The US Department of the Air Force (DAF), in partnership with the Defense Logistics Agency Energy, has released a request for proposal (RFP) for the Eielson Air Force Base Micro-Reactor Pilot Program. “The release of the RFP for the Eielson AFB micro-reactor is a critical next step in furthering the development and deployment of reliable and clean energy technology at Department of the Air Force installations,” said Nancy Balkus, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Environment, Safety and Infrastructure. “This programme is extremely important to mission assurance and sustainment in the face of climate change and continued national defence threats, and demonstrates the department’s commitment to ensuring our installations have a safe, reliable supply of energy, no matter their location.”
The Micro-Reactor Pilot Program was initiated in response to the Fiscal Year 2019 National Defense Authorization Act requirement to construct and operate a micro-reactor by the end of 2027. The micro-reactor will be licensed by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, but commercially owned and operated. In conjunction with the release, the DAF is hosting a pre-proposal conference and site visit at Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska on 12 October.
In August 2018, the Air Force office of energy assurance recommended Eielson Air Force Base for the microreactor pilot. It was determined to be an ideal location for the pilot project due to the existing infrastructure, suitable climate, and “critical mission resilience requirement”. A microreactor could also meet the base’s year-round energy needs for station heating.
The Eielson microreactor will be stationary, but mobile microreactors are also being developed. A May 2019 study concluded that mobile microreactors can support armed forces deployment and meet power demands in developed areas such as Europe and “immature theatres” of conflict in lesser developed areas. The study said a microreactor could deliver 1-10MWe for years without refuelling, in a size small enough to be transported by road and air.
In March 2020 the Department of Defense issued three contracts for companies to start design work on mobile microreactors as part of a plan towards achieving nuclear power for US forces at home and abroad.
“Energy is a critical asset to ensure mission continuity at our installations,” said Mark Correll, the deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force for Environment, Safety and Infrastructure in a news release announcing the project.” The pilot project will be coordinated by Correll with the Air Force Office of Energy Assurance, the office of the deputy assistant secretary of Defense for Environment and Energy Resilience, the Department of Energy and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The groups will also be working together to oversee the safety of the project.
Image: Eielson Air Force Base (courtesy of US Air Force)