This Alaskan air base will host an experimental mini nuclear reactor


Overall, the facility is a good representation of the challenges of remote power generation, in general, as well as the logistical and other impacts resulting from continued dependence on fossil fuels. Regarding the latter issue, the US military has increasingly highlighted the potential security risks presented by global climate change in recent years and many initiatives have been taken to reduce the use of fossil fuels in all services. Global climate change has also been a major factor in opening up access to new resources and trade routes in the Arctic, leading to increased competition and growing concerns about the potential for conflict in the region. This, in turn, increased the strategic importance of US military bases in Alaska, including Eielson.

For Eielson in particular, using coal presents environmental and cost issues due to the base power plant itself and the infrastructure needed to support it. For example, the Air Force has a fleet of diesel locomotives dedicated to regularly bringing coal trains, along with other supplies, to the base.

“Winter has the highest sustained power level, around 13 to 15 MWe [megwatts of electric capacity], using up to 800 tonnes of coal per day, ”according to a 2018 report from the Independent Institute of Nuclear Energy (NEI). “The base maintains a 90-day supply of coal on-site, and the plant has a thaw shed to thaw the coal prior to use.”

Eielson’s location, combined with being a major Air Force base, also has certain advantages in terms of safety and regulations. “It should also be noted that many stakeholders recommended that the first micro-reactor project in Alaska take place at a military base, possibly Eielson Air Force Base,” where “the DOD is not required to be comply with state law, ”according to a report from Central Alaska. for Energy and Power (ACEP) at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, which was released in January, note.

It is important to remember that the goal of Project Pele is not only to develop a small reactor to help power established facilities, but also one that could be easily deployed, including to advance locations on a field of. real battle. The idea is that this could streamline logistics and reduce the costs of operations that currently depend on large and regular deliveries of gasoline, diesel and other fuels.

Although advocates point to the increased reliability offered by modern designs of TRISO-powered micro-reactors, there remain a variety of other safety and security concerns, including what could happen if such a reactor were hit by fire or captured by human beings. hostile actors. TRISO fuel is also touted as offering benefits with respect to general environmental concerns, including the issue of waste by-products.

At the same time, it should be noted that 19,780 acres associated with Eielson are already designated by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as a “Superfund site”, due to chemical contamination. existing toxic related to “closed and active unpaved landfills, shallow trenches where weathered tank sludge has been buried, a drum storage area and other disposal and dumping areas. More recently, the base has been identified as also being contaminated by the use of fire-fighting foams containing perfluorinated compounds.

“Public sentiment could affect potential decisions” when it comes to where to test micro-reactors, notes the ACEP report from January 2021.

The actual establishment of the micro-reactor plant at Eielson is still likely years away, during which time public opinion and other factors may well have an impact on the plan and its timing. At the same time, the US military as a whole is very interested in the potential of small reactors to deliver large amounts of cost-effective energy to support future battlefield operations and more routine daily activities.

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