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Transportable nuclear power

Hobbes

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In 2020, the Pentagon awarded contracts to 3 companies to start developing a very small, transportable nuclear reactor.

The department awarded contracts to BWX Technologies, Inc. of Virginia, for $13.5 million; Westinghouse Government Services of Washington, D.C. for $11.9 million; and X-energy, LLC of Maryland, for $14.3 million, to begin a two-year engineering design competition for a small nuclear microreactor designed to potentially be forward deployed with forces outside the continental United States.

The combined $39.7 million in contracts are from “Project Pele,” a project run through the Strategic Capabilities Office (SCO), located within the department’s research and engineering side. The prototype is looking at a 1-5 megawatt (MWe) power range.
 

Hobbes

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The Westinghouse effort is called eVinci.
  • Delivers combined heat and power – 1 MWe to 5 MWe
  • 40-year design life with 3+ year refueling interval
  • Target less than 30 days onsite installation
  • Autonomous operation
  • Power demand load following capability
  • High reliability and minimal moving parts
  • Near zero Emergency Planning Zone with small site footprint
  • Green field decommissioning and remediation

View: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Us1WGZtzVCw

The video shows the reactor core inside a 40ft ISO container. The entire power station consists of the reactor core in a bunker, plus 2 more ISO containers with the generator and ancillaries. They use Stirling engines to convert the heat into motion.

A variant called DeVinci is also being worked on:

While the eVinci Micro Reactor design is transportable, the eVinci Micro Reactor designed for government usage allows for mobile operations utilizing standard military transportation vehicles and containers. The nature of the design will allow the reactor to be rapidly transported to sites as needed to create an abundant and resilient power supply to support advanced defense systems.
 

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TomcatViP

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In the Pacific Island scenario this won't be a problem and such device can be sea transported (self moving?) and moored close to an area of operation*.
Also electricity being more efficiently transported at high power usage (the amount of energy delivered to the user Vs the amount needed to transport it) and being also more efficiently protected (large storage tanks are soft targets difficult to protect (see Yemen drone attacks on Saudi oil facilities) when buried land lines are deceptive, easy and good enough for the task), this should rapidly raise the interest of the military in such technology.

*think also that any ground lost to the enemy won't see captured nuclear reactor and all the crazy risks that this would bring. In case a hastly retreat has to be ordered, such marine device can simply be blown-up or scuttled with all related usual measures.
 
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TomcatViP

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@Orionblamblam : Wait... Is non-proliferation an Anti-Nuclear tag today?!!
But I guess that's not what you want to underline above and that there is more.
 

Orionblamblam

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@Orionblamblam : Wait... Is non-proliferation an Anti-Nuclear tag today?!!
But I guess that's not what you want to underline above and that there is more.
He writes:
Quiet as it’s kept, close to San Francisco sits a commercial facility with enough highly enriched uranium to make a nuclear weapon — on the scale of the bombs dropped on Japan at the end of World War II.

Such ridiculous alarmism, conflating a reactor with a bomb, is not the mark of a serious individual but rather an activist with an axe to grind.
 

Piper106

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"Everything old is new again", as they say...

In the late 1950s and early 1960s there was planning for as small, medium and large reactors in mobile and stationary forms for the US military. An example of the Stationary - Large version (labeled SL-1) was built and tested at the Idaho National Laboratory site... at least until in was involved in an multiple fatality accident after a maintenance outage. Google SL-1 reactor accident.

I believe the mobile medium reactor was built. Do not know if it was operated.

I also remember National Geographic reporting in thee early 1960s on the start-up of a stationary reactor for the US military in Greenland to supply heat and power in place of diesel generators.
 

Kat Tsun

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@Orionblamblam : Wait... Is non-proliferation an Anti-Nuclear tag today?!!
But I guess that's not what you want to underline above and that there is more.
He writes:
Quiet as it’s kept, close to San Francisco sits a commercial facility with enough highly enriched uranium to make a nuclear weapon — on the scale of the bombs dropped on Japan at the end of World War II.

