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US Air Force picks Alaska base to host nuclear micro-reactor pilot

Eielson AFB
An F-35A Lightning II assigned to the 355th Fighter Squadron (FS) takes off from Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, July 1, 2021. Photo: US Air Force

The US Air Force has selected Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, to host the pilot program for the service’s first micro-reactor.

The next-generation energy capability is expected to provide the installation with a clean, reliable, and resilient nuclear energy supply technology for critical national security infrastructure. It is also one of a number of efforts by the Pentagon to secure the supply of sufficient energy for installations at its bases.

“Energy is a critical asset to ensure mission continuity at our installations,” said Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Environment, Safety, and Infrastructure Mark Correll. “Micro-reactors are a promising technology for ensuring energy resilience and reliability, and are particularly well-suited for powering and heating remote domestic military bases like Eielson AFB.”

According to a fact sheet provided by the service, the micro-reactor technology for the pilot is expected to produce 1-5 MW of energy to supplement current installation energy sources as a redundant resilience measure.

While a specific reactor technology has not yet been selected for the pilot, the service noted that the micro-reactors are different than the largescale models used at Fukushima. The small size of these reactors minimizes decay-heat generation after shutdown, preventing it from reaching levels that can damage the core, which was the point of failure at Fukushima.

The micro-reactor pilot was initiated in response to the Fiscal Year 2019 National Defense Authorization Act requirement to identify potential locations to site, construct, and operate a micro-reactor by the end of 2027.

The micro-reactor will be commercially owned and operated and US Nuclear Regulatory Commission licensed.

“This technology has the potential to provide true energy assurance, and the existing energy infrastructure and compatible climate at Eielson make for the perfect location to validate its feasibility,” said Mr. Correll.

Eielson AFB is home to two F-35A squadron and an F-16C/D Fighting Falcon squadron, among other units.