- The U.S. Congress and U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) have been interested in the use of small reactors for nearly a decade. Deployment of micro-reactors for DOD could happen in as soon as five to seven years, replace conventional diesel generators or coal boilers with a new source of electricity that would operate independently of the power grid, and run cleanly and quietly for years, with long intervals between re-fuelings. DOD manages more than 500 fixed installations and is the single largest energy consumer in the U.S.
- These reactors are quite small with military installations likely exploring technology in the one to 10 megawatts-electric range. Many military bases will need multiple micro-reactors. They could desalinate water, generate hydrogen for fuel, and power computer installations. The main challenges are licensing, regulatory and business issues, not technology.
- NEI’s Roadmap for Micro-Reactor Deployment lays out the necessary steps, describes the timeline, and offers recommendations for facilitating micro-reactor deployment for the military.
- NEI anticipates that the reactors would be licensed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. They would be powered by uranium of a type that the government already has in inventory, although the uranium would have to be processed into the proper fuel form. While the focus of the roadmap is for military use, such reactors would also be useful in small communities off the grid, and in remote mining operations.
What NEI’s Marc Nichol, director of new reactor deployment, has to say about this technology: “Small reactors are one of the most promising new nuclear technologies to emerge in decades. Energy is important to our national security; it must be reliable and resilient so that it’s there when our men and women in uniform need it. Micro-reactors can enhance our capabilities by providing that resilient, 24/7 energy.”
What DoD’s Troy Warshel, director of operations at the Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Operational Energy, has to say: “Ultimately our goal is resilience. 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.”
The Big Picture: The Pentagon’s interest in the technology signals strong confidence in nuclear energy to meet the Pentagon’s energy resilience goals. Through the National Defense Authorization Act the President has directed the Secretary of Energy to develop a report on a pilot program for deploying micro-reactors at national security facilities. His signature on the bill points to the Administration’s confidence in the nuclear industry to support the country’s national security interests.
What to Look for Next: Within the next year, the Department of Energy will develop a report on a pilot program for deploying micro-reactors at national security facilities. Also, look for a formal engagement between DOD and a private reactor development company to start working on a project next year. And keep a watch out for the submission of micro-reactor applications to the NRC sometime before 2021.
Available Expert: Marc Nichol, Director of New Reactor Deployment. Contact NEI’s media team at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202.739.8000.