Of nuclear-powered airplanes and the bullet train

By Jon Coupal | A long-forgotten aspect of the nuclear arms race was the costly undertaking by the United States to develop a nuclear-powered aircraft as a strategic bomber.

Even before Allied powers defeated Nazi Germany in 1945, both the United States and the Soviet Union were battling for post-war superiority. With the successful detonation of two atomic bombs — bringing the Pacific Theater hostilities to an abrupt halt — the U.S. had a brief period of nuclear superiority over the USSR.

That would not last long as the USSR quickly accelerated its nuclear program and the Cold War was on.

In May 1946, the United States Army Air Forces started the Nuclear Energy for the Propulsion of Aircraft (NEPA) project. The alluring idea was to build an aircraft that could, in theory, stay aloft indefinitely. In 1951, the NEPA project was succeeded by the Aircraft Nuclear Propulsion (ANP) program.

However, despite the efforts of America’s best nuclear and aviation scientists working with a virtually unlimited budget, the problems were insurmountable. The biggest hurdle was that nuclear reactors are very heavy. Sustaining one aloft with a fixed-wing aircraft turned out to be a challenge that could only be overcome by using a modified B-26 as a platform.

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