Energy

US DoD greenlights mobile nuclear microreactor pilot in Idaho

US DoD greenlights mobile nucl...
The US Department of Defense is funding the development of prototype nuclear microreactors
The US Department of Defense is funding the development of prototype nuclear microreactors
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The US Department of Defense is funding the development of prototype nuclear microreactors
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The US Department of Defense is funding the development of prototype nuclear microreactors

The US Department of Defense has announced that its Strategic Capabilities Office will go ahead with its plan to build and demonstrate a small nuclear reactor capable of being moved, and delivering between 1-5 megawatts of power for a minimum of three years.

This "Project Pele" microreactor, to be assembled and initially operated at the Idaho National Laboratory, will be the first American-built "Generation IV" nuclear reactor to generate electricity.

There are multiple goals here: the US military uses a prodigious amount of energy wherever it goes, so mobile reactors like this will certainly have strategic value in the field. But energy security is also a fundamental national security issue, and the DoD has a number of programs designed to accelerate commercial technology developments that it deems important for the future of the country.

Advanced nuclear certainly appears to fit the bill. “Advanced nuclear power has the potential to be a strategic game-changer for the United States, both for the DoD and for the commercial sector," said Project Pele program manager Dr. Jeff Waksman, in a press release. "For it to be adopted, it must first be successfully demonstrated under real world operating conditions.”

As for whose design will be built, that decision has not yet been made. Out of three applicants chosen in 2020 to go into a two-year design phase, the project team has determined that two have put forward a design they're confident will meet the requirements: BWXT Advanced Technologies in Virginia and X-Energy in Maryland.

Both these companies are developing high-temperature, gas-cooled microreactors using high-assay, low enriched uranium TRISO particle fuel, which is significantly more robust, temperature-resistant and generally roadworthy than conventional nuclear fuel rods. Both are designed to be easily moved by road, rail or aircraft. The winning company will be announced later this spring (Northern Hemisphere).

Source: US Department of Defense

12 comments
12 comments
windykites
It always seems to me to be a waste of effort when several companies compete on a design. What happens to the losers? Nuclear subs have used 'portable' designs for decades.
Dan Lewis
So where's the Thorium? Isn't that supposed to be the stuff to use?
Are the corporations being further heartlessly dangerous?
Hurrumph!

I agree with windykites on the matter as well.
We should be helping ourselves, not setting up 'winner takes all' goals.
niio
@Windykites
If you don't have competition, the losers wind up designing your reactor.
vince
What's to keep terrorists from stealing a mobile reactor that can be moved by plane and then ramming it into the ground at 600 mph and creating a dirty bomb that could kill tens of thousands anywhere in the US or even overseas?
Eddy
Seems to be so much heat wasted by cooling, how about a bank of new generation thermocouples.
aksdad
vince, a "dirty" bomb is no more lethal than a conventional bomb. It's the blast wave that kills. The radioactive material isn't enough to do much more than maybe make a few people sick if they ingest a large amount of concentrated radioactive material which is extremely unlikely since the explosion disperses it over a large area. The "dirty bomb" is essentially a myth and no nation seriously considers it a viable weapon.
ljaques
Bravo to the new trials of mini and micro nuke plants.
Everyone wants thorium but =nobody= has perfected a power plant using thorium yet.
I, too, wish that companies would team up on a design, with everyone winning.
ljaques
@vince, anyone could steal a spent fuel rod and turn it into a bomb NOW, at nearly any nuclear power plant.
bwana4swahili
It is about time someone undertook the development and installation of SNR's! They have the potential of totally changing the energy supply/demand dynamics in the world.
Lamar Havard
I'm with Dan & 1jaques...Thorium is the way to go for safety. But, 1jaques, reactor-grade uranium is enriched so that it's about 2-6% U-235. Research reactors can go up to 20% enrichment. Weapons-grade uranium is about 90% U-235 or higher. So, no bombs from fuel rods.
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