The new BBC News item New engine tech that could get us to Mars faster says:
Once Orion has been connected to the transfer vehicle, a nuclear electric rocket would be used to get the crew capsule and the transport module to Mars, where they link up with a Mars orbiter and lander, which are waiting in Mars' orbit.
In a nuclear thermal electric rocket, a small nuclear reactor heats up liquid hydrogen. The gaseous form of the element expands and shoots out of the thruster.
"If we can cut transit time [to Mars] down by 30-60 days, it will improve the exposure to radiation facing the crew," says Mr Cassidy. "We're looking at nuclear thermal as a key technology because it can enable faster transit times."
Dale Thomas, together with UAH, has a study contract with Nasa to design a space rocket featuring a nuclear thermal engine. He thinks nuclear thermal electric is the closest new engine technology to being ready for use.
"Some of the trajectories we run in my lab, we can get the transit time down to three months, which is still a very long journey, but it's about a third of the time that chemical propulsion requires to get us there," he says.
To my understanding the description "...a small nuclear reactor heats up liquid hydrogen. The gaseous form of the element expands and shoots out of the thruster." is that of a "normal" nuclear propulsion design and doesn't really use electricity.
I think that in nuclear thermal electric propulsion, a nuclear source of thermal energy would be used to produce electricity which would then be used to ionize and electrostatically accelerate the reaction mass, rather than rely on expansion within a nozzle to produce thrust. For the same amount of electricity, it this would generate much more bang for the buck, though the power supplies and coils used to maintain the plasma could be a huge weight penalty.
Question: Is the BBC wrong (again†?) or perhaps am I wrong, and the nuclear heat source is used to make electricity which is then used to heat the hydrogen so that it expands through a nozzle?