Non-grid uses for Nuclear Power

Nuclear power is something we are all familiar with, often because of much of the negative press that it receives when things go wrong. The Chernobyl and Fukushima disasters both cast a large shadow over the development of nuclear technology, which, in its heyday seemed to offer limitless potential.

In the 1950s and 60s futurists predicted that nuclear technology would be so prolific, mini reactors would be installed in every home to provide a cheap source of electricity. Of course, even then this was a bit far fetched, and the technology certainly has not developed in this direction; however, nuclear reactors do come in many different sizes and not all of them produce electricity for our grid.

Nuclear Vessels

Perhaps the best-known use of nuclear power other than providing electricity to our grid is that of nuclear ships. Nuclear submarines, aircraft carriers, and even nuclear icebreakers are among the list of ships that use nuclear technology for propulsion. Some through the electricity that can be generated with a steam turbine onboard the vessel like a mini version of a full-scale power plant; and others with the steam directly driving the propellers.

Research and Isotope production

The world of medicine would be a completely different place without nuclear technology. From x-rays to advanced cancer treatment, nuclear research has advanced the field of medicine tremendously. Isotopes for medicinal use are produced in only a handful of facilities around the world and any problems with the production can lead to significant shortages; whereas building additional facilities is costly and the economics don’t make it a sound investment. Thankfully, there are plans in place to ensure the stability of supply as aging reactors are decommissioned.


Pardon the pun, but this one hasn’t quite taken off. Nuclear reactors weigh a lot, and one thing you want to try to keep as low as possible on an aircraft is weight. Not only must the reactor itself be considered, but there’s significant weight that has to come from shielding the crew and cargo from radiation. Despite the challenges, the Americans and the Soviets both spent significant amounts of money researching and testing the prospect of nuclear-powered flight and aircraft did fly with nuclear reactors on board. No design was considered feasible or particularly safe in the event of an accident, and all attempts at nuclear flight were cancelled not long after they were started.