Such ridiculous alarmism, conflating a reactor with a bomb, is not the mark of a serious individual but rather an activist with an axe to grind.
I didn't read the article or anything but I'm very good at contextual clues, so based entirely on that quoted statement and prior knowledge of how anti-proliferation arguments tend to read: Honestly it sounds more like a concern with site security and the storage of fissionables in a place where they can be stolen, left behind, or scattered to the seven seas (or a square kilometer or two comprising a nuclear powered FOB that holds a theater level command), really.

Those are real and factual concerns given the ability of America to strike airbases no matter how well defended, and the ability of Taliban insurgents to blow up American aircraft parked on a flight line in an ostensibly defended fighter base, and Iran to do the same. Why wouldn't they be able to do the same to a nuclear reactor, even if entirely by accident? Or deliberately, by using a drone with an RPG-7 warhead to puncture the reactor's housing or something. I think some ISIS guys did that in Syria to Russia, except the reactor in this case was some tanks at their big airbase.

Anti-proliferation arguments tend to be rooted less in nuclear alarmism of "the reactor will explode like Hiroshima or someone might make an atom bomb like in that Tom Clancy book that anti-proliferation guys like (for some reason the pro-nuclear guys like Red Storm Rising)" and more in the fact that by having more nuclear weapons, reactors, and highly enriched storage sites, the chances of one of those storage sites being looted for their fissionable material and turned into a dirty bomb or something, approaches unity. Dirty bomb in this case being the actual "500-1000 lbs of <insert plastique here> scatters radioactive dust across a city block" case of a failed fissionable detonation, or just an angry guy with a truckload of smoke detectors.

This might be less of an issue for the United States than, say, North Korea or Iran...or it might be more. That's something of an known unknown. As is people know about it being an issue (nuclear stewardship is why the atomic club is so exclusive and why people are so willing to share atom bombs with other people instead of letting them build their own: the Kremlin falling apart was hair raising enough, what about when Beijing, Pyongyang, or Tehran decide to go poof?), but it's unknown whether the United States is a better or worse guardian of nuclear materials than any other atomic materials stewards in the long run. Its certainly had its share of nuclear accidents, which thankfully never meant anything, because it's a fairly diligent steward. So far.

So take your standard "nuclear 911" scenario where someone blows up a dirty bomb in DC, New York, Los Angeles (or London, Moscow, Tokyo, the Baghdad Green Zone, Khandahar, take your pick) is something of a problem if every FOB in Afghanistan or Iraq is powered by atomic energy.

It would be really embarrassing for America if someone blows up their enriched fuel nuclear reactor with a truck bomb or a mortar or something and scatters the material across an airbase FOB, I'd think. It would also bring out the anti-nuclear types like "families of soldiers, Marines, and airmen affected by people inhaling highly radioactive dust who could have been using conventional diesel generators to power their pornography collections/iPads in the barracks which doesn't drastically increase the costs of TRICARE a few years down the road". In a time of tight budgets that might be a problem since the biggest long-term expenditures of DOD spending are related to healthcare and soldiers' retirement benefits at the end of the day. And those are always popular, especially with an aging and greying population and shrinking taxpayer age demographic base. You could just eliminate that outright but a lot of people would probably complain about the guy who campaigns on the platform of "destroying your pension, your healthcare benefits, and your service related social security", and it's not likely to occur now especially since the current administration is looking to expand those benefits.

That aside, the Army would also need to raise a corps of nuclear engineers, analogous to the Navy, at a time when the Navy is increasingly being forced by budgetary, economic, and industrial constraints to scale back its own nuclear power programs. Seems unlikely that nuclear power is going to be panacea if it costs more than just shipping cheap shale or using solar panels or something, but it's perhaps worth looking at. Which is ultimately all they're doing. There's no guarantee (and a whole load of conditions attached) that the Army will purchase field nuclear plants. The Navy came to the conclusion that nuclear reactors for carriers cost more than conventional carriers a while ago, so the Army may come to similar conclusions.

Folks could ignore these arguments, sure, but they shouldn't act shocked when people decide that nuclear energy might not be worth it after the first field atomic powerplant gets blown up by a satchel charge, or captured by ISIS or something, who blow up a dirty bomb in downtown Tel Aviv or the Baghdad Green Zone using its fissionables I guess. Or less dramatically, when the Army decides that raising a corps of nuclear engineers isn't worth the effort because their attempts at making a self-regulating, prepackaged nuclear powerplant that operates 100% on computers without any human supervision also isn't worth it, because it doesn't save any money over having the same number of people (one or two per reactor) be much cheaper and less stringently selected 11Bs who run out with a jerry can to refuel a diesel genny.

