The 1950s, those wonderful 1950s. Shortly after physicists had managed to build the first nuclear fission reactor and echoes of World War II and the use of atomic bombs were still echoing. The future in energy technology seemed nuclear and at Ford they asked themselves, why not make an atomic car?
Atomic energy promised clean and safe energy by mid of the last century. And in a way it is, although it involves much greater risks that were not taken into account at the time. With this technology still “in its infancy”, industries were looking for ways to apply it for their own benefit. It is here that Ford unveiled probably one of its most ambitious projects in the company’s history, one that makes you laugh at the Ford Mustang Mach-E , the Ford Nucleon.
A nuclear reactor under the hood
Ford Nucleon was, luckily or unfortunately, just a concept. A vehicle that never came to reality beyond scale models. As its name suggests, it was designed to have a nuclear reactor inside . But of this car is not only interesting the crazy idea of placing a reactor under its hood, but also to see its design and ideas. Ford engineers and designers outlined futuristic ideas in the Ford Nucleon, ahead of their time in many ways.
The Ford Nucleon promised clean and safe power(!), in addition to reducing noise compared to a gasoline combustion engine. Speaking of gasoline, it was not going to be necessary and instead the uranium nucleus would have to be changed every so often. Every so often, because they estimated that the Ford Nucleon could would have a driving range of approximately 8,000 kilometers before needing a new core. Now, that it true range.
The configuration of the reactor inside the car was essentially similar to what has been implemented in nuclear submarines, but all smaller to fit the size of a car. The fission of uranium sought to heat a steam generator that powered a set of turbines under pressure. The turbines would later move the car and also generate electricity with an electric generator. Eventually the steam would cool and condense back into water to start the process over.
If we see the photographs of the car in its model version it is not wasted, it seems to be taken from some science fiction novel.
Four highlights of the car:
The front seats cabin
It is the first thing that stands out of the car, its specially advanced cabin even ahead of the front axle of the car. Reason? Several. On the one hand, it is necessary to make room for the huge nuclear reactor located at the rear, and in this way the weight of the reactor is partially compensated by placing the cabin further on. On the other hand, passengers should be kept as far away from the uranium nucleus as possible.
The huge windshield
Combined directly with the front windows of the car. What is not clear is where the doors are.
There are several in the front of the car and also on the sides. Apparently to better cool the steam?
The rear wings
Probably more for aesthetics than for aerodynamics, but that give a futuristic look to the car nobody denies it.
Optimism and naivety
Perhaps the best thing about the Ford Nucleon is that it allows us to see in perspective the optimism that we had as a society about nuclear energy seventy years ago. Optimism and naivete, because apparently the risk of having a nuclear reactor in the car capable of causing a radioactive disaster was something that was not given much attention.
Now, why didn’t the Ford Nucleon come true? Ford depended on progress in the development of small nuclear reactors (only today we are seeing them in a certain way), and that was something that they were not going to take care of. In addition, they also needed lighter and lower volume materials to shield the core, something that did not advance either. Placing a nuclear reactor in a car was practically impossible with existing technology. On the other hand, concerns began to emerge about nuclear power, its environmental impact, and the dangers of radioactivity.