BWXT plans to build the first advanced nuclear microreactor in the United States under a contract awarded by the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD).

The Project Pele full-scale transportable microreactor prototype would be completed and delivered for testing at the Idaho National Laboratory (INL) in 2024.

The microreactor prototype would be built under a contract valued at approximately $300 million, depending on options selected by BWXT in facilities in Lynchburg, Virginia and Euclid, Ohio.

Over the next two years, BWXT expects that approximately 120 employees will work on the project, including roughly 40 skilled trades, engineers and other positions that will be hired to support this effort and other projects. Among the other companies involved in the effort are Northrop Grumman, Aerojet Rocketdyne, Rolls-Royce LibertyWorks and Torch Technologies, Inc.

The high-temperature gas-cooled reactor would operate at a power level between 1 and 5 MWe and be powered by TRISO fuel, a type of high-assay low-enriched uranium (HALEU) fuel that can withstand extreme heat.

TRISO, or Tri-structural Isotropic, is made up of a poppy seed-sized carbon and oxygen fuel kernal. The kernel is encapsulated by three layers of carbon- and ceramic-based materials that prevent the release of radioactive fission products, according to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).

The small kernels are considered to have very “robust” energy capabilities and be very flexible in application, according to the department.

The transportable reactor core and associated control system is designed to maintain safety under all conditions and be moved by road, rail, sea or air. The design consists of multiple modules that contain the microreactor’s components in 20-foot long, ISO-compliant CONEX shipping containers.

The entire reactor system is designed to be assembled on-site and operational within 72 hours, according to BWXT. Shut down, cool down, disconnection and removal for transport is designed to occur in less than seven days.

The reactor and fuel would be shipped separately, with fueling to occur at the test site. Testing at INL would take about three years, in order to demonstrate that the reactor can produce reliable off-grid electric power. Reactor-generated power would be transferred to load banks that mimic an actual operational load. The system would also be disassembled and re-assembled to prove transportability.

This effort is the result of a partnership between the Department of Defense’s Strategic Capabilities Office (SCO) and the DOE to develop, prototype and demonstrate a transportable microreactor that can provide a resilient power source to the DoD.

In November 2020, we reported that BWXT completed the TRISO nuclear fuel line restart project and gained a contract under the DoD to develop TRISO fuel.

Prior to that, BWXT had announced a contract with the DOE’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory to demonstrate and manufacture TRISO nuclear fuel to support the continued development of the Transformational Challenge Reactor.

The scope of that contract included the fabrication and delivery of uranium kernels, TRISO coated surrogate materials, and TRISO coated uranium kernels for a demonstration batch.

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