From the Wired article “Secret Nuclear Drone Plan Nixed by ‘Political Realities’“:
The plan was outlined in a document acquired by the Federation of American Scientists, which outlines a study Sandia conducted. The results? A new way, potentially, of powering military drones.
“As a result of this effort, UAVs were to be able to provide far more surveillance time and intelligence information per mission while reducing the high cost of support activities,” the report noted. “This technology was intended to create unmatched global capabilities to observe and preempt terrorist and weapon of mass destruction (WMD) activities.”
Essentially, the tech allowed for “ultra-persistent” drone flight that didn’t require traditional fuels. As the FAS points out, the study doesn’t ever say “nuclear,” but all of the giveaways are there: “decommissioning and disposal” wouldn’t be issues otherwise.
So what happened? “It was disappointing to all that the political realities would not allow use of the results,” Sandia laments. The lab gave up on nuclear drones due to political pressures, perceived or otherwise. “No near-term benefit to industry or the taxpayer will be encountered as a result of these studies.”