Chicago Journal of International Law


In this article, we will first provide a brief explanation of what NPS is and how it works. The article will clarify how terms are used and explain some factual background so that the issues can be discussed with clarity. It will follow with a brief history of the use of NPS in space, illustrating that the United States and Russia (including the former Soviet Union) have employed various forms of NPS in space for more than forty years. Next, the focus will shift to a discussion of the international legal regimes governing NPS both in space and, to a limited extent, on Earth, before launch. After the international legal regime, the United States's domestic regulatory and procedural structure is examined, with a discussion of an illustrative case in which plaintiffs attempted to enjoin the US Government from launching the NPS-equipped Cassini spacecraft. We conclude by examining several policy issues concerning nuclear power and propulsion systems in space, including the rationale and need therefor, while advocating extensive public participation and transparency in the safety reviews and decision making related to the use of this technology. Finally, the Article calls for spacefaring nations to establish and observe an international, technically-based safety framework to provide assurance to the world population that space NPS will be used in a safe manner and to facilitate bilateral and multilateral cooperation on missions using nuclear reactors and technologies in space.