WASHINGTON — The Pentagon selected BWXT Advanced Technologies to build a prototype of a mobile nuclear reactor that will demonstrate the utility of a portable alternate energy source to support military operations in austere locations.
The U.S. Department of Defense’s Strategic Capabilities Office last year selected Lynchburg, Virginia-based BWXT and X-energy, a nuclear reactor company based in Rockville, Maryland, to design prototypes of a small, portable nuclear reactor under an effort called “Project Pele.” BWXT announced June 9 that the Pentagon chose its prototype and awarded a contract worth as much as $300 million.
Under the contract, the company will deliver its full-scale microreactor in fiscal 2024. The system will then undergo up to three years of testing at Idaho National Laboratory to validate its performance and demonstrate that the prototype can provide “reliable off-grid electric power,” BWXT said in a press release.
“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,” Joe Miller, BWXT president, said in a statement. “The entire nuclear industry recognizes that advanced reactors are an important step forward to support growing power needs and significant carbon reduction imperatives.”
The department does not yet have a strategy for procuring additional reactors beyond the initial Project Pele prototype. Its longer-term vision is to reduce energy spending and dependence on fuel and local power grids. The department uses some 30 terawatt hours of electricity annually and more than 10 million gallons of fuel each day and expects those levels to increase.
“A safe, transportable nuclear reactor would address this growing demand with a resilient, carbon-free energy source that would not add to the DoD’s fuel needs, while supporting mission-critical operations in remote and austere environments,” the department said in an April 13 press release.
BWXT will serve as the prime contractor and integration lead for the effort and is responsible for manufacturing the reactor module. It is also teaming with a number of companies to develop its prototype, including Northrop Grumman, Aerojet Rocketdyne, Rolls-Royce and Torch Technologies.
Courtney Albon is C4ISRNET's space and emerging technology reporter. She previously covered the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Space Force for Inside Defense.