Industry professionals visit INL as part of a U.S. Nuclear Industry Council Conference. (Photo: INL)
The Department of Energy’s commitment to breaking down market barriers with initiatives, programs, and access to facilities is making it simpler and more efficient than ever for industry to partner with national laboratories. It is especially timely, as the country continues to face evolving security, economic, and clean energy challenges. Partnering opportunities via the DOE’s Cooperative Research and Development Agreements (CRADAs) and Strategic Partnership Projects (SPPs) are particularly prevalent in the commercial nuclear community and have seen a tremendous amount of funding and support dedicated to advancing the development, demonstration, and deployment of new reactor technologies.
Artist’s concept of the DRACO spacecraft, which will demonstrate a nuclear thermal rocket engine. (Image: DARPA)
NASA and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) have announced they will collaborate on plans to launch and test DARPA’s Demonstration Rocket for Agile Cislunar Operations (DRACO). DARPA has already worked with private companies on the baseline design for a fission reactor and rocket engine—and the spacecraft that will serve as an in-orbit test stand—and has solicited proposals for the next phase of work. Now NASA is climbing on board, deepening its existing ties to DRACO’s work in nuclear thermal propulsion (NTP) technology—an “enabling capability” required for NASA to meet its Moon to Mars Objectives and send crewed missions to Mars. NASA and DARPA representatives announced the development at the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics SciTech Forum in National Harbor, Md., on January 24.
Aircraft line the runway at Eielson AFB in December 2020. (Photo: U.S. Air Force/Senior Airman Keith Holcomb)
The Department of the Air Force and the Defense Logistics Agency–Energy have released a request for proposals (RFP) for the construction and operation of a microreactor in central Alaska. The Department of Defense wants a 20-year supply of electricity and steam from a 1–5-MW microreactor, but the Eielson Air Force Base (AFB) Microreactor Pilot Program will go beyond a simple power purchase agreement and put the reactor through its paces with tests, at least annually, of the reactor’s walk-away safety and black-start capabilities. The final RFP is available at sam.gov.
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.
Artist’s rendering of USNC spacecraft using EmberCore. (Image: DIU)
The Defense Innovation Unit (DIU), a Department of Defense organization focused on swiftly putting commercial technology to use in the U.S. military, has awarded contracts for two nuclear technologies—compact fusion and radioisotope heat—for spacecraft that could carry a high-power payload and freely maneuver in cislunar space. The objective is to accelerate ground and flight testing and launch a successful orbital prototype demonstration of each approach in 2027.
The Project Pele microreactor will be fueled by TRISO fuel particles like those shown here. (Photo: INL)
An illustration of a potential mobile microreactor site at Test Pad D in INL’s Critical Infrastructure Test Range Complex for the grid operation phase of Project Pele. (Image: DOD)
The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) is looking to reduce its reliance on local electric grids and diesel-fueled generators at military installations. Project Pele is designed to demonstrate the technical and safety features of mobile microreactors capable of generating up to 5 MWe.
This image is described by the Alaska Center for Energy and Power as a conceptual layout of a generic small modular reactor or microreactor. (Image: ACEP)
Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy (R.) introduced “An act relating to microreactors” (SB 177) in the Alaska state legislature on February 1 that would modify existing state law on nuclear energy by specifying that microreactors are not subject to certain nuclear reactor siting and permitting regulations in Alaska. The bill defines a microreactor as an advanced nuclear fission reactor that would be capable of generating no more than 50 MWe.
An F-35A Lightning II takes off from Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska on July 1, 2021. (Photo: U.S. Air Force/Airman 1st Class Jose Miguel T. Tamondong)
The Department of the Air Force has selected Eielson Air Force Base as the site of a stationary microreactor that “will provide the installation with a clean, reliable, and resilient nuclear energy supply technology for critical national security infrastructure,” the department announced on October 15.