A total of $39.7 million in contracts was split between three companies on Monday by the Pentagon, initiating a two-step plan to bring nuclear power to US forces in a variety of conditions.
According to the March 9 Department of Defense news release, the Virginia-based BWX Technologies was awarded $13.5 million, $14.3 million was issued to Westinghouse Government Services of Washington, DC, and Maryland’s X-energy received $11.9 million from the Pentagon.
The nuclear power effort comes as part of Project Pele, a “mobile microreactor program using a two-phased approach to mitigate project and technical risk” that is headed by the Department of Defense’s Strategic Capabilities Office (SCO).
Pentagon spokesperson Lt. Col. Robert Carver told Defense News that Project Pele “involves the development of a safe, mobile and advanced nuclear microreactor to support a variety of Department of Defense missions such as generating power for remote operating bases.”
He explained that the three companies will be given a “two-year design-maturation period” before the Pentagon chooses which company will develop and demonstrate a prototype.
“The United States risks ceding nuclear energy technology leadership to Russia and China,” SCO Director Jay Dryer said in the departmental release. “By retaking technological leadership, the United States will be able to supply the most innovative advanced nuclear energy technologies.”
Dr. Jeff Waksman, program manager of Project Pele, was also quoted in the release and said that the Project Pele is unique due to the “reactor’s mobility and safety.”
“We will leverage our industry partners to develop 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,” he noted.
The Pentagon predicts that the developed microreactors will significantly reduce the department’s investment in power infrastructure and promote the “sustainment of operations for extended periods of time anywhere on the planet.”
According to the Department of Defense’s current estimates, the Pentagon uses “30 terrawatt hours of electricity per year and more than 10 million gallons of fuel per day.”