Defense Department Sets Out to Build Miniature Nuclear Reactor, Again – Defense One

A 1 MW micronuclear reactor concept from Radiant Nuclear Radiant Nuclear

Patrick Tucker
Small, deployable nuclear reactors, an idea that the United States military has been experimenting with for decades, will receive new life under a program the Defense Department announced Thursday. 
And unlike previous efforts to deploy alternatives to diesel and other fossil-fuel generators, which were stalled by high costs and little political support, this new effort may succeed in helping the military, and eventually commercial energy providers, wean themselves off carbon-intensive power. As one expert explained, while the physics haven’t changed,  increasing concerns about the geopolitics of fossil fuels coupled with growing concerns about climate change have made the effort more critical. 
Under the new program, the Defense Department will build a 1-5 MegaWatts nuclear microreactor at Idaho National Laboratory for a three-year (minimum) test operational period. It will be “the first electricity-generating Generation IV nuclear reactor built in the United States,” the Defense Department said in a statement. “The first electricity-generating Generation IV nuclear reactor demonstrated in the world was the HTR-PM, a Chinese reactor, which first reached criticality in September 2021.”
The announcement makes clear that it’s not only competition with China that’s pushing a reconsideration, but also growing attention to the Defense Department’s massive carbon footprint. 
“The DOD uses approximately 30 terawatt-hours of electricity per year and more than 10 million gallons of fuel per day—levels that are only expected to increase due to anticipated electrification of the non-tactical vehicle fleet and maturation of future energy-intensive capabilities,” it reads. “A safe, small, transportable nuclear reactor would address this growing demand with a resilient, carbon-free energy source that would not add to the DOD’s fuel needs, while supporting mission-critical operations in remote and austere environments.”
Project Pele, as it’s called, won’t be the first microreactor the U.S. military has produced. In 1954, the joint chiefs of staff launched a program to look at military use of nuclear power. That effort produced three reactors: one that powered an air and missile defense radar station near Sundance, Wyoming, one for Greenland, and another that powered the McMurdo Station in Antarctica for a decade. 
In 1963, the effort produced a reactor that could fit on a large truck bed, the ML-1. But the costs were deemed too high at the time, compared to diesel generators, so the program died in 1977. 
A few decades later, in the early 2000s, the U.S. military looked at the concept again as a means to power remote bases in places like Afghanistan and Iraq, alarmed by the number of troops killed while trying to deliver and retrieve diesel fuel in those environments. DARPA launched a new program in 2011 to consider the costs and benefits of mobile nuclear reactors for remote forward operating bases. 
The idea, it turned out, didn’t work well for the types of bases the  United States inhabited in Afghanistan and Iraq. As University of Texas professor Alan J. Kuperman argued in an April 2021 paper, “Significant doubt remains about the need, advisability, and plausibility of this initiative. The original rationale—to reduce U.S. casualties from attacks on shipments of diesel fuel for electricity generation on foreign military bases—is a vestige because such casualties have dwindled virtually to zero.” 
There are safety concerns as well. Mobile nuclear reactors today shouldn’t be compared to Chernobyl or other big nuclear disasters from decades past. But, in a battlefield context, they could still be dangerous. As Kuperman argued, a missile targeting a mobile microreactor could result in radioactive material getting out. And the reactor can’t be buried, because it needs passive cooling in the event of a temperature buildup. 
But the idea has taken on new relevance and is finding renewed support, said Paul Roege, a retired Army colonel who managed a $150 million program for DARPA examining the concept.
There’s a new appreciation in the United States government that small nuclear reactors could help the United States maintain a long-term presence in the Asia- Pacific region, where the military must operate in much greater numbers to deter China from launching an invasion of Taiwan. 
“It’s quite public that the United States is building some radar systems in Palau. You would need to have some amount of energy, but you know, not tens of megawatts, maybe a few megawatts to one radar systems to run radios, to run the internet,” he said.
The United States is looking to establish a presence in the Asia-Pacific region, and plans to maintain that presence for much longer than the military was in Afghanistan or Iraq. And the longer a nuclear plant is expected to be in operation, the more economically attractive nuclear power becomes, he said.  Additionally, if the U.S. military could bring an energy surplus with them, that could help local governments insulate themselves economically from Chinese influence, he said. 
And, while nuclear power is not a good choice to power a tank, it could be used to run servers or other technology as the military moves toward information-heavy future operations, he said. 
But perhaps the biggest reason Roege believes the concept could have widespread appeal is the significant shift among governments in their willingness to consider new nuclear power, particularly as leaders see how . autocratic states like Russia can energy as a coercion tool. 
“Romania has quite a bit of nuclear power. The Czech Republic and a couple others have become quite interested over the last few years because, you know, they want an alternative [to Russian oil and gas],” he said. Those countries are concerned about climate change, “and they’re also not convinced that they want to be under the thumb of Russia as an energy source. Last year, a number of the EU countries’ leaders wrote to the leadership of the EU and said ‘We want nuclear to be considered one of the clean energy options.’” 
The politics around nuclear power have also changed in the United States and among U.S. leadership. He recalled opposition he encountered during the Obama Administration to the idea. Republican officials during the Trump Administration were more receptive. Among Biden Administration officials, he says that there’s even more interest as the administration looks at ambitious carbon reduction goals particularly for the United States military. 
NEXT STORY: Lockheed Martin Hopes the US Has Turned the Corner on Hypersonics
Do Not Sell My Personal Information
When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.
Manage Consent Preferences
Strictly Necessary Cookies – Always Active
We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.
Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies
Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link
If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.
Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.
Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.
If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings

Cookie List
A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:
Strictly Necessary Cookies
We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.
Functional Cookies
We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.
Performance Cookies
We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.
Sale of Personal Data
We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.
Social Media Cookies
We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.
Targeting Cookies
We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.
Help us tailor content specifically for you:

source

Share:

More Posts

Market Research

Pulse Surveys

Turn feedback into action

Our survey platform makes it easy to measure and understand feedback so you can drive growth and innovation

Pulse Handshak

Pulse Handshak

Collaborative online survey tool for the market research industry. Remote assisted surveying just like face-to-face interviews. Here interviewers can talk to the respondent over the web-console without the need for any other communication channel and share the same Q're with responses and click actions.

Pulse FE

Pulse FE

Pulse Field Expert or Pulse FE is the main platform for both offline and online survey at softofficepro.com. It is robust and used by hundreds of clients over tens of years with millions of responses. Do it once Q're and deploy on both offline devices (android) and online forms makes it a great cost effective platform for any kind of responses

Pulse Ultimate

Pulse Ultimate

Pulse Ultimate is targeted for tracking studies and retail audits. An offline survey system offering extreme field control including processes like data quality check, back-check, rework, comparison with previous wave data etc. helps to get the best results on a day-to-day basis

Pulse LS

Pulse LS

Use a managed Limesurvey and our expertise for creating complex forms and token based user management. Use optional mailing system to send survey invitation to each participant and track progress of the response status. Industry standard SPSS / R output supported