• 69
We'll be honest. The future hasn't quite turned out like we expected. While Saturday-morning cartoons promised us a world in which our fantasy-powered flying bubble cars would conveniently origami themselves into easily-transportable briefcases, reality has been a bit slower to abandon the traditional internal-combustion model. But that may eventually change. Scientists at research-and-development firm Laser Power Systems are working on a new turbine electric generator system powered by a thorium-based laser. If, like us, you spent the majority of chemistry class studiously analyzing the insides of your eyelids, you may not recall that thorium is a mildly radioactive metal with an atomic weight of 90.

That's right, kids. We're talking about a nuclear-powered car. Please insert maniacal laugh track.

The principle is fairly simple. The thorium would be lased to generate heat, which would then produce steam in a closed-loop system. That steam would then power a generator to produce electricity. Since it only takes a thin sheet of aluminum foil to shield the world from the weak thorium radiation and the element can't be weaponized, it's thought to be perfect for mobile power generation.

Scientists say that just eight grams of thorium could be enough to power a vehicle for somewhere around 300,000 miles of driving. If this all sounds a little far-fetched, it may pay to remember that thorium is already on automakers' radar. Cadillac introduced the thorium-powered World Thorium Fuel Concept at the 2009 Chicago Auto Show.


I'm reporting this comment as:

Reported comments and users are reviewed by Autoblog staff 24 hours a day, seven days a week to determine whether they violate Community Guideline. Accounts are penalized for Community Guidelines violations and serious or repeated violations can lead to account termination.