Angry revanchists looking to pollute the nearest major three blocks of a US or US-allied megacity is more a DPRK thing I'd guess, but DOD is already planning for that one.

Given that the prospect of anyone building an atom bomb with fissionables of any type is pretty low (although I suppose you might be able to do a gun-type weapon, but only in the same vein that people were concerned about anthrax plants in the nineties and oughties: highly unrealistic movie fodder that is at the extreme end of the bell curve of possible nuclear incidents) the real threat is always going to be contamination of a local area, which is always bad, and the potential lives lost as a result of that. I guess if you don't care about that it's not a problem, but to extend that moral solution equitably, you also shouldn't be too worried about who specifically is fielding tactical nuclear powerplants either.

Those sort of "not-implausible-as-they're-based-on-real-world-scenarios-but-with-nukes hypotheticals" are usually the basis of anti-proliferation arguments, at least.

I'm highly skeptical that field reactors are going to be any more practical than existing fossil fuel generators though.

There's a lot of infrastructure for fossil fuel movement in DOD, and the nuclear reactor is adding an additional layer on top of this. The Navy decided a long time ago that nuclear submarines are ideal if only because fleet submarines for trans-Pacific operations are not sufficient when conventionally powered to be operated from CONUS, or Pearl Harbor, for that matter. So there's a lot of good reasons why a submarine is nuclear powered. OTOH, it's slowly reconsidering the question for nuclear carriers, since none of the nuclear carriers have nuclear escorts, and they likely will never have nuclear escorts again, and nuclear carriers are more expensive to own and operate than conventional ones. Given the shrinking sizes of air wings today, and better fuel economies of modern fighters, as well as the high performance of PGMs, the arguments for "ordnance and fuel" are far less convincing than they were off Yankee Station 60 years ago.
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Most of the stronger arguments against Pele are insurmountable no matter how much you engineer your powerplant can be summarized as thus: small reactor bad, big reactor good.

IMO a better starting argument for Pele by the Army would have been increasing DOD's "energy island" capabilities CONUS-side. Powering Fort Bragg or Fort Knox with a base nuclear plant would be pretty cool, or just having DOD use a single nuclear reactor to power all its bases. But that would be a lot harder to push past NIMBYs and require DOE, the arch anti-proliferators, approval to the same regulations as a civil reactor: i.e. a hardened containment unit to protect against attack and accidental release of fissionables. So that would be a no-go entirely, unless self-powered bases completely disconnected from the civil energy grid become an administration issue or mandate.

That would still require the Army to have nuclear reactor technicians and powerplant steam turbine operators though, which is why the energy island thing has been limited to diesel gennies, off site wind turbines, and solar panels with big batteries, which can be handled by current Army 12R's and diesel mechanics. You contract out the wind farm. So unless there was some giant requirement for high powered equipment or large base loads (there isn't, Army requirement for energy island capacity is extremely austere at the end of the day, and a single commercial nuclear powerplant with a few (three or four) reactor units could power all Army bases in CONUS easily) then it's not a huge deal. I'm not a huge fan of solar (my hometown recently built a large solar farm though) or wind due to environmental effects, but nuclear reactors wouldn't be popular on post for obvious reasons aside from NIMBYism (which itself is usually a deflection).

Until Texas starts getting frequent snowstorms, and still doesn't upgrade its turbines for some reason, Fort Hood's base commander will just get a bit more money from DOD to drop on the energy bill. So a totally power grid independent nuclear base load Army is probably impossible to justify given how responsive US civil energy grids are. Which is a good thing. An array of 10-50 Pele type plants is probably more expensive than another wind farm. Perhaps the Army could ask DOE for a trial NuScale SMR since that is a 50 MWe plant?

Naturally that would be entirely different from Pele, which was designed for FOB and airbase power i.e. possibly the dumbest use of nuclear energy besides powering a neighborhood or something.

