Forget Laser Ignition, We Want Laser-Powered Nuclear Cars!

Cadillac World Thorium Fuel Concept

The concept of laser-powered ignition has piqued my interest over the last couple of years, and it sounds like the technology is getting close to making it into production.

But I might already be bored with that.

A new technology has captured my imagination: laser-powered nuclear cars. Internal combustion? Gas/electric hybrid? Ha! Child’s play. The real automotive engine of the future just might be nuclear-powered.

Scientists at research firm Laser Power Systems are working on a new turbine electric generator system powered by a thorium-based laser. Thorium, if you’re not familiar, is a mildly radioactive metal element.

The principle is simple. The thorium would face the business end of a laser beam to generate heat, which would then produce steam. That steam would then power a generator to produce electricity. Since thorium is only “mildly radioactive,” unlike, say, uranium, it takes only a thin sheet of aluminum to protect occupants from the radiation. And because the metal can’t be weaponized, scientists think it could be the perfect answer to the world’s clean energy problem.

Best of all, just eight grams of thorium could power a vehicle for an eternity. Or around 300,000 miles of driving, whichever comes first. No recharging, no re-fueling, no emissions. Ever.

I was sold on the idea, but then read this buzzkill of a comment on the article from a guy named Paul Rako:

Lasers do not give off energy, they are not Zero-Point modules from Stargate Atlantis. You have to pump a laser with more energy than you get from it. Next, the energy figures for thorium are most likely based on the energy contained in the strong-force bonds of the nucleus. Unless this hoaxer is proposing to have a nuclear reactor in the car, clearly impractical, all he can get out of radioactive isotopes of thorium is a bit of gentle heat as it decays.

I happened to skid through high school chemistry and physics classes by getting cozy with a smart girlfriend, so I’m not sure what the actual plausibility of a nuclear-powered car might be. Nor am I familiar with the concept of “strong force bonds of the nucleus.” But the idea of a car using this technology sure makes sense, and if there is any possibility of a safe fuel that can remove our dependence on oil, I think it should be given a fair chance.

Would you drive a nuclear-powered car if one were available?

-tgriffith

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2 Comments

  1. So an extremely high-powered laser heating radioactive Thorium creating steam to drive a generator to drive electric motors? I’m betting it would be cheaper to generate that steam by burning money instead of Thorium.
    This kind of project is typical of how companies like GM p i s s away their money on completly irrelevent and stupid research.

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