In 2016 the Defense Science Board (DSB) identified energy as a critical enabler of future military operations. The DoD’s Strategic Capabilities Office (SCO) launched Project Pele with the objective to design, build, and demonstrate a prototype mobile nuclear reactor to provide reliable and resilient electric power, while minimizing risk of nuclear proliferation, environmental damage, or harm to nearby personnel or populations.
The Pele reactor will be the first electricity-generating Generation IV nuclear reactor built in the United States. Check out the DoD Office of the Under Secretary of Defense, Research and Engineering (OUSD(R&E)) website for the Project Pele Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) here: https://www.cto.mil/pele_eis/
In June 2022, Department of Defense (DoD) selected BWXT to produce a single prototype Pele mobile microreactor, which will be a Brayton-cycle high-temperature gas-cooled reactor (HTGR) capable of generating an electrical output of 1 MWe to 5 MWe. See the story in Power magazine here: https://www.powermag.com/dod-picks-bwxt-to-manufacture-project-pele-prototype-nuclear-microreactor/
The Pele reactor will use High-Assay, Low-Enriched Uranium (HALEU, <20% enriched) fuel in the form of TRstructural ISOtropic (TRISO) coated fuel pellets (each about the size of a poppy seed).
The reactor will be assembled and initially operated at the Idaho National Laboratory (INL), under the safety oversight of the Department of Energy (DOE). The Pele reactor is expected to be transportable by rail, truck or cargo aircraft.
There’s a good status update on Project Pele in a February 2023 article on the Energy Intelligence website, “Interview: Pentagon’s Jeff Waksman on Project Pele Microreactor,” at the following link: https://www.energyintel.com/00000186-7b02-d1cb-a3ee-ffbf32940000
For more information
- Jeff Waksman, “Project Pele Overview – Mobile Nuclear Power For Future DoD Needs,” Office of the Secretary of Defense, Strategic Capabilities Office, March 2020: https://gain.inl.gov/GAINEPRINEI_MicroreactorProgramVirtualWorkshopPres/Day-2%20Presentations/Day-2-am.02-Nichols_PeleProgOverviewPublicMarch2020,19Aug2020.pdf
- David Kramer, “Pentagon’s battlefield nuclear reactor plans come under fire,” Physics Today, 28 June 2021: https://physicstoday.scitation.org/do/10.1063/pt.6.2.20210628a/full/
- “DoD to Build Project Pele Mobile Microreactor and Perform Demonstration at Idaho National Laboratory,” DoD press release, 13 April 2022: https://www.defense.gov/News/Releases/Release/Article/2998460/dod-to-build-project-pele-mobile-microreactor-and-perform-demonstration-at-idah/
- Sonal Patel, “Green Light for Project Pele, Defense Department’s Mobile Nuclear Microreactor Demonstration,” Power magazine, 21 April 2022: https://www.powermag.com/green-light-for-project-pele-defense-departments-mobile-nuclear-microreactor-demonstration/