    • 1 Second Ago
  • 69 Comments
      EZEE
      • 3 Years Ago
      Nuclear reactors in cars? And over at autoblog green, a head just exploded....
      drewpy
      • 3 Years Ago
      didn't we already determine that this stuff is "barely" radioactive? the whole thin sheet of aluminum to protect? what, you guys think there'll be a mushroom cloud if the thing gets rear-ended?
        mmapying
        • 3 Years Ago
        @drewpy
        there will be a mushroom cloud of steam
        QAZZY
        • 3 Years Ago
        @drewpy
        Thorium is difficult to weaponize, and 8 grams (or .008 grams for 300 miles) won't be enough to harm anything.
      • 3 Years Ago
      [blocked]
        soundbargaming
        • 3 Years Ago
        The propulsion will still be a powerful electric motor, it will just be a different power source. Instead of huge batteries, nuclear power. I say bring it on. F the gas companies.
        Mare
        • 3 Years Ago
        They will ensure the "nuclear car" will stay a concept.
      jbm0866
      • 3 Years Ago
      "mildly radioactive" still means that there is a small amount of radiation...but not small enough for the most rabid eco-nazi's to not try and block development.
        Chris Timberlake
        • 3 Years Ago
        @jbm0866
        I don't see why the Eco-Nazis block radiation period. More people have died from coal plants and the radiation from coal plants than have died in all the radiation leaks in our history.
          Tom
          • 3 Years Ago
          @Chris Timberlake
          It's a failure of logic that stems from a fanatical belief in their imagined truth. There are many, many people in the world on whom facts have absolutely no effect.
      Ace Convoy
      • 3 Years Ago
      Fallout 3 anybody
      PeterScott
      • 3 Years Ago
      Zach, You are repeating a scam posted weeks back that is looping round blog circle BS cycle. The CEO of LPS, was previously CEO of miracle medical scam company, planning to cure all disease. He just scams investors and pockets cash. Please do a little investigation before posting someones money making scam as a story here.
      phunkyphoxx
      • 3 Years Ago
      Does picture no 6 really say wtf? dead on.
      Chris
      • 3 Years Ago
      This article is silly. Using something mildly radioactive doesnt make something "Nuclear". And most of the commenters have no idea what they are talking about. Its not making a nuclear reactor, its using a laser to create steam to drive a turbine. No fusion reactors are involved. They could have left off the whole thorium part for clarity. Obviously neither the article writer nor the commentariat have any clue what the article is actually about.
      cpmanx
      • 3 Years Ago
      This smells like BS, with a side order of BS, and some BS sauce on top. Almost every word in this story (and the source story) is nonsense. Thorium does not even have an atomic mass of 90--it has an atomic *number* of 90. Its atomic mass is 232 or so, depending on the isotope. May seem like a quibble, but anyone who's taken AP high school physics would not make that mistake. Lasers emit light, by definition. The "l" in laser stands for light. A radioactive source that generates heat is not a laser, it is a nuclear-thermal system. A conventional nuclear reactor is one such system. As Urgelt points out, any radioactive power source that operates near people will require shielding. No sign of it here. Laser Power Systems, the "inventor," explains that the heat of the thorium (through some mumbo jumbo) would boil water and drive a turbine. So now you have not only shielding but an entire onboard powerplant. Now you might recall why those nuclear-powered concept cars from the 1950s never amounted to anything. As for the idea that the thorium could be used as a laser rather than as a radioactive power source--uh uh. First of all, thorium is not a good lasing material. But that's irrelevant, because a laser is not a power source. Let me repeat: A LASER IS NOT A POWER SOURCE. A laser is a very effective way of creating a coherent beam of light, but a laser must be pumped (ie, receive an energy input) before it lases (ie, produces an energy output). Saying that the car is powered by a laser make no more sense than saying it is powered by a light bulb, or by a toaster. Unless the laser is plugged into an electric outlet, it's not going to power your car. Anyone who still wants to believe: Follow the trail back to the Laser Power Systems web site and behold a big mountain of steaming BS, topped with a rich layer of crazy.
        r_r
        • 3 Years Ago
        @cpmanx
        Article says, "The thorium would be lased to generate heat." But original article also says, "thorium-based laser" So, it's confusing...
        MAndrewSprong
        • 3 Years Ago
        @cpmanx
        You are right about the atomic weight versus atomic number mistake. However a laser can operate in the infrared part of the spectrum. CO2 lasers do this quite well. I imagine the thorium is used as a flash source much like a Zenon flash tube is use to stimulate a ruby laser. The optical media used could be CO2 in fact, since it lases quite well under infrared stimulation. The major issue I see is the same one which plagues all infrared laser systems of sufficient power to perform work - cooling. Most use helium or some other cryogenic gas. It is a bit disingenuous for the author to claim the radiation can be stopped by aluminium foil since while alpha particles may be the primary decay state, gamma rays and the occasional neutron are emitted as well. The gamma radiation alone would require sufficient shielding to preclude use in a personal automobile. In addition, Thorium can be weaponized. To reiterate, I believe the Thorium is the source of infrared photons which stimulate the CO2 or Fluorine lasing tubes which in turn heat the working fluid (water) to power pistons or a turbine which in turn directly or indirectly operate the vehicle.
          Dennis Jackson
          • 3 Years Ago
          @MAndrewSprong
          "thorium can be weaponized." Broh, oatmeal can be "weaponized," if you boil it and throw it on someone. The dander from a cat can be "weaponized," if you rub a cat in someone's face that has the allergy. But, are any of these realities practical? You make it sound like someone can weaponize the WTF vehicle and take out a city or some sensational fantasy. I guess you could forge a hammer out of thorium metal or manufacture thorium tipped bullets and fire them at someone... That would be more practical than converting 8 grams of thorium into some weapons grade fissile gadget.
          Logical15
          • 2 Years Ago
          @MAndrewSprong
          Seems anyone will believe anything and just string together more bs and misunderstanding. I work with lasers and I can tell you, there is no such thing as a thorium based laser. It is not a lasing material. As for CO2 lasers, these generate light in the deep infrared part of the spectrum. CO2 gas is the lasing medium and it is excited (that's how a laser works) electrically via RF, not via infrared radiation. Other gas lasers such as HeNe, Argon, Krypton etc are directly excited much like neon lighting via a direct discharge through the gas with an HV power source which causes the gas to ionize and conduct, same way the flash in your camera works but the discharge is continuous. CO2 and other gas lasers are not excited with another light source. Only Dye or crystal (Ruby, NDYAG etc) are excited with another light source and it is not about infrared, the 'pump' light source varies in wavelength depending on the lasing medium. For example, green DPSS (Diode Pumped Solidstate) uses an IR diode laser to pump crystals into lasing and at the same time, doubling the wavelength to make that invisible infrared become visible green, coherent light. This is what a laser is ultimately for. It is a means to produce coherent light where everything is in step. This is what makes lasers so unique. It's not about producing lots of heat. With a laser (depending on the power) heat is generated in a very localised spot, of just mm's and only then, if the laser is very powerful. Localised heating is not much use for generating steam. Not what lasers are for. As for the thorium Cadillac? It was just a picture that was made by a graphics designer and nothing to do with Cadillac. Not sure where the author got his info, guess he googles everything he finds with checking the facts first. See http://www.chrisnull.com/2011/10/20/fact-checking-the-cadillac-world-thorium-fuel/ As for my qualifications? Well, while I know how most lasers work, my field is Laser for Entertainment and nowadays, I mainly use DPSS lasers, similar to what you get in those cheap
      ♬ I came to win ♬
      • 3 Years Ago
      ... nuclear... car ... freeway speeds... idiot drivers... hmmm... I think i'll pass
      NissanGTR
      • 3 Years Ago
      I think we should start with homes first. You know an object that doesn't move.
        QAZZY
        • 3 Years Ago
        @NissanGTR
        But smaller powerplants won't be as efficient as larger ones, but the individual house idea will be great for those who are relatively isolated from poewrplants. Let's start with something bigger than a house first.
          mmapying
          • 3 Years Ago
          @QAZZY
          it's called a nuclear power plant, homer works there
      Swordman
      • 3 Years Ago
      In a bid for ultimate automotive efficiency, one man built a car so advanced it would never need to be refueled. Then one day, he crashed. WITH HILARIOUS CONSEQUENCES!! Meet the Smiths. A family with superpowers who have no idea how to use those super powers! Sorry. Ignore me. I watch too many movies...
    • Load More Comments