A very small nuclear reactor could be deployed to power a domestic military installation within five to 10 years, although a handful of challenges still need to be overcome, according to a new report from the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI). Lawmakers and DOD have been interested in the use of small nuclear reactors as a robust and reliable power source for nearly a decade, but until recently the smallest reactors were too large for a single installation’s needs. Newer designs for micro-reactors, which are typically less than 10 megawatts-electric (MWe) in size, have emerged, however, that are better suited to the energy demands of an installation, according to the report’s introduction.
“Small reactors are one of the most promising new nuclear technologies to emerge in decades,” Marc Nichol, NEI’s director of new reactor deployment, told reporters last week. One of the primary benefits of micro-reactors is their capability to operate independently of the commercial grid in the event of a natural or man-made disruption.
The report provides a timeline and identifies the major challenges and recommended actions needed to deploy the first micro-reactor at an installation by the end of 2027. The “roadmap” could be used by the federal government to comply with language in the fiscal 2019 defense authorization bill directing the Department of Energy to describe the requirements and components needed for a pilot program to “site, construct and operate at least one licensed micro-reactor that provides resilience for national security infrastructure at a DOD or DOE facility.” The pilot program would contract with a commercial entity to site, construct and operate micro-reactors of no greater than 50 MWe to provide resilience for national security infrastructure at DOD and DOE facilities by Dec. 31, 2027.
”Ultimately our goal is resilience,” said Troy Warshel, director of operations at DOD’s office of the deputy assistant secretary for operational energy, told reporters. “And what does resilience mean for the Department of Defense? It means for our critical missions, when we flip the switch — there’s power. … We see nuclear energy as a huge potential partner in achieving our resilience goals,” Warshel said.
The report recommended several actions to keep an effort to deploy a micro-reactor on track, including identifying a host installation and site requirements, performing an assessment of the designs, and entering into a contract or agreement with a commercial entity by the end of 2019.
Photo by Idaho National Laboratory