I have heard of the Chrysler TV-8 design, an amphibious armored vehicle powered by an onboard nuclear reactor...basically a nuclear-powered tank. The TV-8 never made it off the drawing board; the Corporation axed the project in 1956.

Surely there must be other ideas for nuclear-powered land vehicles out there. How about a nuclear-powered tree-clearing vehicle? If applied tactically, this could clear paths through forested terrain and increase mobility options for armored units.

What else could I do with nuclear-powered armored vehicle tech?

  • $\begingroup$ Note that any vehicle would need to be really, really large or miniaturised nuclear powerplants. Otherwise you'll have a really, really difficult time shielding the users. Could you further focus the scope? Because you might be able to do practically anything if you havevthe immense power of the atom powering your vehicle. The energy output is so large it's hard to grasp. $\endgroup$
    – Trioxidane
    Sep 2, 2020 at 17:27
  • $\begingroup$ Something like Jungle Cutter from Indiana Jones 4? $\endgroup$
    – Alexander
    Sep 2, 2020 at 17:49
  • $\begingroup$ If you used a naval reactor, which use highly enriched fuel, you can actually get a lot of power into a small space. NASA's Kilopower project was able to miniaturize it all the way down to 1-10kW (1-13 horsepower). I would also look at cases where the fuel density starts to be more important: Russia uses nuclear icebreakers, and many countries use nuclear subs to reduce the fueling requirements. $\endgroup$
    – IronEagle
    Sep 2, 2020 at 17:49
  • $\begingroup$ The legions of Terminators are not going to take up oil drilling and ancillary industries (machining, mining, accounting, refining, truck-driving) to keep themselves powered. Without endless free nuclear power, how can they kill all humans? (We're just going to handwave away all the needs of the nuclear fuel cycle). $\endgroup$
    – user535733
    Sep 2, 2020 at 20:20
  • $\begingroup$ I read a book once where giant robotic stealth spider vehicles loaded with huge nuclear weapons wandered a post-apocalyptic landscape waiting for the signal to detonate their Strangelovesque doomsday bombs. The idea was that they couldn't be found or stopped and had no fixed address. Don't know how repair was managed, as walkers are very mechanically fragile. $\endgroup$
    – DWKraus
    Sep 2, 2020 at 21:25

5 Answers 5


If you are asking specifically for military vehicles, it won't really ever be practical. There are very good reasons it was scrapped at the drawing board.

If you are willing to consider more infrastructure/industrial related applications, I could see the benefit of something like the https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bagger_288 utilizing a nuclear power plant to mine surface coal deposits.


Back in the 1950s, there was a project for a nuclear powered strategic bomber aircraft -- designed to stay aloft for months at a time, even to the point of allowing crew changes and reprovisioning in flight.

If you can make a nuclear reactor fly (and it was done, once, with a submarine reactor aboard a B-36), you can surely make it into a crawler tractor -- and a big enough crawler tractor can carry almost anything on almost any terrain.

As suggested in another answer, strip mining or dredging shovels, tunnel boring machines, large scale forest clearing equipment (clear for an eight-lane divided highway at a couple miles an hour, instead of a couple miles a month?) -- any task that can become more efficient by scaling up, but is limited by the practical size of diesel power, is a potential task for a compact submarine type nuclear reactor.

The big limitation on these, out of the water, is getting rid of waste heat; whatever they are, they'll need huge radiators or a lot of water for evaporative cooling.


I reckon this could get some use in logistics, and maybe army engineers:

  • Powering a large truck or train. A supply line which doesn't need to move petrol to fuel the next / return leg is much more efficient, and is much more resilient.
  • Army engineers will often be tasked with earth moving - an these beasts use a tonne of fuel: enter image description here

Also you could drive it into a town you don't like and blow it up - instant dirty bomb.


The Ford Motor Company explored the idea of a nuclear powered car, although it is not nuclear powered using a conventional reactor.

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Ford Seattle-ite XXI

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Another view

Here’s the 1961 Seattlite XXI concept car from Ford. This used a small RTG with 106.5 grams of Polonium 210 to boil water creating a 20 horsepower thermal source. High pressure steam was stored in tanks. This drove a 1/4 horsepower turbine that operated continuously that kept the batteries charged and control system in tact. The car was continuously lit heated and air conditioned with the heat from the system.

The high pressure SCUBA style tanks operates the car for hours at up to 1000 horsepower. On long distance runs ‘gas’ stations equipped with a nuclear reactor type boiler could recharge the tanks for another few hours operation. Matching the performance of legacy autos on long trips while exceeding performance as daily driver. On shorter distance runs, the tanks would automatically recharge using the onboard nuclear thermal source when the vehicle was parked.


This particular show car was actually more versatile, the front section (with the 4 wheels) was modular and detachable, and other modules using conventional engines, fuel cells or other forms of propulsion were supposed to be offered as well, depending on the customer's wants and needs. An atomic power module would likely allow you to drive across America and back without stopping for fuel at any point, a giant highway cruiser moving at highway speed the entire time....

However, the preliminary engineering studies were about as far as things got, issues like cost and safety likely killed the idea before any sort of practical hardware was ever built.


Some submarines use nuclear power so that they don't have to surface and recharge their batteries (or surface to take on fuel for their air-independent propulsion). Some aircraft carriers use nuclear power so they don't have to meet replenishment ships even more often than they do.

For a ground vehicle, the first issue is not an issue. So it would have to be the second -- long, unrefueled range.

  • Cross some desolate, gas-station-less wilderness.
  • Travel fast enough that bringing up supply dumps is impractical. That tends to kill the forest-clearance machine, because that one will be relatively slow.
  • Operate in terrain where relatively large vehicles are not at a disadvantage. Plains, not forests or hills.

So think of nuclear variants of the Vityaz or the Snow Cruiser, or something like it for desert use.


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