WASHINGTON – In the closing days of his administration, President Donald Trump signed an executive order to urge the defense department to rapidly develop and manufacture small nuclear reactors for military use – and see if they could be used by military space vehicles .
The order, signed on January 5 and publicly posted January 12 is not the first time that the value of nuclear energy for military operations has been investigated. There is a long history of the Pentagon pondering this issue, which proponents believe could alleviate the department's massive logistical challenge of keeping fuel around the world.
Replacing all local power with a nuclear reactor is not necessary for the purposes of the department, but one or more small reactors on the base would ensure that if the local electricity grid critical functions can still work. According to an October 2018 technical report by the Nuclear Energy Institute, 90 percent of military installations have "an average annual energy consumption that can be covered by installed nuclear power" of 40 MWe or less.
In terms of onshore efforts, the EO is demanding that the Secretary of Defense "prepare and implement a plan within 180 days to" demonstrate a microreactor at a domestic military installation "- in other words, set up an actual test of a nuclear reactor at a US military site.
However, that does not mean that the first test will take place on a military base. One location to keep an eye out for is the Nevada National Security Site, a Department of Energy site about 65 miles from Las Vegas.
If that demonstration succeeds, the department will be instructed to look for other options for using small nuclear reactors in bases. The order also calls for a deep dive into security features, such as cybersecurity and EMP hardening, which may not be as relevant in commercial designs.
Hans Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists noted that "the very last minute signing of this by the Trump administration suggests that someone is concerned (President-elect Joe Biden) might not support the program."
Specific to space, the order calls on the Secretary of Defense, in consultation with Secretaries of State, Commerce, Energy and the NASA Administrator, to "determine whether advanced nuclear reactors can be made for the future space needs of the Department of Defense. "and to" test a prototype portable microreactor ".
In addition, the order provides an analysis of alternatives to "personnel, regulatory, and technical requirements to inform future decisions regarding the use of nuclear energy," as well as "an analysis of the United States' military use for space nuclear energy and propulsion technologies. and an analysis of the space and propulsion programs of foreign opponents. "
Brian Weeden, director of program planning at the Secure World Foundation, says the language is trying to take advantage of an earlier executive order calling on NASA to look to nuclear propulsion for non-military assets. While the idea of nuclear propulsion in space may seem troubling to some, "we cannot carry out long-term human missions to the Moon, Mars or robotic missions outside Mars," he said.
While the order speeds up the timetable for testing a nuclear reactor at a military facility, the idea of using nuclear power is hardly new to the department. In fact, the Pentagon currently has two different development areas for small nuclear reactors.
The first is "Project Pele", an attempt to create a mobile small nuclear reactor in the power range of 1-5 megawatts (MWe), which is currently no longer available. Strategic Capabilities Office (SCO). In March 2020, the division awarded three companies a combined $ 39.7 million to begin design work for Pele, with plans to select one company by 2022 to build and demonstrate a prototype.
The second effort goes through the office of the Undersecretary of Acquisition and Conservation. That effort, mandated in the National Defense Authorization Act of 2019, includes a pilot program aiming to demonstrate the efficacy of a small nuclear reactor in the range of 2-10 MWe, with initial testing at a Ministry of Energy site in roughly the time frame of 2023. If all goes well, the goal is to have a permanent small nuclear reactor on a military base by 2027.
Even if all those timelines are hit, microreactors are unlikely to spread through the military anytime soon.
According to the NEI study, the smaller size and increased simplicity of microreactors mean that a procurement and manufacturing cycle "can take between 3 and 5 years from the order of long lead material to the delivery of the largest component, with a nominal target of 4 years. Most components must arrive on site at least six months prior to launch to support building milestones. "
. (tagsToTranslate) nuclear reactor (t) nuclear power (t) military nuclear (t) microreactors (t) nuclear power (t) nuclear defense (t) dod nuclear (t) trump nuclear (t) trump executive order (t) brian weeden (t) Hans Kristensen