Ford Nucleon - The Atomic Car
Date: Saturday, June 07 @ 01:09:42 MDT
During the 1950s, there was almost limitless enthusiasm for all things nuclear. There was no energy problem that the mighty atom could not tackle during that glorious and modern Atomic Age. |Read More|
It was during this honeymoon with nuclear energy that in 1957, the Ford Motor Company unveiled a nuclear-powered concept car. This automobile-of-the-future was called the Ford Nucleon. The design did not include an internal-combustion engine, but by a small nuclear reactor suspended between twin booms at the rear of the vehicle.
Ford's engineers imagined a world in which fuel stations dotted along the highway, would wash your windscrren and then swap out your depleted reactor. The car's reactor was essentially the same as a nuclear submarine's, but miniaturized for automobile use. It would use uranium fission to heat stored water into high-pressure steam which could then be used to drive turbines, which in turn would both propel the car and generate electricity. The steam would then be condensed back into water and sent back to the steam generator in a closed loop.
The designers anticipated that a typical Nucleon would travel about 8000 km per charge. Because the powerplant was an interchangeable component, owners would have the freedom to select a reactor configuration based on their personal needs.
The passenger compartment of the Nucleon featured a one-piece pillar-less windshield and compound rear window, topped by a cantilever roof. There were air intakes at the leading edge of the roof and at the base of its supports to be used as part of the reactor's cooling system. An extreme cab-forward style provided more protection to the driver and passengers from the reactor in the rear, and to provide maximum axle support to the heavy equipment and its attendant shielding. Some pictures show the car with tailfins sweeping up from the rear fenders.
Ford's nuclear automobile embodied the naive optimism of the era. People at that time were largely ignorant of radialogical dangers, and the Nucleon concept was received with great enthusiasm. It is even rumoured that the US government sponsored Ford's atomic car research program.
It seemed the Nucleon was poised to secure its place in the American lifestyle of the future, with the combustion engine becoming a quaint relic of a pre-atomic past. But the Nucleon's design hinged on the assumption that smaller reactors and lighter shielding materials would soon be developed. When those innovations failed to appear, the project was scrapped due to the inherent impracticality of the design.
Ford never produced a working prototype, but the Nucleon remains an icon of the Atomic Age of the 1950's. A mock-up of the car can still be viewed at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan.