The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) has awarded contracts to three companies to begin design work on a mobile nuclear microreactor prototype under an initiative called Project Pele.
The three awardees of the contract are BWX Technologies, Inc., Lynchburg, Virginia ($13.5 million); Westinghouse Government Services, Washington, D.C. (around $11.96 million); and X-energy, LLC, Greenbelt, Maryland ($14.309 million).
The Project Pele initiative involves the development of a safe, mobile and advanced nuclear microreactor to support a variety of Department of Defense missions, such as generating power for remote operating bases. After a two-year design-maturation period, one of the three companies may be selected to build and demonstrate a prototype that would be capable of producing 1-10 megawatts of electrical power.
The prototype microreactor is expected to be a small advanced gas reactor (AGR) using high-assay low enriched uranium (HALEU) tristructural isotropic (TRISO) fuel and air cooling. TRISO fuel is encapsulated and has been demonstrated in the laboratory to be able to withstand temperatures up to 1,800 degrees Celsius, allowing for an inherently safe prototype microreactor.
Project Pele is led by DoD’s Strategic Capabilities Office (SCO) in close collaboration with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (ACE), the DOE National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), as well as with industry partners.
A memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the NRC, DOE, and SCO on microreactor research development and demonstration was signed on May 10, 2019, outlining cooperation and coordination between the three agencies on Project Pele.
According to the DOD, the coordination between the various agencies and industry partners allows the rapid development of workable prototype designs that support evaluation, safety analysis, and, ultimately, construction and testing. The joint effort between SCO and DOE established by interagency agreement will make use of DOE expertise, material, laboratories, and authority to construct and demonstrate this prototype microreactor.
In January 2019, SCO issued a request for information (RFI) to industry for the development of Project Pele technology. Three companies were chosen from the ensuing competition to develop engineering designs.
The Department of Defense has also published a Notice of Intent to conduct an Environmental Impact Statement associated with Project Pele in the Federal Register as required under the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969. As part of the NEPA process, the public will have the opportunity to review and comment on proposed actions, alternatives and the environmental analysis.