In practice I think the actual thing that will kill the nuclear field reactor is a combination of armored convoy transports and robotic trucks led by a remote controlled vehicle. Why send out a 88M when you can have a 88M sit in a shelter at the FOB and drive the truck using a datalink, like a drone? The rest of the convoy can be unmanned HEMTTs put in "follow the leader" mode. Diesel transports are now no longer a source of casualty production in any potential combat, and the occasional Joe running out with a jerry can can be just a Joe, instead of a 130 IQ, 2-year long cycle time, $5 million atom man. The main driver for Pele, which was always about reducing casualties, is now gone. After all, building up a whole nuclear power grid for austere field use seems like a lot of effort just to keep Jessica Lynch out of an Iraqi hospital.

The Army will probably agree with all that and close Pele with a curt "the reactor worked fine, but we found a cheaper [hence: better] solution to our problem, thanks".

Then it'll transfer all of Pele's hypothetical monies to the stupid intercontinental cannon lol.

Thank you for coming to my TED talk.
 
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Orionblamblam

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It would be really embarrassing for America if someone blows up their enriched fuel nuclear reactor with a truck bomb or a mortar or something...

I'd be seriously impressed if someone could actually bomb a well designed reactor into oblivion. These are not soft, easily ruptured targets like main battle tanks; these things are *tough.*

That aside, the Army would also need to raise a corps of nuclear engineers, analogous to the Navy, at a time when the Navy is increasingly being forced by budgetary, economic, and industrial constraints to scale back its own nuclear power programs.

You say that like it's a bad thing. Having the Army create a corps of nuclear engineers would only be a good thing. That it might embarrass the Navy to get back on the ball and get back into the job of producing improved reactors would also be a good thing.

Seems unlikely that nuclear power is going to be panacea if it costs more than just shipping cheap shale or using solar panels or something,

Shale ain't that cheap on Mars. Solar panels aren't that useful on Callisto. Having the US Army set up small nuclear powerplants on Rhea Base to support the US Space Force operations would be a Good Thing.


Folks could ignore these arguments, sure, but they shouldn't act shocked when people decide that nuclear energy might not be worth it after the first field atomic powerplant gets blown up by a satchel charge

It would have to be a nuclear satchel charge.

An array of 10-50 Pele type plants is probably more expensive than another wind farm.

But *far* less environmentally disruptive and damaging. Wind and solar take up a lot of territory and kill a lot of wildlife compared to dense, safe nuclear.
 

Kat Tsun

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It would be really embarrassing for America if someone blows up their enriched fuel nuclear reactor with a truck bomb or a mortar or something...

I'd be seriously impressed if someone could actually bomb a well designed reactor into oblivion. These are not soft, easily ruptured targets like main battle tanks; these things are *tough.*

Folks could ignore these arguments, sure, but they shouldn't act shocked when people decide that nuclear energy might not be worth it after the first field atomic powerplant gets blown up by a satchel charge

It would have to be a nuclear satchel charge.

It's a 5 megawatt reactor. It's about the size of a MEP-810B van, or a 20 foot ISO container (they're both towed by FMTV so). Because it's supposed to replace the diesel genny farms at Khandahar and stuff. You'd replace four to eight 810Bs with a single Pele.

Also, if the US Army were to buy Pele it would literally have no more than maybe a couple dozen anyway. There's not a lot of 810Bs in inventory, as they're pretty hefty.

Also Pele isn't going to be encased in concrete. That's not how a transportable field reactor works, at all. It's going to be a steel box that you dig a berm for and put some caution tape around. "Don't go here" while it's turned on kind of thing. Probably controlled by remote. When you're done you turn it off, put it back on the truck, and drive away. The steel box won't offer any appreciable protection besides weather resistance and sufficient strength to carry a very dense reactor, since it's supposed to be transported on a PLS.

Anyway I'd agree that it's somewhat excessive of a concern in a real sense of physical damage or personnel injury, since you'll likely suffer similar consequences (i.e. cancer and environmental cleanup) if someone strikes a tank farm at an airbase or something. The firefighters are gonna be inhaling bad particulates that will injure them down the line, but actual fissionables are rather worse, and likely to appear in VA claims within 20 years that can't be easily dismissed as "not service related". Also environmental concerns are not as big as if, say, a Navy tanker were hit by a cruise missile. But the political concerns are bit more, and the ultimate barrier, really.

