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Nuclear cars - a future that has not yet arrived

Nuclear cars - a future that has not yet arrived
The end of World War II marked humanity's entry into the nuclear age. Having twice witnessed the enormous destructive power of atomic weapons, having seen all the horrors of the bombing of Japanese cities - Hiroshima and Nagasaki, humanity vowed never to do this again. But, at the same time, countries still began to accumulate an arsenal that could easily destroy life on Earth.

Peaceful atom

But today we are not talking about this, but about the fact that people, with their characteristic enthusiasm, began to look for ways to use nuclear energy for various peaceful purposes. Fortunately, there is enough potential.

As you know, back in 1942, the world's first artificial nuclear reactor, called Chicago Pile-1, was launched in the United States. In the Soviet Union, the first F-1 reactor was built in Moscow in 1, and already in 1946, in the village of Obninskoye, Kaluga region, the world's first nuclear power plant was put into commercial operation.

The military, however, also did not stand aside, and they considered nuclear energy not only as a means of defense or attack, but also as a means of transportation. In 1954, the first nuclear submarine, USS Nautilus, was commissioned. Since then, many ships have followed her, from cruisers to aircraft carriers.

As a result, car manufacturers also considered the impressive prospects of the “peaceful atom”. Nuclear reactors seemed to be able to power almost anything. Moreover, despite the great long-term danger, nuclear energy is much cleaner and can potentially exist forever. So automakers have begun to study this technology seriously.

In the 50s and 60s, several automobile companies (some of which still exist successfully today) attempted to create early versions of nuclear-powered cars on one scale or another.

"Arbel Symmetric"

One such example was the Arbel Symetric. Specialists from the French company Compagnie Normande d'Etudes pour l'Application de Procedes Mecaniques worked on its development in the early 50s. The company specialized in creating vehicles that were mainly used as experimental platforms.

Among their developments was the Arbel, a hybrid gasoline-electric eight-seater car with a fiberglass body, equipped with a 45-horsepower four-cylinder gasoline engine from Simca (this French company will also present its “nuclear concept”, but a little later).

Атомные автомобили – будущее, которое не наступилоThe Arbel Symetric is the closest thing to a standard car. Photo: curbsideclassic.com

The manufacturer planned to launch serial production of his “masterpiece,” but, unfortunately, it did not arouse the expected interest, and as a result, its first generation of the model was released in a very limited edition in 1951.

Arbel was still able to attract attention, but much later. This happened already in 1958 at the Geneva Motor Show, when this car appeared in a slightly different form. This was a version called Symetric. It would be powered by a 40 kW nuclear thermal generator called a genestat. It was supposed to use nuclear waste as fuel. But, as expected, the French government did not approve of this initiative, and the project was canceled.

Arbel Symetric chassis with a mock-up of the Genestat nuclear generator. Photo: curbsideclassic.com

At this exhibition, Arbel Symetric was not the only contender for a breakthrough in the field of nuclear propulsion. He was joined by a very extravagant “American” - Studebaker Packard Astral. True, this was not his debut; he had already appeared at the South Bend Arts Center in 1957.

"Studebaker Packard Astral"

Of the bunch, the Studebaker Packard Astral was perhaps the craziest nuclear car concept. It was equipped with one single wheel, and the car had to balance itself using gyroscope technology. The most interesting thing is that the car could also easily hover over water.

This is what the Studebaker Packard Astral looks like from the rear. Photo: story-cars.com

The eminent creators of this miracle of technology, among other things, showed great concern for the potential passengers of the Packard, equipped with an ion nuclear power plant. To protect them from the radiation emitted by the engine, it was supposed to use a so-called energy curtain, which today we call a force field. It would also eliminate the risk of collision with other road users.

The Studebaker Packard Astral has a rather unusual steering system. Photo: story-cars.com

However, this time the company did not live to see the moment when it would be possible to implement such an interesting idea in full. Studebaker Corporation ceased to exist in 1957, and the bold concept found its home at the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles.


Ford did not stand aside in the pursuit of the “perpetual motion machine”. His Nucleon concept model became perhaps the most famous nuclear car in history. Although it never became a full-fledged prototype, but was presented only as a 3/8 scale model.

Ford planned to use this development primarily as a research tool. It was intended to demonstrate promise and evaluate the methods being used to reduce the size of nuclear reactors and make them safe for civilian use.

The plan was to equip the Ford Nucleon with a reactor, installing it in the rear of the car. The power plant was supposed to work on the same principle as the nuclear submarine USS Nautilus. That is, to produce torque from a steam engine powered by the fission of uranium.

This is how the Ford Nucleon looks unusual, with a strongly elongated tail. Photo: curbsideclassic.com

During the presentation of the concept, Ford said that the Nucleon will have a range of 5000 miles (8000 km), and even more. This would depend on the type of capsule charged with radioactive fuel. At the same time, the design of the “fuel tank” implied the ability to “refuel” along the way. True, not in the usual sense of the word, but simply to replace the used capsule with a new one.

As for the safety of passengers, Ford also thought about them. To protect against the effects of the reactor, the car's cabin was made of metal and glass in the form of a sealed capsule with side air intakes. A scale model of the Ford Nucleon is currently housed at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan.


Around the same time, another French company, Simca, was working on creating a car with nuclear engines. They first showed their development, called Fulgur, at the 1959 Geneva Motor Show. With their new product, the development team really wanted to show the world what cars would look like in 2000.

Simca Fulgur at a car exhibition in the 50s. last century. Photo: story-cars.com

We have received a minimum of technical characteristics about Simca Fulgur. It is known that it was supposed to be driven by a nuclear power unit. It was also reported that the car has a driver assistance system with voice control and autopilot. In addition, there was another original feature. At the moment when the car crossed the 150 km/h mark, it switched to driving on two wheels. There is no reliable information about the current location of the Simka prototype.

Simca Fulgur even appeared on the streets. Photo: story-cars.com

All of the above cars remained in history in a single copy, but the idea itself, it seems, was not completely abandoned. For example, in 2009, GM presented its new concept with a reactor, albeit with a thorium one - Cadillac World Thorium Fuel. It is intended to demonstrate the ability to operate without refueling or any maintenance for at least 100


Photos used: www.youtube.com, story-cars.com, curbsideclassic.com

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