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.

Defense agency invests in fusion- and radioisotope-powered space propulsion

May 19, 2022, 9:30AMNuclear News
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.

DOD seeks in-space demo of nuclear rocket engine in FY 2026

May 9, 2022, 12:00PMNuclear News

The Department of Defense wants to deploy spacecraft in cislunar space—the area between Earth and the moon’s orbit—with thrust and agility that only nuclear thermal propulsion (NTP) can provide. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), through its Demonstration Rocket for Agile Cislunar Operations (DRACO) program, is looking to private industry for the design, development, fabrication, assembly, and testing of a nuclear thermal rocket engine fueled with high-assay low-enriched uranium fuel to heat a liquid hydrogen propellant.

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.

Final EIS for Project Pele microreactor available

February 25, 2022, 12:00PMNuclear News
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.

NN Asks: What fuels your commitment to nuclear technology?

February 8, 2022, 12:00PMNuclear NewsKelly Hartless

When I came to work at BWX Technologies immediately after getting my degree in chemical engineering from the University of Virginia, I was amazed to see how nuclear energy could be harnessed to both power and protect our country. Since then, I’ve come to see that nuclear energy can do even more. The nuclear industry’s next tasks are to address climate change, propel us to other bodies in the solar system, and provide power when we arrive. Recently developed coated fuels are an enabling technology for these tasks.

Alaska bill would simplify microreactor siting: Here’s what you need to know

February 2, 2022, 6:59AMNuclear News
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.

BWXT to demonstrate TRISO fuel line operations under contract extension

January 24, 2022, 2:59PMNuclear News

BWX Technologies announced on January 24 that it has been awarded a $4.9 million contract amendment to produce TRISO fuel particles using natural uranium and to demonstrate performance under a defined production schedule. BWXT’s Nuclear Operations Group will perform the work at BWXT’s Lynchburg, Va., facility, where TRISO production was restarted in November 2020. The contract amendment was awarded by Battelle Energy Alliance, which manages Idaho National Laboratory on behalf of the Department of Energy.

Microreactor planned for U.S. Air Force base in Alaska

October 25, 2021, 7:01AMNuclear News
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.

Draft EIS released for Project Pele mobile microreactor demo at INL

September 17, 2021, 9:37AMNuclear News

Plans to test a prototype mobile microreactor designed to military requirements moved ahead when the Department of Defense (DOD), acting through its Strategic Capabilities Office and with the Department of Energy serving as a cooperating agency, on September 16 announced the availability of a draft environmental impact statement for the construction and demonstration phase of Project Pele.

GA’s Christina Back: U.S. “absolutely needs to be in cislunar space”

April 20, 2021, 7:00AMNuclear News
Image: DARPA

The U.S. Department of Defense is aiming to demonstrate a novel nuclear thermal propulsion (NTP) system above low Earth orbit by 2025. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) announced on April 12 that following a competitive solicitation process, it has awarded a contract to General Atomics Electromagnetic Systems (GA-EMS) for the design of the nuclear reactor that will power the Demonstration Rocket for Agile Cislunar Operations (DRACO). Blue Origin and Lockheed Martin will work on a parallel track to design a spacecraft tailor-made to demonstrate the NTP system.

DOD narrows field of Project Pele microreactor contenders

March 25, 2021, 9:29AMNuclear News

After funding one year of microreactor engineering design work by three teams, the Department of Defense (DOD) announced on March 22 that it has exercised contract options for two of those teams—led by BWXT Advanced Technologies and X-energy—to proceed with development of a final design for a transportable microreactor. Following a final design review in early 2022 and the completion of environmental analysis, one of the two companies may be selected to build a prototype reactor during a 24-­month construction and demonstration phase.

“We are thrilled with the progress our industrial partners have made on their designs,” said Jeff Waksman, Project Pele program manager. “We are confident that by early 2022 we will have two engineering designs matured to a sufficient state that we will be able to determine suitability for possible construction and testing.”

Trump leaves space nuclear policy executive order for Biden team

January 20, 2021, 3:00PMNuclear News

A hot fire test of the core stage for NASA’s Space Launch System rocket at Stennis Space Center in Mississippi was not completed as planned. The SLS is the vehicle meant to propel a crewed mission to the moon in 2024. Source: NASA Television

Among the executive orders President Trump issued during his last weeks in office was “Promoting Small Modular Reactors for National Defense and Space Exploration,” which builds on the Space Policy Directives published during his term. The order, issued on January 12, calls for actions within the next six months by NASA and the Department of Defense (DOD), together with the Department of Energy and other federal entities. Whether the Biden administration will retain some, all, or none of the specific goals of the Trump administration’s space nuclear policy remains to be seen, but one thing is very clear: If deep space exploration remains a priority, nuclear-powered and -propelled spacecraft will be needed.

The prospects for near-term deployment of nuclear propulsion and power systems in space improved during Trump’s presidency. However, Trump left office days after a hot fire test of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket did not go as planned. The SLS rocket is meant to propel crewed missions to the moon in 2024 and to enable a series of long-duration lunar missions that could be powered by small lunar reactor installations. The test on January 16 of four engines that were supposed to fire for over eight minutes was automatically aborted after one minute, casting some doubt that a planned November 2021 Artemis I mission can go ahead on schedule.

The year in review 2020: Power and Operations

January 8, 2021, 9:35AMNuclear News

Here is a look back at the top stories of 2020 from our Power and Operations section in Newswire and Nuclear News magazine. Remember to check back to Newswire soon for more top stories from 2020.

Power and Operations section

Congress set to pass year-end funding bill

December 22, 2020, 12:08PMNuclear News

The final text of the approximately 5,600-page Consolidated Appropriations Act 2021 was released on December 22. While the timing of final passage is still fluid, the Senate was expected to approve it and send it on to President Trump to sign into law, according to John Starkey, American Nuclear Society government relations director.

Below are some key funding highlights from the legislation pertaining to nuclear energy.

New U.S. space nuclear policy released

December 18, 2020, 7:04AMNuclear News

An artist's concept of a fission power system on the lunar surface. Image: NASA

A national strategy for the responsible and effective use of space nuclear power and propulsion (SNPP)—Space Policy Directive-6 (SPD-6)—was released by the White House on December 16 as a presidential memorandum.

Space nuclear systems include radioisotope power systems and nuclear reactors used for power, heating, or propulsion. Nuclear energy can produce more power at lower mass and volume compared to other energy sources and can shorten transit times for crewed and robotic spacecraft, thereby reducing radiation exposure in harsh space environments. SPD-6 establishes a road map for getting space nuclear systems into service and sets up high-level goals, principles, and federal agencies’ roles and responsibilities.

Defense Department invests in three microreactor designs

March 16, 2020, 11:16AMNuclear News

Three reactor developers got a boost on March 9 when they were each awarded a contract from the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) to design a reactor that can fit inside a standard shipping container for military deployment. The DOD’s Strategic Capabilities Office (SCO), in partnership with the Department of Energy, proposes to build and demonstrate a 1–10 MWe reactor within four years that, if successful, could be widely deployed to support the DOD’s domestic and operational energy demands.