The US Department of Defense is participating in its project to build an advanced mobile nuclear microreactor prototype at the Idaho National Laboratory in eastern Idaho.
The ministry began a 45-day comment period on Friday with the publication of a draft environmental impact study assessing alternatives for the construction and operation of the microreactor that could produce 1 to 5 megawatts of electricity. The energy needs of the department are expected to increase, he said.
“A safe, small and transportable nuclear reactor would meet this growing demand with a resilient, carbon-free power source that would not add to DoD’s fuel needs, while supporting critical operations in remote and austere environments,” the Defense Department said. .
The draft environmental impact statement cites President Joe Biden’s Jan. 27 executive order prioritizing climate change considerations in national security as another reason to sue microreactors. The draft document indicated that alternative energy sources such as wind and solar were problematic because they are limited by location, weather conditions and the amount of land available, and would require redundant power supplies.
The department said it uses 30 terawatt hours of electricity per year and more than 10 million gallons of fuel per day. Powering bases with diesel generators is straining operations and planning, the department said, and requirements are expected to increase as the transition to a fleet of electric and non-tactical vehicles is expected. Thirty terawatt hours is more energy than many small countries consume in a year.
The department, in the 314-page draft environmental impact statement, said it wants to reduce reliance on local power grids, which are highly vulnerable to prolonged outages from natural disasters, cyber attacks, domestic terrorism and failures due to lack of maintenance.
The department also said new technologies such as drones and radar systems are increasing energy demands.
But critics say such microreactors could become targets themselves, including during transport. Edwin Lyman, director of nuclear energy safety at the Union of Concerned Scientists, a non-profit organization, said he wondered about the use of microreactors at domestic or foreign military bases.
“In my opinion, these reactors could cause more logistical problems and risks to troops and property than they solve,” he said. “And unless the military is willing to spend what it takes to make them safe for use, especially in potential combat situations or foreign operating bases, then I think it’s probably unwise to deploy nuclear reactors in theaters of war without providing the protection they would need. “
He said the reactors would likely be vulnerable during transport.
“There will always be a way for an adversary to damage a nuclear reactor and cause its nuclear content to disperse,” he said.
The Idaho National Laboratory is located at the US Department of Energy’s 890 square mile site in the sagebrush steppe desert, about 50 miles west of Idaho Falls. All prototype reactor tests would take place on the site of the Ministry of Energy.
The lab is considered the country’s leading nuclear research laboratory and has several facilities to help build and test the microreactor.
The Defense Ministry said a final environmental impact statement and a decision on how or whether to move forward is expected in early 2022.
If approved, preparing the test sites at the Idaho National Laboratory and then building and testing the microreactor would take about three years.
Two designs for mobile microreactors are under consideration, but the department said detailed descriptions are not available because both are in early stages of development. The department said both designs are high-temperature gas-cooled reactors using enriched uranium as fuel.
The type of enriched uranium to use can withstand high temperatures, “allowing a reactor design that relies primarily on simple passive characteristics and inherent physics to ensure safety,” the draft environmental impact statement says.
Mobile reactor construction and fuel fabrication would be done outside Idaho and then shipped to the Idaho National Laboratory where final assembly, fuel loading and a demonstration of the reactor operating capability would take place. .
This demonstration would include start-up tests, relocation of the reactor to a new site and testing at the second location. The second location would mimic a real-life situation by testing the ability of the reactor to meet energy demands.
The department said the microreactor would be able to generate electricity within three days of delivery and could be safely removed in just seven days.