The Nuclear Powered Car- Sci-Fi, or Closer to Reality?
The facts, the flaws, the benefits of the (non-existent) nuclear powered automobile.
Nuclear power, it has been the subject of controversy for more than a few decades, with its reliability, efficiency, cost, and safety being questioned at every turn, so I can already hear some people asking, "why in the WORLD would you want to make a nuclear powered automobile?" Well, because why not, nuclear powered cars would actually make motoring quite a bit easier as some benefits could include never having to actually refuel, never having to have a checkup until two years pass, and not having to worry about costs for gas, electricity and other things for quite some time. Now of course, the main problem that is quite evident, even as I start off, is that nuclear reactors are quite massive, the smallest being the size of a large room, not counting the rest of the machinery, so, the entire principle of an atomic car would rest on the chances of a nuclear reactor becoming small enough to fit in a large car. But there is good news on that front, with reactors becoming smaller and smaller, and the new introduction of "compact" self containing reactors (reactors that are built with the shielding as a massive casing, instead of being put in a building with an external shield.)
A cross-section of a "compact" nuclear reactor, imagine that this could be scaled down even smaller, to around the size of a large gasoline engine, making a "mini reactor."
But, there actually is a second option for a nuclear powered car, an "Atomic Battery", now, this is actually a feasible concept that would rely on proven technology, as many nuclear concepts of the past, such as the Arbel Nuclear powered car, would have used. Now, the Atomic Battery would actually be a simpler method, as it (instead of relying on a nuclear chain reaction), relies on the steady decay of nuclear isotopes to generate electricity. This is a revolutionary idea, as it could actually remove one of the most prominent issues with nuclear reactors, waste. Yes, in theory, you could use waste from nuclear reactors, as it does give off large amounts of radiation and energy as it decays. And, another bonus is that it is already a proven technology, as Atomic Batteries are used in spacecraft, due to their long life and durability, but another issue again, is cost, as they are very expensive. The solution could be to use, as I said earlier, nuclear waste, and a U.S. company is actually taking a very serious look at this. NDB Technology is a startup company that has actually come up with a "nuclear Nano-battery", this relies on using recycled nuclear waste, with a strong diamond coating around it for protection, they are even planning to put these "Nano-generators" in phones and appliance, so in a few years, you're TV, or phone could be powered by a nuclear battery! This is even better news for the nuclear powered car, as it provides a great way to use up existing nuclear waste, and can boost people's confidence in the nuclear car. This would also be good for the entire nuclear industry, as they would effectively be 100% efficient, as everything is utilized, even the waste, and this would also be good for governments with nuclear plants, as instead of having to spend boatloads of money on "disposing" of the waste, they could give it to a company or automaker needing the waste for their car or product.
Radiation, not an explosion (as many believe) could possibly be a downfall of a nuclear car in an accident.
Yes, now it is time to talk about the many problems and limitations that would face a nuclear powered car, (note, I am not a nuclear engineer, so if anyone is, please correct any mistakes I may have made in my article.) So, starting off with one of the biggest and most evident potential problems, radiation, the silent killer. Radiation is exceedingly dangerous, as a large dose or prolonged exposure can lead to radiation poisoning, which can cause many, many health problems, such as intensive burns and swelling, rapid organ failure, skin cells dying and not being replaced, etc. Now all this is very scary, but how much radiation would you actually absorb? Well, the average amount of nuclear radiation absorbed by a nuclear power plant worker is actually less than an airline pilot (the reason being that a plane is higher in the air, thus not as protected from the radiation emitted by the sun.) So, taking this into consideration, if all the right safety protocols were put in place, you wouldn't even absorb too much radiation to affect your heath (yes, it's more than a "normal" person would absorb, but not enough to cause harm to you or your children.) So, what other problems would befall a nuclear powered car? Well, another big issue is size, it would have to be a massive car, rivaling even the size of the Cadillacs of the 1950's-70's and limousines of today, most of the space would be out in either the front or the rear (all depending on reactor placement) making the turning angle quite massive and completely unconventional, if a small enough nuclear reactor was made, then it would be a better idea to put it in a semi truck to test the theory. Now another key issue, crash safety, now, this is quite interesting, as many people point out the key flaw with a nuclear powered car being that if it were to crash it would create a minor nuclear incident. This is in a way, very much true, as any car, no matter how safe, can end up being mangled beyond recognition, so for the time being, there would really be no foolproof solution to this problem. And, the final problem, cost, they would cost quite a bit, as nuclear reactors aren't cheap, and even the Atomic Battery, which is immune from all the other problems, is still venerable to this, as it has a diamond casing.
