Pellet Mobile Microreactor Project Goes Forward: New Nuclear

April 14, 2022

The US Department of Defense’s Strategic Capabilities Office (SCO) has announced that it will continue the project to build and demonstrate a prototype TRISO-powered mobile small reactor at the Idaho National Laboratory (INL) site. This will be the first fourth generation reactor in the United States.

The prototype will be built in INL (Image: INL)

The Shanghai Cooperation Organization just came out decision record (ROD) after the reactor’s final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), which was released in February after a public comment period.

The micro-reactor would be an “intrinsically safe” design capable of being transported by the Department of Defense (DOD) and capable of providing 1-5 megawatts of electricity for at least three years of full-power operation. The Defense Department said it would be the first fourth-generation nuclear reactor to generate electricity to be built in the United States.

“Advanced nuclear power has the potential to be a strategic game-changer for the United States, both for the Department of Defense and for the commercial sector,” said Jeff Waxman, Pele Project Program Manager. “To be certified, it must first be successfully demonstrated under realistic operating conditions.”

The Pellet Project published a notice of intent to conduct an environmental analysis in March 2020 in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act, and at the same time launched a two-year design competition for the microreactor. BWXT Advanced Technologies and X-Energy LLC were then selected to develop the final design for a high-temperature mobile gas reactor using Tri-enriched Low-Enriched Uranium (HALEU) fuel as part of the Project Pele initiative. Reactor fuel will be produced at BWXT facilities from materials sourced from the Department of Energy (DOE) stock of HEU.

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“SCO is fully confident that both teams have developed reactor designs that can be built to meet the minimum technical requirements of the SCO. However, only one design will be selected and announced later this spring,” the Department of Defense said.

The Department of Defense currently uses approximately 30 TWh of electricity annually and more than 10 million gallons of fuel per day, and the planned electrification of the non-tactical vehicle fleet and the maturity of future energy-intensive capabilities mean that these needs are likely to increase. He explained that a small, safe and portable nuclear reactor would meet this growing demand with a flexible, carbon-free power source that would not increase its fuel needs, while supporting vital operations in remote and austere environments.

The Pele project is described as a full government effort, drawing on expertise from the Department of Energy, the Nuclear Regulatory Authority, the US Army Corps of Engineers, NASA and the National Nuclear Security Administration. The reactor must be a unique prototype, which will only be shown in the United States under the Department of Energy. The Department of Defense said the Department of Defense will decide whether the technology will be transferred and put to practical use at a later time, but the reactor could also “pioneer” the commercial adoption of these technologies.

“The Department of Defense has a long history of driving American innovation, with nuclear power being one of many notable examples,” said SCO Director Jay Dreyer. “The Pellet project is a tremendous opportunity to enhance energy resilience and reduce carbon emissions while helping to shape safety and non-proliferation standards for advanced reactors around the world.

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In a separate project, the US Air Force announced plans in 2021 to build the first small reactor at Ellson Air Force Base in Fairbanks, Alaska, to be operational in 2027.

Research and writing by Global Nuclear News

Brooke Vargas

"Devoted gamer. Webaholic. Infuriatingly humble social media trailblazer. Lifelong internet expert."

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