drone.
The Guardian quotes Chris Coles of the campaigning website Drone Wars UK describing the potential of nuclear powered drones as a “pretty terrifying prospect.”
“Drones are much less safe than other aircraft and tend to crash a lot. There is a major push by this industry to increase the use of drones and both the public and government are struggling to keep up with the implications,” he said.
The use of drones has been dramatically ramped up by the Obama administration. Peter Singer, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, tells The Diplomat:
“They (politicians) have helped create a context where nations engage in what we used to think of as war, but without some of the same kind of tough and public deliberations about them. For example, we have carried out more than 300 air strikes into Pakistan, but Congress hasn’t voted on it, the media doesn’t report it the same way, and the public certainly doesn’t view it the same way as if those were manned operations.”
Predator drone picture by Wikipedia