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The Ford Nucleon: A Miniature Nuclear Reactor in the Trunk

Posted in Alt Fuels, Bizarre, Emissions, Ford, Fuel, History by Vito Rispo | September 5th, 2008 | 29 Responses |

Imagine a car that would emit no harmful vapors and would offer incredible fuel mileage far beyond that of the most efficient cars ever built. It’d be sleek and silent, with only the hum of a turbine. It’d basically be run on steam. That’s how nuclear power works.

Yeah, nuclear power. The Ford Nucleon concept car was designed to be powered by a miniature nuclear reactor. Simple, safe, and eco-friendly, right?

Ford’s engineers imagined full-service recharging stations in place of gas-stations, where depleted reactors cores could be swapped out for fresh ones. The car’s reactor setup was basically just like a nuclear submarine’s, only smaller. It was designed to use uranium fission to heat a steam generator, rapidly converting water into high-pressure steam which could then be used to drive a set of turbines. One steam turbine would provide the torque to propel the car while another would drive an electrical generator. The steam would then condense back into water in a cooling coil, and be sent back to the steam generator to be reused. It’s a closed system, so as long as there is some radioactive material in there, it’s good to go. No emissions, except for the eventual nuclear waste.

Designers anticipated that a typical Ford Nucleon would be able to travel about 5,000 miles per charge.

The idea never took off because reactors that small weren’t possible at the time and the shielding needed would have weighed down the car excessively. But it’s not really that bad of an idea. The US Navy has a 100% perfect record of nuclear safety with their subs. It’s greener than a lot of other technologies, who knows, maybe we’ll see some nuclear Honda’s out there come 2020.

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29 Responses

  1. erichansa says:

    I bet they’d sell like hotcakes in the Middle East.

  2. glowinthedarkboy says:

    So, what happens if you have a wreck in that car?

  3. Mr. Fusion says:

    “No, no, no. This sucker’s electrical. But I need a nuclear reaction to generate the 1.21 gigawatts of electricity I need.”

    “Safe now, everything is lead-lined.”

  4. Alpha says:

    Thats a great idea

  5. ecg says:

    The auto industry is apparently innovative in the engineering department and reactive in the front lines.

  6. blah says:

    Too bad most people who read this don’t know that weapons grade and fuel grade radioactive material are entirely different, and very hard to get one converted to the other.

  7. think about it.... says:

    and the best thing is you and everyone around gets a complimentary case of cancer with every crash! Yay, I love cancer.

  8. Daniel says:

    With the amount of regulation on uranium, I doubt we’ll ever have nuclear powered cars. Plus, shielding is a huge problem, otherwise we’d have nuclear powered airplanes already.

  9. henning says:

    it would be great, if international container ships were equipped with
    those kinds of nuclear reactors … because it’d be much more environmental friendly as diesel engines.

    i think nuclear power for small vehicles won’t be successfull …

  10. Hate to see that repair bill :-)

  11. Kosma says:

    Reactor or not its still a ford, BLEH!

  12. Abbas Khan says:

    Hey your right, i want one & i live in the middle east. :)
    Yes we do care about fuel efficiency & helping the planet too.
    Thanks for pointing it out. ;)

  13. Shadoglare says:

    Yeah, I’ve seen this concept before.
    The Navy has a good track record with nuclear powered subs because they have highly trained professionals running them.
    That’s a bit different that handing one over to your average citizen – that’s just asking for a nuclear explosion to happen when Billy Bob decides to Pimp his Nuke…

  14. Paul says:

    lol i love your comment, made me love so hard

  15. Andrew says:

    Err.. what happens when there’s an accident? Sure, submarines have perfect records, but submarines don’t t-bone at a 6-way intersection, either.

  16. Sky says:

    As clean as nuclear is to use, take the spent fuel rods from such a vehicle, multiply that by a few hundred million. That is a boatload of radioactive materials. Not to mention the Nuclear Regulatory Commission would never allow fissile material to be stored at a refueling station accessible to just anyone. Those who work at a nuclear facility will know what I’m talking about.

  17. Some Guy says:

    Large commercial reactors with the fleet being electrical cars. enough said.

  18. Timothy says:

    There already was a nuclear powered civilian container ship.It has also been decommissioned. There were also nuclear powered rocket engines,successfully tested and were planned for use on the Saturn I and Saturn V rockets and proposed Apollo missions.

  19. RYAN says:

    FORD =


  20. Azu says:

    Obviously if this was ever done the reactor would be heavily shielded.

  21. jeremy says:

    I hope this day comes soon. Im tired of gas prices. This could work. Hell we are already driving cars with a explosive liquid in the back what difference would a reactor be? Alot safer if contained properly, not to mention hell of alot more power. It doesnt surprise me that Ford was the company dreaming of this in the first place. After all Ford was one of the leaders in auto production. Chevy and all the other goons came after. Ford just needed to keep up the pace. Im soo tired of the way things are, besides the smog is blocking my view of the mountains.

  22. Dave says:

    1) to make a bomb, and to make a reactor, you need two verry different types of procesed matirial.

    2) dont you think ford would have thaught about wrecks? having your avrage four car pile-up wouldn’t do it in. cars like this would most likely use a thermal reactor like the lunar lander did. the thing would be protected and contained to an extreme.

    most likely the car was never made because of being to heavy. Im sure if people today gave it a minute to be experimented with, this could be a great way to power not just cars but almost everything. But people dont learn about what they dont know. they simply see the word “nuke” and think bomb. Because thats all the midea today sais it means. I like the idea. I would buy one.

  23. Kevin Wilson says:

    I’m guessing nuclear power will never take off. But I am definitely interested to see where the future lies. Hydrogen? Electric? Hybrid? Your guess is as good as mine.

  24. Sty says:

    Is it possible this thing never took off because it’s god awful ugly?

  25. Boris says:

    Hey Sty, have you ever thought that the pictures are from the 1950’s?! Yes.

    Well, as for a reactor, all they need is a hafnium-178 reactor ;-)
    It emits gamma radiation.

    Have a read here:

    Well, I hope that makes a great further reading. Hey, maybe it will be Honda, or maybe one of the Europeans… or Maybe Aussies with their Holdens aka GM’s.

  26. Herb says:

    US Navy, 100%??? Tell that to the families who lost their loved ones on the Thresher and the Scorpion who now rest at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. While you’re at it, check to see what happened to the other nuclear subs resting on the bottom also. Google nuclear submarine accidents wikipedia. I suggest focusing on solar power and “green” jobs and research and development and care of the environment. This includes ending all wars which destroy the earth, humans and other living things as far as immediate generations and needs. Truly focus on what the seventh generation from now, what they will need and what this generation will leave them, resources, clean air and water, topsoil to grow food, old plants timber and food plants to share with our human and animal families. Maybe this a crazy “chaneling” from our native americans, asians, africians, humans, Thanks, What do you think now?? herbpetty@gmail.com

  27. JUSTIN says:


  28. sam mathai says:

    thanks for wasting 5 minutes of my time…of COURSE it would be a good IDEA…there isnt anything on this article about a REAL NUCLEAR power source..and more than half the people on this planet who read english KNOW that there are things like nuclear submarines and aircraft cariers as well which can do tounds of the planet over 14years…without stop if food is availiable…Im sorry im in an irritable mood already and i thought there might be something actually having to do with what was on the title….and now I’m conked OFF!