Nuclear Powered Vehicles? Yes. As of 2011, there are a very few nuclear vehicles, and all of them are limited to military and spacecraft applications. Nuclear propulsion vehicles are now limited to rockets, spacecrafts, military aircrafts, and naval vehicles such as nuclear propulsion ships and submarines. Commercial nuclear vehicles are still in concept stage, and we have to wait for few more years to see nuclear cars and nuclear road vehicles. The main limitations of nuclear powered vehicles are their cost and safety from radioactivity.

The Ford Nucleon was a nuclear concept car developed by Ford Motor Company in 1958 as a design on how a nuclear-powered car might look. The design did not include an internal-combustion engine, rather, the vehicle was to be powered by a small nuclear reactor in the rear of the vehicle, based on the assumption that this would one day be possible based on shrinking sizes. Many military submarines, aircraft carriers and, owing to crude oil prices and emissions, a growing number of large civilian surface ships, especially icebreakers, use nuclear reactors as their power plants.

There are some great benefits to a nuclear-powered car (atomic car). It would rarely need to be refueled. Highly enriched uranium is so potent that just one pound can power a submarine or aircraft carrier. Even smaller amounts could conceivably power a car. Assuming the car is adequately shielded, the car would put out almost no emissions.

The power source is radioactive, so this vehicle would require lots of shielding. Without proper shielding, the radioactivity of the power source could kill people in and near the car, putting a damper on any commute. Nuclear power plants and nuclear-powered aircraft carriers and subs all employ heavy shielding. Nuclear power plants generally have three layers of shielding in addition to the containment structure, which is made of concrete several feet thick and houses the reactor. With all of this shielding needed to protect against radioactivity, expect your nuclear-powered car to be extremely heavy. Reproducing the shielding of a nuclear reactor on an appropriate scale may make the car practically immobile.

On the limitations side, energy companies, car manufacturers and the government would need to collaborate to establish the infrastructure and a standardized process to dispose of spent fuel, which would be highly radioactive for hundreds of years. Other problems associated with nuclear power include the startup costs and time for new plants. Then there is the fear of accidents and the need to safely dismantle old plants and dispose of spent fuel and waste.