Monday, December 7, 2009

Nuclear Comeback for DOD Bases?

Life would be so simple if we could conduct a feasibility study, find feasibility, then navigate through the regulatory processes with uncommon aplomb and install small new nuclear reactors at each of our bases. Each base would have a constant flow of electricity more than adequate for all of its own needs, including all mission systems, base housing, key services, etc. In fact, most would have power to spare should the host community ever find itself in an emergency situation where power to key facilities like hospitals would be a lifesaver.

Well, looks like DOD's going to take a run at this, thanks for a provision in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) of 2010 that says so. Here's an excerpt from an outstanding summary by William A. Macon, Jr., Army Reactor Program Manager:
The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2010 includes a provision that requires the Secretary of Defense to conduct a study to assess the feasibility of developing nuclear power plants on military installations. Not later than June 1, 2010, the Secretary shall submit to the Committees on Armed Services of the Senate and House of Representatives a report containing the results of the study. In summary, the study shall consider: options for construction and operation; cost estimates and the potential for life cycle cost savings; potential energy security advantages; additional infrastructure costs; impact on quality of life of military personnel; regulatory, State, and local concerns; impact on operations on military installations; potential environmental liabilities; factors impacting safe co-location of nuclear power plants on military installations; and, any other factors that bear on the feasibility of developing nuclear power plants
on military installations.
Clearly, as Army Energy Security Implementation Plans (AESIPs) are developed according to the AESIS and the Secretary of Defense conducts a formal feasibility study on deploying nuclear power plants on military installations, the nuclear energy option for military power and fuel production will likely gain increased attention and may warrant consideration by senior leaders in coming years. The potential renaissance of an Army Nuclear Power Program comes at a time when the commercial nuclear power industry is actively pursuing new nuclear power plants, with 28 combined operating license applications currently under review by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).
It also comes at a time when there are compelling new designs for smaller nuke plants, my favorite being Hyperion's bathtub-sized nuke that requires very little care and feeding and generates all the energy most bases need. Hyperion was covered on the DOD blog some time ago, here in fact. But before I get too worked up, it's important to note Macon's own nagging concern that that the NDAA did not fully include the feasibility of the regulatory processes to implement reactor development on military installations, and as he says, this is not a trivial issue. Considerable regulatory development still lies ahead, even if all the technical studies come up roses.

So here's Macon's full paper, complete with the historical context you'll need to weigh the odds that nuclear powered bases will come to pass ... in our lifetime. Depending on your age, that is.

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