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Pentagon picks BWXT to develop transportable nuclear reactor

Project Pele transportable nuclear reactor
Photo: BWXT

The US defense department has selected BWX Technologies as its preferred contractor on the project to build the first advanced nuclear microreactor in the United States.

Managed by the Pentagon’s Strategic Capabilities Office (SCO), the undertaking to build a full-scale transportable microreactor prototype is known as Project Pele and is expected to deliver the first prototype in 2024 for testing at the Idaho National Laboratory.

The defense department selected BWXT after handing out contracts to three companies for Project Pele design-maturation in 2020.

Project Pele involves the development of a safe, mobile and advanced nuclear microreactor to support a variety of defense department missions, such as generating power for remote operating bases.

SCO has partnered with the US Department of Energy to develop, prototype and demonstrate a microreactor that can provide a resilient power source to the DoD operational needs that have historically relied on fossil fuel deliveries and extensive supply lines.

As explained, transportable microreactors deliver “clean, zero-carbon energy where and when it is needed in a variety of austere conditions for not only the DoD, but also potential commercial applications for disaster response and recovery, power generation at remote locations, and deep decarbonization initiatives.”

The prototype will be built under a cost-type contract valued at approximately $300 million, depending on options selected, by BWXT Advanced Technologies LLC in facilities in Lynchburg, Virginia and Euclid, Ohio.

“We are on a mission to design, build and test new nuclear technology to protect the environment while providing power, and we are thrilled with this competitively bid award after years of hard work by our design and engineering team,” said Joe Miller, BWXT Advanced Technologies LLC president. “The entire nuclear industry recognizes that advanced reactors are an important step forward to support growing power needs and significant carbon reduction imperatives.”

DOD uses approximately 30 terrawatt hours of electricity per year and more than 10 million gallons of fuel per day—levels that are expected to increase. A safe, small, mobile nuclear reactor would enable units to carry a nearly endless clean power supply, enabling expansion and sustainment of operations for extended periods of time anywhere on the planet.

The Pentagon earlier also argued that microreactors would significantly reduce the need for investments in costly power infrastructure. In civilian applications, they could be easily relocated to support disaster response work and provide temporary or long-term support to critical infrastructure like hospitals, as well as remote civilian locations where delivery of electricity and power is difficult.