[ExI] Nuclear-powered passenger aircraft 'to transport millions' says expert - EndOfGlobalWarming

hkhenson hkhenson at rogers.com
Wed Nov 5 20:46:09 UTC 2008

For anyone who thinks power sats and synthetic jet fuel are wild.  Keith
October 27, 2008

Nuclear-powered passenger aircraft 'to transport millions' says expert

Call for big research programme to help aviation industry convert 
from fossil fuels to nuclear energy

Convair NB36H

The United States experimented with a nuclear reactor aboard a B-36 jet bomber
Ben Webster, Transport Correspondent

Nuclear-powered aircraft may sound like a concept from Thunderbirds, 
but they will be transporting millions of passengers around the world 
later this century, the leader of a Government-funded project to 
reduce environmental damage from aviation believes.

The consolation of sitting a few yards from a nuclear reactor will be 
non-stop flights from London to Australia or New Zealand, because the 
aircraft will no longer need to land to refuel. The flights will also 
produce no carbon emissions and therefore make no contribution to 
global warming.

Ian Poll, Professor of Aerospace Engineering at Cranfield university, 
and head of technology for the Government-funded Omega project, is 
calling for a big research programme to help the aviation industry 
convert from fossil fuels to nuclear energy.

In a lecture at the Royal Aeronautical Society tonight, Professor 
Poll will say that experiments conducted during the Cold War have 
already demonstrated that there are no insurmountable obstacles to 
developing a nuclear-powered aircraft.

The United States and the Soviet Union both began developing 
nuclear-powered bombers in the 1950s. The idea was that these bombers 
would remain airborne, within striking distance of their targets, for 
very long periods.

The United States tested a nuclear-powered jet engine on the ground 
and also carried out flight tests with a nuclear reactor on board a 
B-36 jet with a lead-lined cockpit over West Texas and Southern New 
Mexico. The reactor "ran hot" during the flights but the engines were 
powered by kerosene. The purpose of the flights was to prove that the 
crew could be safely shielded from the reactor.

Each flight was accompanied by an aircraft packed with marines ready 
to respond to a crash by parachuting down and securing the area.

The test programmes were abandoned in the early 1960s when the 
superpowers decided that intercontinental ballistic missiles made 
nuclear-powered planes redundant.

In an interview with The Times, Professor Poll said: "We need to be 
looking for a solution to aviation emissions which will allow flying 
to continue in perpetuity with zero impact on the environment.

"We need a design which is not kerosene-powered, and I think 
nuclear-powered aeroplanes are the answer beyond 2050. The idea was 
proved 50 years ago, but I accept it would take about 30 years to 
persuade the public of the need to fly on them."

Professor Poll said the big challenge would be to demonstrate that 
passengers and crew could be safely shielded from the reactors.

"It's done on nuclear submarines and could be achieved on aircraft by 
locating the reactors with the engines out on the wings," he said.

"The risk of reactors cracking open in a crash could be reduced by 
jettisoning them before impact and bringing them down with parachutes."

He said that, in the worst-case scenario, if the armour plating 
around the reactor was pierced there would be a risk of radioactive 
contamination over a few square miles.

"If we want to continue to enjoy the benefits of air travel without 
hindrance from environmental concerns, we need to explore nuclear 
power. If aviation remains wedded to fossil fuels, it will run into 
serious trouble," he said.

"Unfortunately, nuclear power has been demonised but it has the 
potential to be very beneficial to mankind."

Professor Poll said an alternative to carrying nuclear reactors on 
aircraft would be to develop aircraft fuelled by hydrogen extracted 
from sea water by nuclear power stations.

However, he said that while hydrogen could be suitable for 
ground-based transport, its energy density was much lower than 
kerosene and it would be very difficult to design a long-range 
passenger aircraft capable of carrying enough of the fuel.

Rob Coppinger, technical editor of Flight International magazine, 
said it was more likely that nuclear reactors would be installed on 
unmanned air vehicles, used for reconnaissance or in combat, because 
there would be less need for heavy shielding than on a passenger plane.

Professor Poll will also present research tonight into measures to 
improve the efficiency over the next decade of short-haul aircraft 
such as the Boeing 737 and the Airbus A320. He will say that the 
replacements for these aircraft are likely to fly more slowly, adding 
about 10 minutes to a typical flight within Europe.

They are also likely to have open-rotor engines, which would use 20 
per cent less fuel but could be much noisier than existing jet engines

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