The Pentagon has announced that a new nuclear design is being assembled at Mountain West.
The Department of Defense’s “Project Pele” aims to create a mobile nuclear microreactor. That means a reactor that can be transported in up to four shipping containers.
While the Pentagon is still deciding between designs by two separate East Coast teams, assembly of the reactor and fuel will occur at the Idaho National Laboratory.
Jeff Waksman is the program manager of the project. He says they want to build the prototype for a number of reasons.
“It is designed to provide resilient and clean power to both enable the DOD to operate when the grid cannot be trusted and to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels more generally,” he said.
According to the Department of Defense, the agency uses more than 10 million gallons of fuel per day.
Waksman also said that the community buy-in was important. INL has a long and controversial history of nuclear waste disposal.
“We don’t want to be ‘a big Department of Defense that just shows up and does what we want,'” he said. “We have worked a lot with the local communities around INL, that includes the local government, the state government and especially the tribal authorities or the Shoshone-Bannock tribes.”
Waksman added that he knew that nuclear energy “is being maintained to a higher standard than any other industry and if there is even the slightest release of radiation, that will be the death knell of the program.”
The agency plans to select a design in the coming months and complete the Pele project in 2024.
It would be the first reactor of its kind to be built in the US, although one like this was built in China last year. The DOD specified that this design must deliver one to five megawatts of power and last three years at full power. The selected design contractors will test it at the INL under the supervision of the Department of Energy.
This project is just a single prototype. Where the journey is going is still unclear.
“That’s really going to be a question for DOD leadership,” Waksman said. “There is a lot of awareness of this. There is a lot of interest in the potential of nuclear power, but until you build one, it’s difficult to know exactly what you’re going to use it for.”
Accordingly, defense spending was scattered around Mountain West an analysis from the Pew Charitable Trusts. Idaho had the lowest per capita spending in the region in fiscal 2020 at less than $1,000 per capita. Montana, Wyoming and Nevada also had lower per capita spending than the national average ($2,058).
Meanwhile, Arizona had the highest per capita spending in the region this year, at more than $3,000 per capita.
This story was produced by Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O’Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with the support of partner stations throughout the region. The Mountain West News Bureau is funded in part by the Society for Public Service Broadcasting.
Copyright 2022 Boise State Public Radio News. To see more, visit Boise State Public Radio News.