BWXT wins Project Pele contract to supply U.S.'s first microreactor

June 9, 2022, 12:00PMNuclear News
Artist’s rendering of BWXT’s Project Pele transportable reactor modules arriving for set up and operation. (Image: BWXT)

BWX Technologies, Inc., will deliver the first microreactor in the United States under a contract awarded by the U.S. Department of Defense Strategic Capabilities Office (SCO), the company announced today. BWXT will have two years to build a transportable microreactor prototype to the SCO’s Project Pele specifications and deliver it to Idaho National Laboratory for testing under a cost-type contract valued at about $300 million.

The objective: The SCO is working with the Department of Energy to develop, prototype, and demonstrate a microreactor that can provide a resilient power source for operational needs that have historically relied on fossil fuels. The SCO released a record of decision on April 13 to proceed with Project Pele after a final environmental impact statement was published in February.

The SCO first published a request for solutions in 2019 seeking a transportable reactor that could be quickly started up, shut down, and relocated to deliver clean, reliable energy when and where it is required, without reliance on extensive fossil fuel supply chains. A microreactor built to those specifications could also meet commercial needs for disaster response and recovery and power generation at remote locations.

“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 president. “The entire nuclear industry recognizes that advanced reactors are an important step forward to support growing power needs and significant carbon reduction imperatives.”

The team: BWXT is the prime contract and integration lead for a team including Northrop Grumman, Aerojet Rocketdyne, Rolls-Royce LibertyWorks, and Torch Technologies, Inc. The microreactor will be built by BWXT Advanced Technologies in facilities in Lynchburg, Va., and Euclid, Ohio, with support from about 120 employees.

Teams led by three firms—BWXT, Westinghouse, and X-energy—were initially selected for one year of engineering design work. In March 2021 the DOD announced that two of those teams—led by BWXT Advanced Technologies and X-energy—would both develop a final design over the course of a year.

The specs: The high-temperature gas-cooled reactor will use high-assay low-enriched uranium TRISO fuel and operate at a power level between 1 and 5 MWe. The microreactor will be transportable in multiple modules that fit 20-foot long, ISO-compliant CONEX shipping containers for movement by road, rail, sea, or air. As required in the Project Pele specifications, the entire reactor system is designed to be assembled and operational within 72 hours. Shutdown, cooldown, disconnection, and removal for transport is designed to take less than seven days.

On site: The reactor and fuel will be shipped to INL separately. Once fueled, the system will undergo up to three years of testing to confirm performance and operability. Power generated by the reactor will be transferred to load banks that will mimic the operational load that a power source would see in a deployment. The testing process will include disassembly, transportation to another site at INL, and reassembly.

While the demonstration will proceed under authorization by the DOE, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is participating in the project to provide the SCO with information on applicable regulations and licensing processes, according to BWXT.

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