Nuclear trains

OVERKILL

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This thread is a tangent from a bit of a comedic remark I made in another thread talking about steam locomotives, but the reality is that this has been looked at by both the US and the Soviets (and more recently the Russians, via Rosatom, the company that produced the SMR barge that's powering a town in Siberia and runs the only nuclear powered freighter).

These are from an old Life magazine:
Screen Shot 2022-10-09 at 6.05.18 PM.png

Screen Shot 2022-10-09 at 6.05.43 PM.png

Screen Shot 2022-10-09 at 6.05.58 PM.png


The Rosatom design used a breeder:

The engine of the train will be a small fast breeder reactor, and in its initial stage, the train will be a scientific exhibition complex.

The design is made by Russia’s State Atomic Energy Corporation, Rosatom.

- I looked at the design of the train, I liked it and I support the idea originally presented by Rosatom since it is a innovative way of develop nuclear energy, Gapanivich told Interfax.

The estimated cost of construction is still unclear, and nothing is yet said about the safety of such train.

This is not the first time the idea of a nuclear powered train is presented. Back in 1956, the Ministry of Transport of the USSR first time announced nuclear propulsion as a possibility for locomotives that could operate autonomously, without electricity or large amount of fuel. The Ministry then said such locomotives could be used in the High North and remote areas of Siberia, according to a back-ground article posted on the magazine Popularnaja Mehanika.

Another feature with the proposed nuclear powered train is that it can easily be converted to a mobile nuclear power plant, supplying energy to remote areas and industrial sites.

Of course, I've heard nothing about this since, and this was 11 years ago, so the odds are that it wasn't as easy to bring into production as assumed (not surprising). Of course with the war in the Ukraine, Rosatom is now toxic and the export aspirations are either on the ropes with potential clients or soundly torpedoed. An unfortunate situation for an extremely innovative company.

Conceptually of course, the idea of a nuclear-powered locomotive is quite logical. Nuclear reactors are an evolutionary step for anything that has used steam or electricity. This is easy to follow with their use in submarines, aircraft carriers, ice breakers, freighters and of course power plants. Being on land and operating in civilian space with the high likelihood of collision, of course locomotive use would require robust containment and a design that could not melt down in the event of an accident. This isn't much of an issue for ocean-going vessels, since they are surrounded by the world's largest heat sink, but it would certain pose some technical challenges for something land based.
 
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I've posted before but about 10 miles from where I live P&WA had a facility to research nuclear powered aircraft


Somewhat of a thread hijack, but it is related interesting reading
 

OVERKILL

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I've posted before but about 10 miles from where I live P&WA had a facility to research nuclear powered aircraft


Somewhat of a thread hijack, but it is related interesting reading
Yes, that was another interesting, but also extremely scary, series of experiments. The one plane took off on traditional engines and then switched over to nuclear once at sufficient altitude, but the engines were straight through, dumping wild amounts of radioactive particulate which the designers thought was OK because it was being so broadly dispersed due to altitude. Horrifying.
 

OVERKILL

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Both are colossally stupid ideas IMO.
Do you have any engineering or design insight you'd like to share as to why you feel this is the case?

I will note that, as executed, the nuclear jet engine idea was horrifying, however, the idea of running a locomotive doesn't differ much from running a sub, of which there have been hundreds of examples.
 

wwillson

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I've posted before but about 10 miles from where I live P&WA had a facility to research nuclear powered aircraft


Somewhat of a thread hijack, but it is related interesting reading
James Mahaffey wrote about this in his book, "Atomic Adventures"

You should read about how much radioactive material got spewed all over the desert at the test range close to Mercury Nevada. They tested the nuclear rocket engine there. Both were complete failures and a huge waste of money.

Nuclear Rockets


Nuclear Airplanes


You can walk right up to two of the engines here:

 
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OVERKILL

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James Mahaffey wrote about this in his book, "Atomic Adventures"

You should read about how much radioactive material got spewed all over the desert at the test range close to Mercury Nevada. They tested the nuclear rocket engine there. Both were complete failures and a huge waste of money.
And, if we are being honest, absolutely horrifying pursuits. We know how to harness fission so that it doesn't throw radiation everywhere, thinking that it would be OK to let it take place wholly un-contained because it would "disperse in the air" is absolutely bonkers.
 

OVERKILL

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Cars and trucks don't even stop @ gated crossings with signal lights, for example.
Yup, there's no way the reactors could be water cooled, because everything would have to be inside containment and containment would have to be small enough to fit on a locomotive footprint.

However, the Russians have messed around with other types of cooling, including liquid metal:
Screen Shot 2022-10-09 at 8.24.05 PM.png


From here:

This brings with it its own suite of challenges though.

Ultimately, with a core this small, passive cooling should be possible if the unit is able to always fail into a shutdown state. Ensuing THAT would be the challenge, as it would absolutely be required giving the overland going nature of the units.
 
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Yup, there's no way the reactors could be water cooled, because everything would have to be inside containment and containment would have to be small enough to fit on a locomotive footprint.

However, the Russians have messed around with other types of cooling, including liquid metal:
View attachment 120429

From here:

This brings with it its own suite of challenges though.

Ultimately, with a core this small, passive cooling should be possible if the unit is able to always fail into a shutdown state. Ensuing THAT would be the challenge, as it would absolutely be required giving the overland going nature of the units.

I know I've mentioned this before how in my ideal world we'd have a plug-n-play power source for our homes rathe than having to rely on a utility.

Are there any technical challenges to using a self regulating nuke to power ones home? I'm thinking of something about the size of a large piece of luggage.
 

CleanSump

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There used to be electrified rails, lol
Solves one problem creates another way to fry folks on the track
There were many rail systems with overhead wires, too. It was probably more economical to use diesel-electric for long haul though. No poles and wires infrastucture, no worries about local/regional outages stopping trains in their tracks.
 

CleanSump

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People aren't goint to go for nuclear reactors running down the tracks. There is quite the fear of derailments of hazardous materials as it is.
 
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Grid-powered electric trains are a mature technology that has been used for many decades. Overhead wires are preferred for long distance electric rail lines since they can operate at a higher voltage than a third rail and achieve more efficiency. It's difficult to touch the live wires by accident. Third rail systems are used in urban areas since it is more compact and aesthetic.
 
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Besides the other obvious safety concerns with putting a nuclear reactor in a train, there is one overriding concern that can be described in two words... Terrorist Target (a VERY attractive terrorist target). Imagine what would happen if a truck packed with explosives was run into the side of one of these trains in downtown Chicago.
 
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