US DOD Funds Three Mobile Nuclear MicroReactors Designs

BWX Technologies, Inc., Westinghouse and X-energy have contracts to each begin design work on a mobile nuclear reactor prototype under a Strategic Capabilities Office initiative called Project Pele.

After a two-year design-maturation period, one of the three companies may be selected to build and demonstrate a prototype.

They want a system that can be safely and rapidly moved by road, rail, sea or air and for quick set up and shut down, with a design which is inherently safe.

On 9 March 2020, the three development contracts were:

BWX Technologies, of Virginia, for $13.5 million;
Westinghouse Government Services of Washington, D.C. for $11.95 million; and
X-energy of Maryland, for $14.3 million.

The goal is for small nuclear micro-reactor in the 1-5 megawatt (MWe) power range.

China is starting up a 210 MWe HTR-PM pebble bed reactor this year. They used pebble technology from Germany.

Nextbigfuture has covered the Westinghouse Evinci microreactor.

The key benefits of eVinci are attributed to its technology:

Solid Core:

* Encapsulates fuel to significantly reduce proliferation risk
* Enables inherently safe core due to strong negative temperature feedback

Heat Pipes:

* Eliminates the need for reactor coolant pump and all associated auxiliary systems to enable compact packaging and simple design
* Can inherently adjust heat load, thus allowing easier autonomous load following
* Can operate at higher temperatures to enable higher efficient power conversion system and high-grade process heat

Both heat pipes and the solid core together make the eVinci micro reactor a “solid state reactor” with minimal moving parts, which is key to the reliability and maintenance-free design of a long-life decentralized energy generator.

X-Energy has been working on a the Xe-100 high-temperature gas-cooled pebble bed modular reactor design since 2015.

BWXT has shipped 400 nuclear reactor cores to the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program and has led and/or supported the design of more than 40 nuclear reactor systems. BWX Technologies announced on Oct. 2, 2019 it was restarting its existing TRISO nuclear fuel production line.

Tristructural-isotropic (TRISO) fuel has a series of tiny pellets packed into larger fuel assemblies for a reactor. Each TRISO fuel kernel is coated with layers of three isotropic materials that retain the fission products at high-temperature while giving the TRISO particle significant structural integrity.

A second small nuclear reactor project is being run through the office of the undersecretary of acquisition and sustainment. This is pilot program aiming to demonstrate the efficacy of a small nuclear reactor, in the 2-10 MWe range, with initial testing at a Department of Energy site in roughly the 2023 timeframe.

SOURCES- DOD, BWXT, Westinghouse, X-Energy
Written By Brian Wang,

15 thoughts on “US DOD Funds Three Mobile Nuclear MicroReactors Designs”

  1. I don’t get it. I’ve been following the proposals for micro-reactors for years. I think they could be a fantastically useful tool. … I’ve been following it for long enough to no longer pay attention because they had excellent, mature, safe designs years ago and no one ever builds one. I don’t know why. Seriously, is there one commercial prototype in the 1-50 megawatt range that has actually been built? Yet there have been great designs for years.

  2. Note the Project Pele competition was for TRISO designs specifically, with a very short implementation deadline, so that made the short list even shorter.

    There are other SMR designs that may be more appropriate for field use, particularly at FOB’s.

  3. The south pole of the moon wouldn’t need nuclear power. Convection electric generator would be the way to go. Wouldn’t need to bring any fuel. Sun for heat. Shade for cold. All that’s needed.

  4. Armed forces have had environmental contamination problems for many years, you’d think this would be a criteria for such systems. Thus, I am surprised not to see thorium designs under consideration. Recall that the first military Th rx was the “Fireball”, meant to power airplanes aloft for weeks or months at a time.

    JP Straley

  5. There are major differences between nuclear material that powers reactors or bombs. If a terrorist were to get this it would be impossible for them to make a bomb unless a nation helped them refine the material immensely, and by that point there are bigger problems at hand.

  6. Such tiny fission reactors could be the first on the surfaces of the Moon and Mars.

    But on Earth, they could be very useful for producing valuable renewable commodities in isolated areas, commodities such as water from air, ammonia from air, and methanol from air.

    Renewable methanol (eMethanol) can be used in natural gas electric power plants cheaply retrofitted to use methanol. Methanol can also power retrofitted marine vessels. Methanol can be also be converted into renewable gasoline and into renewable jet fuel.


  7. $10M to $15M is chump change for reactor design, let alone prototyping, licensing, and building. Also, what enrichment do these need? I only know one vendor besides gov. labs that can go that high. So add cost for enrichment and new fuel fab to the full design, prototype, licensing, and final fabrication costs. I don’t consider this a serious project until $500M to $1B dollars goes to a single vendor.

  8. So any attack on a major US military base can now be considered an attempt to capture nuclear weapons and/or weaponisable material, and will be escalated as such.

    (When was the last time a major western military base was captured anyway? Dien Bien Phu?)

  9. If, as I suspect, this is for remote military bases, then they won’t be in competition with a LWR, or a coal plant, or a gas plant, or even an array of wind turbines.
    The alternative will be a couple of huge diesel gensets. Which will also have to be transported to the remote base, along with the fuel.

    So that’s what the cost needs to be compared to.

    (Note: I’ve got no idea what that cost actually IS, but it won’t be the low, low price of a normal power plant.)

  10. A compact deliverable reactor is obviously possible, has been for many decades.

    How do you make one that doesn’t get used to build a dirty bomb (or worse) when the conflict goes the wrong way?

  11. Wow. Great. LWR fuel costs $8/MWh-e and uMR fuel will cost $150/MWh-e.

    Why didn’t they think of this before?!?!

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