Feasibility of a Nuclear-Powered Locomotive

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The way I see it, railroads are an optimal means of transport for electrification by means of a fixed power line running over the track. In Europe, most trains run by the electricity from the national grid. Taking into account the challenges of radiation protection an the possible consequences of a collision/de-railing, it is not very easy to think how a portable nuclear power plant on a locomotive could be competitive with simply laying the power line over the track and building the power plant at a suitable location without having to consider the safety challenges caused by miniaturization and train crash loads.
 
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Several European nations have a lot of electrified trackage: railways through europe — network maps and interoperabilty -- they even have electric-locomotive freight service.

http://www.parovoz.com/maps/supermap/index-e.html [Broken] -- also heavily electrified

North America, by comparison, is pathetic. The only electrified intercity lines are Boston-Washington and Philadelphia-Harrisburg. New York City, northern New Jersey, Philadelphia, and Chicago have some electric suburban lines, but apart from purely urban lines, that's about it.
 
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I suspect this idea comes from a few sources - first much of the US track is not electrified. Since electricity and long distances is not a good mix, and much of the US power generation is from coal, the US uses diesel-electric locomotives. They put out about 4 MW each since rail travel is quite efficient with energy, its an OK system. In Europe, the fuel is more expensive and the distances are shorter, so electric trains and tracks make far more sense. I'm not saying its not illogical to do in the US, but other factors need to be considered.

But - what if the locomotive could be replaced with another power source? 4 MW (about the power of a locomotive) seems like something that would work well for the nuclear range. In the case of thorium, it would only require a few grams or so per trip. There are plenty of reasons why it might be suitable, but I thought it was an interesting thought experiment, which I suspect is how this thread began.
 
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From: http://www.alternatewars.com/BBOW/Nuclear/US_Army_Reactors.htm
Mobile Low Power Plant 1 (ML-1)

Reactor Type: Gas Cooled
Cooling Type: Nitrogen to Air
Designer: Aerojet General Corporation
Power Output (Thermal): 3.4 megawatts
Power Output (Electrical): 330 kilowatts at 4,160/2,400 volts; 3 phase, 60 Hz.
Plant Volume: 2,978 ft3
Plant Weight: 38.5 tons
Number of Packages: 3
Plant Cost: $5.5 million (FY63)
Erection Time: 12 Hours
Criticality: 30 March 1961
Shutdown: 1965

Notes: To test a reactor package that was transportable by semitrailers, railroad flatcars, and barges.
330 kilowatts is just 442 HP, so this is a not terribly powerful, but then again, at less than 40 tons, an engine could have two, easily.
 
Interesting, and a LFTR should be lighter more powerful and more efficient.

I went to the link provided and noticed the units seem to go to a fairly high heat output, but don't scale electrically. Just so you know, a modern diesel locomotive is about 3MW (4000hp+):
wiki/List_of_GE_locomotives#Evolution_Series_.28introduced_2005.29 (fill in the link yourself or search locomotive on Wikipedia)

I'm still curious what the feasibility would be based on Gen IV nuclear tech. Thanks for sharing that info though - quite interesting.
 

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