I believe the kids these days call it "optics".

But all of those are a minor point compared to the fact that Pele is sort of the inverse of good economic sense. If economics means anything, it means allocation of least effort to do most work, and nuclear reactors work best as big things that don't move. Small nuclear reactors, outside of some extremely niche applications (long range high speed warships, deep space, dunking on coal miners) are not good.

Big nuclear reactors are good, but there's not much an appetite for them unfortunately. They're too slow to build and expensive due to the safety requirements anyway.

That aside, the Army would also need to raise a corps of nuclear engineers, analogous to the Navy, at a time when the Navy is increasingly being forced by budgetary, economic, and industrial constraints to scale back its own nuclear power programs.

You say that like it's a bad thing. Having the Army create a corps of nuclear engineers would only be a good thing. That it might embarrass the Navy to get back on the ball and get back into the job of producing improved reactors would also be a good thing.

No, it would just mean the Navy has fewer reactor operators for its submarines, because some of their potential recruits will go the Army.

Thus the Navy will have fewer submarines.

It's pretty simple: There's no competitive improvements in a zero-sum market (not all markets are zero sum, but "military nuclear reactor operator" is one of them), and with an aging population, anything that consumes young people (education, work, etc.) is going to be zero sum, because we're not making many more of them. What few young people we have, who can be qualified for top secret clearance, have the brains to work as a reactor operator, and the willpower to not blow their brains out on a SSN, are going to be needed for the submarine cliff.

Trading 774s for a 5 MW generator isn't really a good deal, in my eyes.

They could just send electricians to NPS, but that's a huge time waster arguably since Pele is supposed to be self-contained. So they could ignore that it's atomic and just train the Pele guys to operate that sole thing, but "ignoring it's a reactor" bit means that Pele isn't going to be a resurgence of ANPP, it'll just be the Army treating Pele as a remote controlled diesel genny with a no go zone around it. Very different from the Navy's near religious deference to the atom, at least relative to how they treated superheated steam boilers and their technicians.

Also the Navy has never designed nor produced a serial production reactor in its existence. It contracts that out to energy firms, obviously, by asking what they can produce and how many megawatts than they have for a reactor. Then they start designing the ship around whatever reactor that Westinghouse, General Electric, or Bechtel says it can provide. Not sure where you got the idea that they made reactors, they just operate them.

An array of 10-50 Pele type plants is probably more expensive than another wind farm.

But *far* less environmentally disruptive and damaging. Wind and solar take up a lot of territory and kill a lot of wildlife compared to dense, safe nuclear.

It was more an illustration to show that powering things by tiny nuclear reactors is much stupider than powering them by big reactors, so Fort Hood freezing over isn't going to save Pele. It will mean that Texas can't escape Federal regulations for insulation of turbines, though, assuming Texans haven't already forgotten about the snowstorm. Anyway military posts, as I said, are powered by civil electrical grids, so it would not really be related to Pele at all, which is a proposed field transportable replacement for the MEPS diesel generators.

Prime power provides commercial power in places without commercial power. It uses diesels for this. It will continue using diesels for this. Nuclear power would be nice, as it doesn't use diesel, but nuclear power isn't economical in bite-sized packages like the prime power sets. So instead of eliminating diesel, it will look at new ways of transporting diesel. This is pretty much immutable. It will likely pick a robotic HEMTT or some other fuel tanker because this is what America's industrial facilities can provide the easiest, as opposed to another country (perhaps the PRC) that would use a tactical pipeline system or something if they were really really good at making pipes and pumps.

Also re: environmental impact, it's really not, though there's not much else as use for an empty desert or dead coral reef, honestly.

