Skip to main content

Nuclear Energy to Power Planes?

That's a possibility. Here's the TimesOnline:
Ian Poll, Professor of Aerospace Engineering at Cranfield University, and head of technology for the Government-funded Omega project, is calling for a big research programme to help the aviation industry convert from fossil fuels to nuclear energy.

...

“If we want to continue to enjoy the benefits of air travel without hindrance from environmental concerns, we need to explore nuclear power. If aviation remains wedded to fossil fuels, it will run into serious trouble,” he said.
The article has really generated the comments. The first one is the best:
As soon as I started reading this, one picture immediately came to mind: Marty McFly standing next to the Delorean and asking Doctor Emmett Brown, "This thing is NUCLEAR!!??"
Yep, whatever the mind of man can conceive and believe, it will achieve...
Hat tip to Eric McErlain.

Picture of the DeLorean with Marty and Doc from Back to the Future 2.

Comments

jakob said…
We have a hard enough time putting anything nuclear in someones back yard.
robert merkel said…
You'd have to demonstrate that the working reactor could cope with an air-to-air missile, and then be dropped onto a steel plate from 40,000 feet and still maintain containment with very high reliability.

And the shielding would have to be such that customers sitting 10 feet from the reactor, and their luggage, get virtually no exposure.

Sure, you can undoubtedly build a reactor to do that, but whether you can build a reactor small, light, and powerful enough to provide a practical power source is pretty doubtful.

Shipping faces the same emissions issues as air travel, doesn't have the extreme power density requirements, and doesn't have nearly the same NIMBY factors. For those reasons, nuclear powered shipping is a much better bet. Furthermore, a couple of decades of safe, reliable nuclear-powered shipping might make more ambitious things like nuclear aircraft more politically plausible.
GRLCowan said…
a couple of decades of safe, reliable nuclear-powered shipping might make more ambitious things like nuclear aircraft more politically plausible.

If that is true, nuclear aircraft are politically more plausible now. Nuclear ships are acceptable, even to Greenpeace for their own workers' transportation.
Luke said…
Robert,

I don't think you have to "demonstrate that the working reactor could cope with an air-to-air missile". A passenger aircraft is in deep trouble if it's attacked with an anti-aircraft missile anyway, and in such an event, there's a high likelihood that all persons on board will be killed, and that's equally true with or without a nuclear power system.

What you need to evaluate, I think, is that if a nuclear powered aircraft were to be shot down, what would the health physics implications be for the people on the ground? The people on the aircraft are already dead, but how much dose would be picked up by those on the ground?
Victoria said…
Do you think it would lower the cost of plane tickets for consumers?
Anonymous said…
"a couple of decades of safe, reliable nuclear-powered shipping might make more ambitious things like nuclear aircraft more politically plausible."

Haven't we already had several decades of safe, reliable shipping both above and below water? I think cargo of 5,000+ people, a hundred fighter jets and nuclear warheads should count as "shipping."
Anonymous said…
"Haven't we already had several decades of safe, reliable shipping both above and below water?"

If a reactor on a ship fails, the ship drifts. If a reactor on an AIRPLANE fails, it falls out of the sky and everyone dies.
Anonymous said…
I'm not denying that aircraft and ships are very different, I was just commenting about an above comment that said we should try shipping first. We have and succeeded.

Now about the "everyone dies" part...which everyone are you talking about? Everyone on a sinking nuclear sub dies? Almost everyone on a conventional plane dies in a crash. If this hypothetical aircraft reactor is properly designed, the only ones that die are the ones it physically lands on, same as a conventional aircraft engine.

Personally I still don't think it's feasible.
robert merkel said…
luke: yes, that's what I meant - it'd have to be safe for those on the ground; obviously those on the plane are going to be in trouble.

And perhaps I needed to add the caveat "civilian" in front of shipping. A lot of people (particularly on the left of politics) seem to believe that while the US Navy can run reactors safely, private operators inherently can't.
GRLCowan said…
If this hypothetical aircraft reactor is properly designed, the only ones that die are the ones it physically lands on ...

I still don't think it's feasible.


Please elaborate. What might have to change to make it feasible?


--- G.R.L. Cowan, H2 energy fan 'til ~1996
Anonymous said…
I don't think it very feasible because of the issues of shielding and room for redundant equipment without making the plane HUGE. At least not feasible with current reactors and those future designs I have seen. Also, the number of personnel you would have to add to the flight crew would increase greatly.

In shipping you are looking at hauling more stuff, less people. In a plane we're usually talking about the other way around.

The upfront costs of such a plane would be astronomical (just look at what a submarine costs). I don't think a private company would be able to balance that level of financial risk with the long term return.

Popular posts from this blog

Knowing What You’ve Got Before It’s Gone in Nuclear Energy

The following is a guest post from Matt Wald, senior director of policy analysis and strategic planning at NEI. Follow Matt on Twitter at @MattLWald.

Nuclear energy is by far the largest source of carbon prevention in the United States, but this is a rough time to be in the business of selling electricity due to cheap natural gas and a flood of subsidized renewable energy. Some nuclear plants have closed prematurely, and others likely will follow.
In recent weeks, Exelon and the Omaha Public Power District said that they might close the Clinton, Quad Cities and Fort Calhoun nuclear reactors. As Joni Mitchell’s famous song says, “Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone.”
More than 100 energy and policy experts will gather in a U.S. Senate meeting room on May 19 to talk about how to improve the viability of existing nuclear plants. The event will be webcast, and a link will be available here.
Unlike other energy sources, nuclear power plants get no specia…

Making Clouds for a Living

Donell Banks works at Southern Nuclear’s Plant Vogtle units 3 and 4 as a shift supervisor in Operations, but is in the process of transitioning to his newly appointed role as the daily work controls manager. He has been in the nuclear energy industry for about 11 years.

I love what I do because I have the unique opportunity to help shape the direction and influence the culture for the future of nuclear power in the United States. Every single day presents a new challenge, but I wouldn't have it any other way. As a shift supervisor, I was primarily responsible for managing the development of procedures and programs to support operation of the first new nuclear units in the United States in more than 30 years. As the daily work controls manager, I will be responsible for oversight of the execution and scheduling of daily work to ensure organizational readiness to operate the new units.

I envision a nuclear energy industry that leverages the technology of today to improve efficiency…

Nuclear: Energy for All Political Seasons

The electoral college will soon confirm a surprise election result, Donald Trump. However, in the electricity world, there are fewer surprises – physics and economics will continue to apply, and Republicans and Democrats are going to find a lot to like about nuclear energy over the next four years.

In a Trump administration, the carbon conversation is going to be less prominent. But the nuclear value proposition is still there. We bring steady jobs to rural areas, including in the Rust Belt, which put Donald Trump in office. Nuclear plants keep the surrounding communities vibrant.

We hold down electricity costs for the whole economy. We provide energy diversity, reducing the risk of disruption. We are a critical part of America’s industrial infrastructure, and the importance of infrastructure is something that President-Elect Trump has stressed.

One of our infrastructure challenges is natural gas pipelines, which have gotten more congested as extremely low gas prices have pulled m…