Behold! The car of the future, from the past, the Ford Nucleon.
Historical Nuclear Powered "Concepts"
The idea for a nuclear powered car is actually not a new one, it has been around since the 20's and 30's, and car manufacturers started to take the idea "seriously" in the 50's and early 60's, resulting in a few "nuclear powered" concepts (in reality, just some models to showcase the idea.) One of the most famous is the Ford Nucleon (shown above), it was developed by Ford engineers in 1957, and was quite revolutionary (despite being only a scale model), as it was "planned" to have a uranium fission steam engine, these same reactors are used in submarines. It also was one of the first attempts by a major auto manufacturer at a nuclear car. It was also a well thought out design, with the reactor being in the rear to prevent a leak in the event of a major accident.
The Arbel Symetric, a car produced as a test bed for different and alternative engines and methods of propulsion.
Next is a little known nuclear concept that actually nearly made it into production, the Arbel Symetric, the Arbel was originally a very interesting hybrid concept, as the first model actually had a gasoline motor driving four electric motors in each wheel, these concepts were met with little interest and even less success. But at the 1958 Geneva Motor Show, the Arbel Symetric was shown to the public, it was designed to show off different concepts and alternative modes of power, like a turbine, but the most interesting was the concept that was supposed to be powered by a 40 KW Atomic Battery, like what I explained earlier. It also would have used nuclear waste as the battery fuel, almost like the battery I talked about earlier in the article. Unfortunately, the company couldn't get permissions from the French Governement to use nuclear fuel, so the project was dropped and Arbel went into bankruptcy soon after. So, it does seem that almost every nuclear concept failed, but why? Well, it was because the technology did not exist at the time, as they couldn't make smaller nuclear batteries, and reactors of the time were still quite new, but today, we have the technology, so why not take a shot.
Could this retro-futuristic wonder be the car of the future?
The Nuclear Car Manufacturer of the Future!
But let's just say that in the future, a nuclear car is finally made (this is all based on different events, so this may or may not be able to happen), what would the car look like, what would the company be like, and what would the world be like with nuclear cars and privately owned nuclear tech? Well, I'm going to give you a glimpse into the far future with this advert from ! The year is 2087, and the nuclear car has become a commonplace in everyday life, in fact, nearly everything is nuclear powered! Everyday appliances are powered by Atomic Batteries, even houses, residential blocks and neighborhoods are powered by their local mini-reactor! How is all this made possible you may ask? Well, through Atomica of course! Atomica started life as an alliance between many different private nuclear, tech, auto manufacturers, and the U.S. Government. Atomica's first product was the Atomica Flying Atom, the world's first nuclear-electric powered car (this would be using the "Atomic Battery"), a revolutionary concept made safe and legal by corresponding with the U.S. Govt. Using state of the art shielding, recycled nuclear waste, and other wonders, it became the most anticipated car of the year, and on released was sold to many rich clients worldwide! But this was not enough, after much more research and patience, the first publicly available and mass produced nuclear powered auto was made, the Atomica Pluto! Soon after mass production, it took off, selling quite fast, with the benefits being quite evident, like never having to charge your car! Now, Atomica is the most profitable company in the world! Having two private cities built, and the most amount of privately owned nuclear reactors! And with many more projects planned, Atomica will still continue to strive to advance humanity forward and onward!
One of my first "Atomic Auto" Concepts!
Well, that was probably a lot of information to soak in! But, hopefully in the near future, the atomic powered car will become a reality, whether it be powered by a "mini-reactor" or an atomic battery. So, in conclusion of both power sources, the mini-reactor could be a smaller version of a steam generated reactor, or something of the sort, while the atomic-battery, relying on the decaying isotopes to generate electricity.