Incidentally, offshore wind plants are good for coastal wildlife since they, like abandoned oil rigs, are colonized by corals, shallow water fish, mussels, and barnacles, and other things that are increasingly scarce as corals die off. Solar plants are somewhat less so since they're metal stilts with PVs on them that get washed by Mexicans (or robots), but they're going to be built fairly close to cities so the wildlife impact isn't big at all. At worst it would be similar to the desert tortoise and MX racetrack bases in the Sonoran: you move to a place where endangered wildlife isn't and build there instead. Desert big, wildlife range small. If you can build ghost towns and Phoenix there, you can build PV plants, no problem.

tl;dr Pele isn't leading to anything operational. It was never going to do this, of course. The Strategic Capabilities Office doesn't procure unitized equipment. The SCO examines possible options for further development, presents them to the branches, and occasionally prototypes things by funding defense contractors. Pele's a subsidy for a design study, not for a operational plant. It will likely produce a design for a potential plant. It will probably be neat. They might even build a thing and fire it up in Nevada. The Army will say "that's nice but we have a better solution", then the SCO will go back to its corner and make a nuclear ramjet ATACMS or something I guess.

It's a prediction but it's highly plausible.

Anyway the entire point of Pele is also probably more subtle than "make reactor for field use". Since few people, if any, are making baby scale nuclear reactors in reality, the DOD (and DOE) needs to pay engineers to practice their skills, so it's a study to keep the research and development side of things around, as opposed to the actual manufacturing. It's a subsidy to keep the industry from contracting more than it already has, I guess. America is pretty flush with cash so it can afford to prop up things like this.

If America ever finds a use or need for a tiny nuclear reactor it will be able to call the guys who did Pele, or Kilopower, or whatever else, and ask them if they can make a tiny nuclear reactor for actual problem solving. Like your example of an extraterrestrial space laboratory, perhaps. But field prime power is not a use for a tiny nuclear reactor. At least not a sensible one, although SCO isn't really known for sensible takes (they have a lot of hot to spicy ones), so it's not really surprising they came up with this.
 
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shin_getter

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Powering another random base in low intensity/non warfare is a terrible way to use nuclear power, all the general difficulty and cost of nuclear power compounded with only strategic disadvantages of politics and vulnerability.

If there is potential for nuclear power, I'd think it'd be burying one inside opponent A2AD zones. A system of deep tunnels and electrically powered vehicles (if not on site fuel generation) enables a base to remain combat effective even while cut off and bombarded for long periods of time. Even if the force is not completely cut off, the much reduced logistics requirements is still a huge advantage.

While some people think the lethality of modern weapons mean wars will be short, the same can be said of wwI, where new weapons like fast firing field artillery, the dreadnaught heavy guns and like can annihilate forces in a single afternoon. The advantage of the defense instead makes the war a very slow moving thing regardless of firepower, and A2AD itself exists in a defense favoring environment. A long war of blockade and sieges is not impossible if neither side can find a opening to decisively attack.

The place to put reactors would be Okinawa, Guam, and whatever forward island the US decides to deploy serious forces on. One can possibly pre-dig the installation points (if facing host nation refusals) and do a rapid install in the ramp up to the war. (or worst case, maintain short term local superiority for a install)
 

Kat Tsun

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A "base" located "deep in an A2AD zone" would just be bombed to death. And either way an austere field base isn't going to use prime power. It's going to have a couple 20-30 kW tac power towed generators pulled by Humvees. Or onboard power from a vehicle or aircraft alternator (like the Hercules rearmament/refueling FARPs for F-22 in the far east). Prime power, again, is to provide commercial grade electricity in field conditions. Not austere field, just...field. Like expeditionary combat in third world countries that can't supply commercial power..

MEPS-810B, and Pele, are used to power cafeterias, office cubicles, desktop computer work stations, and theater or army level command posts that can't just hook up to a Dutch or German or Texan power grid.
 

Orionblamblam

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The place to put reactors would be Okinawa, Guam, and whatever forward island the US decides to deploy serious forces on.
If the reactors are as vulnerable as some are suggesting, the place to put them is near the enemy and upwind of them. Then *let* them blow them to hell.

Stop hitting yourself. Stop hitting yourself. Stop hitting yourself. Stop hitting yourself. Stop hitting yourself.

But honestly, a portable reactor would be about the toughest thing mankind has ever built. Drop a Scud right on the thing, you're need to get a new trailer for it, but the containment vessel itself should hardly be scuffed. A satchel charge or a Gaza rocket? Pfff.
 

Orionblamblam

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[
You say that like it's a bad thing. Having the Army create a corps of nuclear engineers would only be a good thing. That it might embarrass the Navy to get back on the ball and get back into the job of producing improved reactors would also be a good thing.

