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The US military is experimenting with small nuclear power plants to power remote or expeditionary bases. The Pentagon is following a directive from the US Congress; The 2019 defense budget mandated the testing of so-called microreactors (1 to 20 megawatts of power) by 2027.

The concept was endorsed by two studies commissioned by the Pentagon from 2016 to 2018. Both static facilities for the supply of fixed locations as well as air or truck deployable systems for the supply of tactical locations are available. Prototypes of both reactor categories are currently being designed.

Fixed reactors for site supply

The first permanent experimental reactor is erected at Eielson Air Force Base. Located in central Alaska, the base is currently powered by a 70-year-old coal-fired power plant that uses up to 1,000 tons of coal per day. The base has its own railroad and a warehouse with a capacity of 90,000 tons for the supply of coal. The power plant is responsible for both electricity generation and heating.

The base's daily power demand varies between 10 to 15 MW with peak demand up to 25 MW.

The tender for the project is planned for February 2022; the order is to be awarded at the end of 2022. The planned 15 MW nuclear reactor is scheduled to start operating in 2027. It will only be used to supply the base. The reactor will be housed in a container-sized structure on a 2.2-hectare site at the base.

The facility is provided and operated by a private company; the operating costs should not exceed the current energy costs of the base.

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The 70-year-old coal-fired power plant at Eielson AFB in Alaska (Photo: USAF)

The trial is intended to determine whether this technology is suitable for maintaining military operations even if the conventional energy supply at a location is impaired. "It's basically about power stability," said US Air Force Infrastructure Secretary Mark Correll. "We want to ensure that each base has sufficient supplies to perform its defense mission at all times," Correll said Nov. 5.

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