Nuclear-powered aircraft may sound like a concept from science fiction, but they will be transporting millions of passengers around the world later this century, the leader of a British government-funded project to reduce environmental damage from aviation believes.

The consolation of sitting a few yards from a nuclear reactor will be non-stop flights from London to Australia or New Zealand, because the aircraft will no longer need to land to refuel. The flights will also produce no carbon emissions and therefore make no contribution to global warming.

Ian Poll, professor of aerospace engineering at Cranfield University in southern England, and head of technology for the government-funded Omega project, is calling for a big research program to help the aviation industry convert from fossil fuels to nuclear energy.

In a lecture at the Royal Aeronautical Society Monday night, Professor Poll plans to say that experiments conducted during the Cold War have already demonstrated that there are no insurmountable obstacles to developing a nuclear-powered aircraft.

The United States and the Soviet Union both worked on developing nuclear-powered bombers in the 1950s.

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