Cold War Nightmare: America Could Have Had 'Nuclear' Tanks

Michael Peck

Key point: Nuclear-powered vehicles was a bad, impractical idea.

In the 1950s, America was enthralled by the atom. There were plans for atomic-powered cars, atomic-powered aircraft and atomic-powered spaceships.

So why not an atomic-powered tank?

Even by the standards of the 1950s, with its visions of Jetsons-style technology, the Chrysler TV-8 was strange. Almost monstrous, like some mutated mushroom creature out of a 1980s post-apocalyptic nuclear horror flick.

Chrysler's design was essentially a giant pod-shaped turret mounted on a lightweight tank chassis, like a big head stuck on top a small body. The crew, weapons and power plant would have been housed in the turret, according to tank historian R.P. Hunnicut's authoritative "A History of the Main American Battle Tank Vol. 2".

The four-man vehicle would have weighed 25 tons, with the turret weighing 15 tons and the turret only 10. It would have been armed with a 90-millimeter T208 smoothbore cannon and three machine guns, including a remote-controlled .50-caliber operated by the tank commander. "Closed circuit television was provided to protect the crew from the flash of nuclear weapons and to increase the field of vision," writes Hunnicut.

Various power plants were considered, including a Chrysler V-8 engine coupled to electric generators connected to the tracks, a gas-turbine electric drive,  a vapor-cycle power plant using fossil fuels, and finally a vapor-cycle power plant using nuclear fuel.

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