DOD to move ahead with Project Pele

April 18, 2022, 12:00PMNuclear News
The Project Pele microreactor will be fueled by TRISO fuel particles like those shown here. (Photo: INL)

The Department of Defense’s Strategic Capabilities Office (SCO) on April 13 released a record of decision (ROD) for Project Pele, a program intended to design and build a mobile microreactor at Idaho National Laboratory. The ROD for Project Pele is based on a final environmental impact statement (EIS) published in February. The designs submitted by the two candidate vendors—BWXT Advanced Technologies and X-energy—both fit the parameters analyzed in the final EIS.

“Thanks to the tireless work of the contract teams, the valuable input from local stakeholders, and the talented and experienced NEPA technical support teams at the Department of Energy and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, we are confident that an inherently safe by design mobile microreactor can be constructed and demonstrated safely at Idaho National Laboratory,” said Jeff Waksman, Project Pele program manager.

“Advanced nuclear power has the potential to be a strategic game-changer for the United States, both for the DoD and for the commercial sector. For it to be adopted, it must first be successfully demonstrated under real world operating conditions.”

Potential designs: As stated in the ROD, “SCO has full confidence that both teams have developed reactor designs which can be constructed to meet SCO’s minimum technical requirements. However, only one design will be selected and announced later this spring.”

The BWXT and X-energy designs are both for high-temperature gas-cooled reactors able to deliver 1–5 MW of electrical power using high-assay low-enriched uranium (HALEU) TRISO fuel. One of the two companies will be selected to build a prototype reactor during a 24-month construction and demonstration phase.

Both designs include a passively cooled microreactor module, a power conversion module, and a control module, each housed in a 20-foot-long CONEX shipping container ready for air, sea, or ground transport. A fourth CONEX container could be used to house ancillary equipment, such as pipes, cables, and connectors.

Scope: What would become the first electricity-generating Generation IV nuclear reactor built in the United States would be connected to a small electrical grid on the INL site, under the oversight of the Department of Energy.

After initial testing, the reactor would be shut down, transported, and connected to a small, isolable microgrid with diesel generators and load banks attached to apply realistic loads to test and evaluate the reactor system under representative operating conditions. After operating for two and a half years, the microreactor would be transported to temporary storage before a three-year post-irradiation examination and disposition phase.

American innovation: “The DOD has a long history of driving American innovation, with nuclear power being one of many prominent examples,” said SCO director Jay Dryer. “Project Pele is an exciting opportunity to advance energy resilience and reduce carbon emissions while also helping to shape safety and nonproliferation standards for advanced reactors around the world.”

The record of decision and the environmental impact statement, as well as supporting documentation, are available online at mobilemicroreactoreis.com.


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