Nuclear-powered passenger aircraft
Nuclear-powered aircraft will be transporting millions of passengers around the world later this century. Research to help convert the aviation industry from carbon-based fuels to nuclear energy is making steady progress, which will result first in non-stop flights from London to Australia or New Zealand, because the aircraft will no longer need to land to refuel.
Why should I be aware of this?
- The flights will also produce no carbon emissions and therefore make no contribution to global warming. This will provide a solution to aviation emissions and allow flying to continue with zero impact on the environment.
- Nuclear-powered aeroplanes are the answer beyond 2050. The idea was proved 50 years ago, but I still it would take about 30 years to persuade the public of the need to fly on them
All about nuclear-powered passenger aircraft
The US and the Soviet Union were the first to pursue the idea for a nuclear powered plane in the 1950s. Their aim was to create bombers that could remain permanently in the sky, watching over their targets like submarines, battleships and aircraft carriers can do at sea today.
Now the need is felt to explore nuclear power in aviation to free it from the use of fossil fuels and concerns about the environment.
The advantages of an atomic airplane are increased range and carrying capacity. Though big airliners load more than fifty tons of gasoline into its tanks, it is often not enough. Routes must be planned with carefully located alternate landing fields to guard against the disaster of running out of fuel in the air. Long flights over water are particularly worrisome. Quite a number of times tragedies have taken place due to headwinds, engine failure, a fuel leak. Atomic fuel would solve these problems. A few ounces of uranium would keep an airplane aloft indefinitely.
A nuclear-powered aircraft will need to have safety provisions that are designed to prevent the release of radioactive material in the worst aircraft accidents. Other features are required to make a nuclear aircraft practical. Among these are reactors which will permit long operation (of the order of 10 000 hr) between refueling, long-life high-temperature oxidation-resistant heat exchangers that heat the air of the turbofan engine, and reliable lightweight long-life pumps and valves that can handle high-temperature heat-transfer mediums which are used to transfer heat to the propulsion engines.
Nuclear powered aircraft will be a solution that will allow flying with zero impact on the environment...and that includes crashes, but could cause a far-reaching catastrophe if they were to crash or explode.
To avoid that it is proposed that the reactors could be jettisoned on parachutes should an aircraft be in trouble. But in the event of a 9/11 style attack an entire city could be completely devastated with just one plane.
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