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Author Topic: Are nuclear-powered planes feasible?  (Read 2754 times)

SolomziG

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Are nuclear-powered planes feasible?
« on: 30/10/2008 09:05:27 »
SolomziG asked the Naked Scientists:

Hi Chris
 
Will it be a viable solution to have nuclear powered aircrafts, that can fly for years without having to re-fuel? The use of this technology will significantly reduce the costs of air travel and improve aviation industry
The same technology is in full swing on warships, like the aircraft carriers and submarines.
 
Thanks

Solomzi
Republic of South Africa


What do you think?


 

lyner

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Are nuclear-powered planes feasible?
« Reply #1 on: 30/10/2008 13:35:22 »
For a high power output, your nuclear source would produce a lot of nasty radiation. The lead shielding to protect the passengers would be too heavy to carry. It's much less of a problem for ships.
 

Offline LeeE

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Are nuclear-powered planes feasible?
« Reply #2 on: 30/10/2008 14:35:39 »
The U.S.A.F. looked into the idea of nuclear powered bombers and got as far as flying a working reactor to assess the effects of radioactivity on the airframe, equipment and systems but abandoned the project before any flying propulsion tests were done.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/B-36#Experiments

Two schemes were considered; Open-Cycle and Closed-Cycle.  In both schemes I believe that the engines were to be podded i.e. hung off the wings in nacelles, like most modern airliners.  Also in both schemes, the propulsion was to come from heating air flowing through the engines, which would also provide the cooling needed.  In the Open-Cycle scheme the reactor elements were to be exposed directly to the airflow whereas, iirc, a heat exchanger was used in the Closed-Cycle scheme, although it may have just relied upon shielding.  The Open-Cycle engine was, naturally, much lighter than the Closed-Cycle engine and I believe that the plan was to use fissionable material that had a short half-life to reduce the problem of radioactive contamination of the air.

I believe that a couple of Closed-Cycle engines were actually made and tested but they were never flown.

In addition to the obvious problem of aircraft crashes, there were also issues with radioactive degradation of associated components such as rubber tubing, insulation and hydraulic and lubrication fluids.  There was also the problem that airflow would need to be maintained through the engines while they were sitting on the ground, either parked up or being maintained.
 

Offline Pumblechook

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Are nuclear-powered planes feasible?
« Reply #3 on: 30/10/2008 16:17:20 »
Makes even less sense than an electric plane (although these do exist I think in very limited form) which would have to carry heavy batteries.   
 

Offline LeeE

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Are nuclear-powered planes feasible?
« Reply #4 on: 31/10/2008 00:09:29 »
Battery technology is coming on in leaps and bounds, albeit slow-motion ones.
 

The Naked Scientists Forum

Are nuclear-powered planes feasible?
« Reply #4 on: 31/10/2008 00:09:29 »

 

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