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Sci Tech    H3'ed 7/11/15

Boeing Patents Design for Nuclear-Powered Aircraft Engine

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Consider getting on to an airplane with nuclear-powered engines.

Consider the consequences if an atomic airplane crashes.

The Boeing Company last week received approval from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for an airplane engine that combines the use of lasers and nuclear power.

"Boeing's newly-patented engine provides thrust in a very different and rather novel manner," heralded Business Insider. http://www.businessinsider.com/boeing-just-patented-a-jet-engine-powered-by-lasers-and-nuclear-explosions-2015-7

It's a leap into mad science--and backwards to a 1950s notion of nuclear-powered aircraft.

The patent approval to America's biggest airplane manufacturer comes as solar power and green fuels are being shown to be feasible energy sources for flight--as they are for uses on earth.

Last week an airplane using only solar power, Solar Impulse 2, landed in Hawaii after flying across the Pacific. It's to go on flying around the world. Also last week, in an expansion of the use of biofuels for aviation, United Airlines announced the start of flights between Los Angeles and San Francisco of jets using fuel derived from farm waste. United further said it will invest $30 million in one of the major producers of jet bio-fuels, Fulcrum BioEnergy.

The Boeing scheme would have lasers in an airplane engine bombard deuterium or tritium causing a nuclear explosion with its force providing thrust.

Business Insider features a video on its website page with its article on the Boeing patent that features, Deepak Gupta, founder of PatentYogi, a YouTube channel. Gupta declares: "This is another cool invention from Boeing. Boeing has patented nuclear power aircrafts. The engines of these aircrafts include a unique propulsion system."

As Gupta explains the process: "A stream of pellets containing nuclear material such as deuterium or tritium is fed into a hot-spot within a thruster of the aircraft. Then multiple high powered laser beams are all focused onto the hot spot. The pellet is instantly vaporized and the high temperature causes a nuclear fusion reaction. In effect, it causes a tiny nuclear explosion that scatters atoms and high energy neutrons in all directions. This flow of material is concentrated to exit out of the thruster thus propelling the aircraft forward with great force."

"And this is where Boeing has done something extremely clever," Gupta continues. "The inner walls of the thruster are coated with"Uranium-238 that undergoes a nuclear fission reaction upon being struck by high energy neutrons. This releases enormous energy in the form of heat. A coolant is circulated along the inner walls to pick up this heat and power a turbine which in turn generates huge amounts of electric power. And guess what this electric power is used for? To power the same lasers that created the electric power."

"Soon," says Gupta, "tiny nuclear bombs exploding inside a plane may be business as usual." He adds: "I would love to use these non-polluting aircraft."

Is the Boeing scheme really the basis for mon-polluting aircraft?

No way, says Jim Riccio, nuclear analyst for Greenpeace. "Since the supposed 'Nuclear Renaissance' [the effort to build more nuclear power plants] is dead in the west, there are some who are stretching to find applications for nuclear power--and this is a very long stretch."

"Imagine getting into an airplane that has minor nuclear explosions for propulsion," said Riccio. And "what about the implications of such an aircraft going down? We just saw an F-16 come down over South Carolina, its jet engine landing in someone's backyard."

"Meanwhile, we have breakthroughs in solar energy--to the extent of that solar plane showing solar's potential," said Riccio. "Solar energy is being used to accomplish things that nuclear couldn't, as we watch solar costs plummet and nuclear go through the roof. The future is solar, not nuclear, despite Boeing's attempt."

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Karl Grossman is a professor of journalism at the State University of New York/College at Old Westbury and host of the nationally syndicated TV program Enviro Close-Up.
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