A base in interior Alaska has been chosen by the U.S. Air Force to receive its first nuclear microreactor.

Eielson Air Force Base (AFB) was selected in a project initiated by a 2019 National Defense Authorization Act requirement to identify potential sites for development and operation of a microreactor by 2027. The U.S. military sector is exploring micro-reactor designs to meet ever-growing electricity demands, including for units on the battlefield, and to help cut costs and improve general operational efficiency by reducing reliance on fossil fuels.

“Energy is a critical asset to ensure mission continuity at our installations,” said Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Environment, Safety and Infrastructure Mark Correll. “Micro-reactors are a promising Microreactors have the potential to serve as redundant sources of power for U.S. Air Force installations, enhancing mission assurance through energy assurance. Source: U.S. Department of EnergyMicroreactors have the potential to serve as redundant sources of power for U.S. Air Force installations, enhancing mission assurance through energy assurance. Source: U.S. Department of Energytechnology for ensuring energy resilience and reliability, and are particularly well-suited for powering and heating remote domestic military bases like Eielson AFB.”

Capable of generating up to 20 MW of power and thermal energy, compact microreactors can be assembled with modular components that simplify fuel transfer and mechanical upgrades, do not necessarily require water for cooling, and produce limited amounts of radioactive waste. The system is expected to eliminate the need to haul coal to Eielson, which is 42 km southeast of Fairbanks, Alaska.

Preliminary designs will likely be based on small, high-temperature gas-cooled reactors using high-assay low-enriched uranium tri-structural isotropic fuel. This fuel is viewed as higher performing than comparable amounts of traditional fissile material used in power plants and safer to use and handle. This, in turn, enables the development of more compact and reliable reactors.

The microreactor will be commercially owned and licensed by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

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