In the 1950′s, America — and the rest of the world, to a lesser extent — was positively agog over the potential represented by the nuclear era. This new, compact, clean energy source was surely destined to be the saviour of mankind’s energy needs. Research was proceeding on with this technology at an astonishing rate, and the development of new nuclear reactors was resulting in the technology shrinking almost as fast as they could build the plants.
Those who looked ahead to the future, then, could clearly envision a time when the technology would shrink to the point where it was a personal use item. Surely, at some point, there would be a compact nuclear reactor in every home, and another miniature reactor powering your car! This is exactly the future Ford foresaw when it designed the Ford Nucleon concept car above; one of the potential powerplants for this outrageous design was a “compact nuclear reactor”.
Of course, it wasn’t long after this that a number of developments began to happen. Nuclear physicists realized that the current nuclear technology couldn’t reliably be scaled down that dramatically, and concerns began to be raised about what might happen in the event of an uncontrolled runaway reaction. If you don’t do the oil changes on your internal-combustion engine, that’s one thing. If your car’s nuclear reactor goes critical, that’s quite another matter altogether.
Then, of course, on April 26, 1986, a certain incident changed the world’s opinion of nuclear power forever, an opinion solidified in the last year in the wake of the Japanese tsunami. Nuclear-powered cars ceased to be a consideration.
But what if Chernobyl, Three-Mile Island and Fukushima had never happened? Do you think, knowing the potential risks, but having never seen it in action, that you would ever have been willing to place a compact nuclear reactor in your home? Or your car? What would the world look like if we had never seen an actual nuclear incident?
And when will we actually be able to get our hands on a Mr. Fusion?