Could a thorium-powered car be feasible?
Just what is thorium? Like uranium, it's a nuclear fuel, but it's much less radioactive than many other nuclear fuels out there. It's also much more abundant, making it a potential resource for those hoping to design a nuclear-powered car.
Cadillac's thorium-based concept car made its debut at the 2009 Chicago Auto Show as a display piece. It never actually had a nuclear reactor installed, however, and never moved into the actual production stage.
A look back at the history of nuclear-powered cars
Cadillac was far from the first car company to think about the possibility of a nuclear-powered vehicle. Decades earlier, for example, Ford had come up with its own nuclear-powered concept car.
Known as the Nucleon, this Ford car was conceived of at the height of the Cold War in 1958, when the world was somewhat obsessed with all things nuclear power. Had the car ever made it from drawing board to reality, it would have had a range of 5,000 miles without refueling.
Even the Nucleon had predecessors in the world of theoretical nuclear cars. The first nuclear car was proposed as far back as 1903. A Caltech physicist also proposed a vehicle powered by uranium-235 in 1941.
Nuclear power cars are still on the table
You'd think that by now, with all of these dream nuclear vehicles that failed to make it to reality, engineers would have moved on from the idea. But surprisingly, the idea continues to hold water for the true believers who think that it's only a matter of time until we're all driving cars and trucks powered by nuclear fuel.
The truth is that we probably do currently have the technology necessary to build reactor cores small enough to fit in your average vehicle. The problem is figuring out what to do about the thermal energy they produce while creating mechanical energy.
Another intriguing idea that has been floated is the use of something known as an "atomic battery." The advantage of this approach is that these batteries already exist. They're used to power spacecraft, for example. If scientists can figure out how to harness this technology for the personal transportation sector while protecting consumers from the dangers of radiation, we could see a true revolution in the automotive fuel sector.
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Nuclear power may be a fuel of the future, but right now you've got to deal with the present. And no matter how you slice it, owning a car these days requires having insurance.
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