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Nuclear Drones? New Design Reportedly Increases Flying Time

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From clandestine strikes on suspected militants in Pakistan to the targeted killing of American citizen Anwar al-Awlaki last September in Yemen, unmanned drones appear to have become the current administration's weapon of choice.

The Guardian notes that a conventional MQ-9 Reaper drone, used "primarily in a hunter/killer role against dynamic execution targets," according to the US Air Force, has a flight time of 14 hours.

But what if drones could soar on missions for months, not just days?

According to Wired's Danger Room, a July 2011 report from Sandia National Laboratories outlined a new potential model for powering drones. Secrecy News, a publication by the Federation of American Scientists, notes that the project summary does not actually use the word "nuclear," but concludes that other references make the power source clear. The lead investigator, "aptly named Dr. Steven B. Dron," also just so happens to be a nuclear propulsion specialist.

In the end, the project was reportedly put on hold. According to The Guardian, concerns that the public might react unfavorably to the prospect of nuclear-powered drones taking to the skies helped put the brakes on the project.

And what would be worse than a U.S.-made drone falling from the sky and into Iran's hands? A U.S.-made drone with a nuclear reactor inside, The Atlantic Wire suggests.

The Associated Press reports that the CIA's drone program has killed an estimated 2,223 suspected Taliban, al Qaeda, and other militants in the past eight years.

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