Pentagon Launches Nuclear “Project” To Defend U.S. Bases

( Last week, the Pentagon announced that it will build a nuclear microreactor that can be flown by cargo plane to a location where it can then power a military base.

The Pentagon’s Strategic Capabilities Office announced the construction and testing decision for “Project Pele” in a statement on Wednesday.

Project Pele is a program to design, build, and demonstrate a mobile nuclear microreactor that is capable of delivering 1-5 megawatts of electrical power for a three-year minimum.

The mobile microreactor, which will be assembled at Idaho National Laboratory (INL), will be the first electricity-generating “Generation IV” nuclear reactor built in the US. China’s HTR-PM, which first reached criticality in September 2021, was the first Generation IV nuclear reactor demonstrated in the world.

The Pentagon’s Project Pele announced a Notice of Intent to conduct an environmental analysis in March 2020. At the same time, the Strategic Capabilities Office launched a 2-year microreactor design competition. The environmental analysis was conducted in a way to assess all possible reactor designs allowed under Project Pele’s technical requirements.

With the Final Environmental Impact Statement published, last week the director of the Strategic Capabilities Office, Jay Dryer, released a “Record of Decision” (ROD) on construction and testing.

Currently, the Pentagon is considering designs developed by two teams, BWXT Advanced Technologies in Lynchburg, Virginia, and X-energy in Greenbelt, Maryland. The design selected will be announced later this spring.

According to the Strategic Capabilities Office, the Defense Department uses around 30 terawatt-hours of electricity every year and over 10 million gallons of fuel a day. Electricity use is expected to increase as the Pentagon shifts to non-tactical electric vehicle fleets.

Given the anticipated increase in usage, a small, mobile nuclear reactor would allow a “carbon-free energy source” that would meet the growing demand, while supporting “mission-critical operations in remote and austere environments.”

The reactor constructed will be a “single prototype” demonstrated only within the United States. The Pentagon will then decide at a future date whether or not to transition to this new technology and make it operationally available.