WASHINGTON — In the waning days of his administration, President Donald Trump has signed an govt order geared toward pushing the protection division in direction of shortly growing and producing small nuclear reactors for army use — and to see if it could possibly be utilized by army area autos.
The order, signed Jan. 5 and posted publicly on Jan. 12, just isn’t the primary time the worth of nuclear energy for army operations has been studied. There is an extended historical past of the Pentagon contemplating the problem, which proponents imagine may alleviate the division’s large logistics problem of holding gasoline shifting around the globe.
Replacing all native energy with a nuclear reactor isn’t crucial for the division’s targets, however a number of small reactors, situated on base, would make sure that if the native energy grid goes down, crucial features will nonetheless be capable to function. According to an Oct. 2018 technical report by the Nuclear Energy Institute, 90 % of army installations have “an average annual energy use that can be met by an installed capacity of nuclear power” of 40 MWe or much less.
In phrases of terrestrial efforts, the EO requires the protection secretary to, inside 180 days, “establish and implement a plan to demonstrate” a micro-reactor at a home army set up” — in different phrases, establishing an precise take a look at of a nuclear reactor at a U.S. army location.
However, that doesn’t imply the primary take a look at might be on a army base. One location to keep watch over is the Nevada National Security Site, a Department of Energy location roughly 65 miles from Las Vegas.
Should that demonstration achieve success, the division is ordered to search for different alternatives to make use of small nuclear reactors at bases. The order additionally requires a deep dive into safety features, resembling cybersecurity and EMP hardening, which may not be as related in industrial designs.
Noted Hans Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists, “the signing of this at the very last minute of the Trump administration suggests someone is concerned [president-elect Joe Biden] might not support the program.”
Specific to area, the order requires the secretary of protection, in session with the secretaries of state, commerce, vitality and the NASA administrator, to “determine whether advanced nuclear reactors can be made to benefit Department of Defense future space power needs” and to “pilot a transportable micro-reactor prototype.”
In addition, the order directs an evaluation of alternate options for “personnel, regulatory, and technical requirements to inform future decisions with respect to nuclear power usage” in addition to “an analysis of United States military uses for space nuclear power and propulsion technologies and an analysis of foreign adversaries’ space power and propulsion programs.”
Brian Weeden, director of program planning on the Secure World Foundation, says that language seeks to leverage a earlier govt order that referred to as for NASA to look into nuclear propulsion for non-military means. While the concept of nuclear propulsion in area could appear regarding to some, “we can’t do long-duration human missions to the Moon, Mars or robotic missions beyond Mars without it,” he mentioned.
While the order hurries up the timetable for a take a look at of a nuclear reactor at a army set up, the concept of utilizing nuclear energy is hardly a brand new one for the division. In reality, the Pentagon at present has two totally different improvement tracts for small nuclear reactors.
The first is “Project Pele,” an effort to create a cell small nuclear reactor within the 1-5 megawatt (MWe) energy vary, that’s being run out of the Strategic Capabilities Office (SCO). In March 2020, the division awarded three corporations a mixed $39.7 million to begin design work for Pele, with plans to pick one agency in 2022 to construct and exhibit a prototype.
The second effort is being run via the workplace of the undersecretary of acquisition and sustainment. That effort, ordered within the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act, entails a pilot program aiming to exhibit the efficacy of a small nuclear reactor, within the 2-10 MWe vary, with preliminary testing at a Department of Energy web site in roughly the 2023 timeframe. If all goes properly, the purpose is to have a everlasting small nuclear reactor on a army base within the 2027 timeframe.
Even if all these timelines are hit, it’s unlikely that microreactors may proliferate shortly all through the army.
According to the NEI research, the lowered measurement and elevated simplicity of microreactors imply a procurement and manufacturing cycle may take “between 3 and 5 years from the order of long lead materials to the delivery of the largest component, with a nominal target of 4 years. Most of the components will need to arrive on-site at least 6 months prior to startup in order to support the achievement of construction milestones.”