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DoD Expands Contract for Micro Nuclear Reactor Prototype

As part of the Strategic Capabilities Office initiative Project Pele, the Department of Defense has awarded a contract option to X-energy in order to develop an enhanced engineering design for a transportable micro nuclear reactor.

Micro Nuclear Reactor X-Energy Reactor Company will develop a transportable, cost-effective advanced nuclear microreactor prototype for use in remote military locations. X-energy expects to advance the design of its prototype – which could ultimately be used for commercial or industrial use in civilian applications – through an award of $17.49 million within an existing contract with the DoD.

“Due to their extraordinary energy density, nuclear reactors have the potential to serve multiple critical functions for meeting resiliency needs in contested logistical environments,” said Dr. Jeff Waksman, Project Pele program manager. “By developing two unique designs, we will provide the Services with a broad range of options as they consider potential uses of nuclear power for both Installation and Operational energy applications in the near future.”

The Strategic Capabilities Office (SCO) launched Project Pele in 2019 to develop a fourth-generation nuclear microreactor to deliver reliable, carbon-free energy to support remote and austere environments. X-energy was one of two teams selected from a preliminary design competition to deliver a final design to the department in 2022.

“We learned a tremendous amount while working through the first phase of Project Pele with subject matter experts at the Department of Defense,” said Harlan Bowers, X-energy president, who led the project team during the initial phase of work. “We intend to build on the knowledge and experience from the first phase of work to create a clean, practical, and cost-effective microreactor to be competitive with fossil fuel-based power generation used today. We expect this next phase of work to include the refining of our design, prototype testing, and initiation of reviews with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to ensure our microreactor meets safety standards and can be licensed for civilian use in the U.S.”

The DoD estimates that it uses approximately 30 Terawatt-hours of electricity per year and more than 10 million gallons of fuel per day – levels the department only expects to increase due to anticipated electrification of the vehicle fleet and maturation of future energy-intensive capabilities. Safe, small, transportable nuclear reactors are expected to help address this growing demand with resilient, carbon-free energy sources that do not add to the DoD’s liquid fuel needs and associated logistics challenges, while supporting mission-critical operations in remote and austere environments.

X-energy’s expanded contract is intended to provide the department with two microreactor designs sought through Project Pele, while also providing a commercial pathway for the adoption of microreactor technology in other applications. X-energy’s transportable microreactor is designed to generate in the range of three to five megawatts and is differentiated to be cost-competitive with remote diesel power. X-energy will initiate pre-licensing engagement with the NRC, in order to enable a broad range of deployment possibilities to decarbonize off-grid, remote, or small-scale grid resiliency needs.

According to the DoD, this contract option for one year of work by X-energy will not result in a completed engineering design, but will allow a thorough analysis of design options, leading to a Preliminary Engineering Design and initiation of a regulatory preapplication process.

“The Strategic Capabilities Office specializes in adapting commercial technology for military purposes,” said Jay Dryer, SCO director. “By nurturing and developing multiple micro reactor designs, SCO will not just provide options for the military Services, but will also help jumpstart a truly competitive commercial marketplace for micro reactors.”

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