The United States military could very soon be getting a major field upgrade, as military heads are in the process of test-running a new type of nuclear mini-reactor that they say will have the capacity to power troops in otherwise hard-to-reach places of the world, such as hillside camps located in remote areas of Afghanistan.
According to reports, these new mini-reactors are slated to be small enough to fit inside the back of a truck. And as long as they’re “meltdown proof” – meaning they can be adequately protected against enemy attacks – military leaders say they have the potential to completely revolutionize field warfare capacity.
Known officially as “Project Dilithium,” testing on these mini-reactors has already shown that they’re able to fit not only on trucks, but also inside C-17 aircrafts, according to information obtained by a group known as Defense One. Each reactor is also capable of producing between 1-10 megawatts of electrical power for up to three years, without having to be refueled.
It is being reported that the Strategic Capabilities Office (SCO) has already issued requests for more information about what it’s dubbed the “Small Mobile Nuclear Reactor.” The plan is to continue funding prototypes of the system in order to eventually unveil a solid, working model.
“The modern operational space has amplified the need for alternative energy sources to enable mobility in forward land based and maritime military operations,” a SCO document explains.
“The Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, OUSD(R&E), acting through the Strategic Capabilities Office (SCO), is requesting information on innovative technologies and approaches to enable a future demonstration of a small mobile nuclear reactor prototype design,” it adds further.
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In order to be truly useful for what the U.S. military has in mind, these nuclear mini-reactors will have to be simple enough in design that soldiers are able to build them on-site in three days or less. They’ll also have to be able to properly disassemble the reactors in no more than a week.
The core design of the reactors will also require the use of “high-assay low enriched uranium (HALEU) advance gas reactors (AGR) tristructural isotropic (TRISO) fuel,” according to official documents.
The SCO is planning to fund three different prototype designs with these specific goals in mind. From these, it will then choose a “winner” prototype that it foresees as being the most optimally efficient and effective for the military’s anticipated applications.
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Since as far back as 1954, the Army branch of the U.S. military has been contemplating potential ways to bring this type of nuclear energy production into the battlefield. Having launched the Nuclear Power Program under its Corps of Engineers that same year, the Army has been actively engaged in developing nuclear reactor cores of different sizes, in the hopes of eventually stumbling upon a winner for this specific application.
While it has yet to accomplish this, the Army has developed other nuclear models in the process that have been deployed in places like Fort Greely, Alaska; Sundance, Wyoming; Camp Century, Greenland; and even on a barge in Lake Gatun, located in the Panama Canal.
“Currently, Idaho National Lab and Los Alamos National Lab are working toward new designs for modular nuclear power,” reports the U.K.’s Daily Mail Online.
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