Are Nuclear Powered Space Heaters a Good Idea?

nuclear power, ford nucleonBy Mark Kneubuhl

From a practical standpoint, probably not. Although possible to build a rather bulky version with today’s technology, a prototype would cost millions, with the first off-the-line models costing tens of thousands. The plug-in garden variety space heaters are a winter staple at any Walmart and cost only 10s of dollars, depending on the output.

But the idea is not so far fetched. In the 1950s the entire developed world was “nuclear crazy,” buzzing with talk of theoretical applications from televisions to trains.

In 1958, the Ford motor company developed a scale model concept car called the Ford Nucleon as a design on how a nuclear-powered car might look. The vehicle was to be powered by a small nuclear reactor in the rear of the vehicle, based on the assumption that increasing technology would someday overcome size constraints. .

Unfortunately for Ford and other nuclear enthusiasts, shielding requirements and other technologies needed to produce a Trashcan-size reactor proved more difficult than anticipated. At the same time the honeymoon between the general public and atomic energy was getting morning breath with more attention paid to the problem of nuclear waste and nightmares of radioactive pile-ups occurring at an intersection near YOU.

Ford finally scraped the program but the Nucleon remains an icon of America’s nuclear heyday.

But smaller versions of the massive traditional reactors, like those at Three Mile Island and Fukushima, have been designed, built and employed successfully since the USS Nautilus, the world’s first operational nuclear-poweredsubmarine, launched in 1954. The idea for the same, but even smaller nuclear technology for locomotives get periodic review and is well within our technological reach.

Early last year, the Russian news organization InterFax, reported that Russian Railways (RZhD) and the Russian Federal Atomic Energy Agency (Rosatom) intended to create a nuclear-powered train. That project is still on the drawing board.

Today there is a resurrected interest in small modular nuclear reactors, or SMNs. However, this renewed interest is highly and understandably polarized, in view of the recent Fukushima incident and the general -but schizophrenic, scientific consensus that nuclear power can be safe and America’s Nuclear Regulatory Agency needs a total overhaul.

So, with all the bad press and few real-life accidents along the way, why does the topic of nuclear energy continue to hang in the air like a bad smell?

The answer to that question is simple: One gram of Uranium has the power equivalent of approximately 3 tons of coal..

So, although one may never find a nuclear powered space heater, with an efficiency ratio of 1:2,724,000 over coal, nuclear power for a variety of applications, from automobiles to intergalactic space vehicles, will continue to be discussed into the future.

-There is a mock-up of the Nucleon at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan


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Posted by at July 15, 2012
Filed in category: Culture, Environment, Society, and tagged with: ,

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