- The U.S. Department of Defense has selected Virginia-based BWX Technologies to construct the nation’s first advanced nuclear microreactor, the company said in a Thursday statement.
- Dubbed “Project Pele,” the reactor will be capable of producing 1-5 MW and will be transportable in commercially available shipping containers. Once fueled, it will undergo up to three years of testing.
- The reactor is expected to be delivered to the Idaho National Laboratory in 2024 and will be built under a cost contract valued at approximately $300 million, according to BWXT.
DOD consumes about 30 TWh of electricity annually, and expects that demand to rise as it electrifies non-tactical vehicles.
“A safe, small, transportable nuclear reactor would address this growing demand with a resilient, carbon-free energy source,” DOD said in April when it indicated the government would move ahead with Project Pele. At that time, the choice was between BWXT and a reactor design by Maryland-based X-energy.
“We are thrilled with this competitively bid award after years of hard work by our design and engineering team,” BWXT Advanced Technologies President Joe Miller said in a statement Thursday. “The entire nuclear industry recognizes that advanced reactors are an important step forward to support growing power needs and significant carbon reduction imperatives.”
The selection of BWXT’s reactor design “brings us one step closer to deploying this innovative technology which will be critical in our energy transition and addresses the energy needs in a wide variety of markets,” Marc Nichol, senior director of new reactors at the Nuclear Energy Institute, said.
Beyond military uses, BWXT said its microreactor could be used in disaster response scenarios, remote power generation and “deep decarbonization initiatives.”
The reactor is designed to be "safely and rapidly moved by road, rail, sea or air,” the company said, and can be assembled and operational within three days. From shutdown to removal and transport is less than a seven-day process, the company said.
DOD says the Pele reactor will be developed with oversight by the U.S. Department of Energy.
While BWXT is the prime contractor and integration lead, other companies working on Pele include: Northrop Grumman, Aerojet Rocketdyne, Rolls-Royce LibertyWorks and Torch Technologies.
Once the reactor is in place at the Idaho National Lab, generated power will be transferred to load banks that BWXT said will mimic operational loads. The system will be disassembled and re-assembled “to prove transportability,” the company said.
Separate from Project Pele, NuScale Power tapped BWXT in 2018 to perform engineering work to manufacture small modular reactors.
DOD’s selection of BWXT is proof that nuclear energy can be brought to market rapidly, said NEI’s Nichol.
“We hope to see continued momentum behind the deployment of advanced nuclear technologies and will continue to work with federal agencies to ensure a streamlined regulatory framework is in place,” NEI’s Nichol said.