The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) Strategic Capabilities Office (SCO) has offered a $300 million contract to BWX Technologies to build the first advanced nuclear microreactor in the United States. The Project Pele full-scale transportable microreactor prototype will be completed and delivered in 2024 for testing at the Idaho National Laboratory.
BWXT’s high-temperature gas-cooled reactor (HTGR) will operate at a power level between 1 and 5 MWe and will be transportable in commercially available shipping containers. The reactor will be powered by TRISO fuel, high-assay low-enriched uranium (HALEU) fuel that can withstand extreme heat and has very low environmental risks. The fuel has already been tested and verified to temperatures far exceeding the operating conditions of the reactor.
Its transportable design consists of multiple modules that contain the microreactor’s components in 20-foot long, ISO-compliant CONEX shipping containers. The reactor is designed to be safely and rapidly moved by road, sea, or air. BWXT’s transportable reactor core and associated control system are pivotally designed to maintain safety under all conditions, including transitional conditions throughout transport.
Once on-site, the system will be assembled within 72 hours. The shutdown, cooldown, disconnection, and removal of transport are designed to occur in less than seven days.
The nuclear reactor and fuel will be safely shipped separately, with fueling to occur at the test site. Once fueled, the system will undergo up to three years of testing at Idaho National Laboratory to confirm performance and operability. The test program will demonstrate that the reactor can produce reliable off-grid electric power. Power generated by the reactor will be transferred to load banks that accurately mimic the operational load that a power source would see in the actual application. In addition, the system will be disassembled and reassembled to prove transportability.
While BWXT is the prime contract and integration lead and is responsible for reactor module manufacture, it is also working with companies such as Northrop Grumman, Aerojet Rocketdyne, Rolls-Royce LibertyWorks, and Torch Technologies, Inc. to put the prototype together. BWXT will use its existing facilities to build portable modules over the next two years and deliver the reactor in 2024 for testing at the Idaho National Laboratory.
“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 LLC 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 transportable microreactors deliver clean, zero-carbon energy where and when it is needed in a variety of austere conditions for not only the DoD but also potential commercial applications for disaster response and recovery, power generation at remote locations, and deep decarbonization initiatives.