No, it would just mean the Navy has fewer reactor operators for its submarines, because some of their potential recruits will go the Army.

Then the Navy has a spectacular opportunity to start training new nuclear engineers and nuclear technicians. Honestly, this is not a zero-sum game. The rise of Space Force isn't going to drain all the fighter jocks out of the USAF, so the Army finally getting around to running nukes isn't going to stop the Navy. Especially if some clever Senator slips a clause into a Green New Deal bill that mandates that within 5 years the Navy run only carbon neutral ships over a hundred tons displacement.
 

Kat Tsun

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The place to put reactors would be Okinawa, Guam, and whatever forward island the US decides to deploy serious forces on.
If the reactors are as vulnerable as some are suggesting, the place to put them is near the enemy and upwind of them. Then *let* them blow them to hell.

Stop hitting yourself. Stop hitting yourself. Stop hitting yourself. Stop hitting yourself. Stop hitting yourself.

But honestly, a portable reactor would be about the toughest thing mankind has ever built. Drop a Scud right on the thing, you're need to get a new trailer for it, but the containment vessel itself should hardly be scuffed. A satchel charge or a Gaza rocket? Pfff.

It would probably take a lot less effort to break a Pele. A portable reactor isn't tough. If it's tough, it isn't portable. You should stop mentally applying dumb commercial building standards of the DOE and DHS to a ISO container. There is no "containment vessel". There is no protection. It's not going to be designed to survive railroad strikes or whatever.

It's a box with some minor shielding and a massive air gap. Lol.

Because it's a design study for a prime power unit built for air transport.

If you think a main battle tank is somehow a soft target but Pele is some sort of hard juggernaut, I suggest you ask yourself why the US Army doesn't make its tanks out of concrete, lead, steel, air, and polyethylene. Which is the main construction components of a containment vessel. They had nuclear reactors in 1975, why didn't M1 use nuclear shielding as armor? Oh. Because it's mostly water, air gaps, lead, and borated plastics.

Pele will probably just have an operating radius of like 100-200 feet that's a no-go zone while its operating, with a significant earthen berm constructed around it. Very similar to some other small scale nuclear reactors in history, except Pele doesn't have a nearby crew compartment so you can eliminate some shielding.

[
You say that like it's a bad thing. Having the Army create a corps of nuclear engineers would only be a good thing. That it might embarrass the Navy to get back on the ball and get back into the job of producing improved reactors would also be a good thing.

No, it would just mean the Navy has fewer reactor operators for its submarines, because some of their potential recruits will go the Army.

Then the Navy has a spectacular opportunity to start training new nuclear engineers and nuclear technicians. Honestly, this is not a zero-sum game.

There are a certain number, per birth cohort, of people who can be nuclear technicians.

That number is decreasing every year due to declining birth rates and negative trend demography, in absolute terms. In relative terms, perhaps it's stayed static or improved slightly, though. Either way, it has been declining for the past 60 years, and will continue to do so for as long as anyone can tell.

The Navy nuclear power program is also only one potential job for a nuclear technician. Granted, most technicians don't even go nuclear power school, but an Army and a Navy competing nuclear power school would be sapping recruits from the same limited pool of people: people who can both join the military, aren't dumb enough to become one of the most needed MOS's (i.e. highest worked), and complete nuclear power training.

It is the literal definition of zero sum.

But Pele is probably going to be remote controlled or something and a 12R flicks a breaker switch I guess. It's not the resurgence of ANPP. It's the exact opposite. SCO is talking about Pele like it's a diesel generator. Except it will be one that costs probably like $5 million, without taking into account support infrastructure costs.

Anyway neither the argument against Pele as "it will contaminate the nearby area" or "Patriot's impenetrable missile shield will keep it from being bombed" are not serious against- or supporting arguments. The most effective arguments against (and, arguably, for) nuclear reactors are economic.

Nuclear reactors' costs per kilowatt don't seriously drop in reality, unless you don't pass on the cost of construction to consumers. They are high cost capital items that require a large investment that never sees a serious return in a human lifetime. Generally government subsidy is the only way to push them out en masse, and that requires some political reasoning [fear of peak fossil fuels, heavy industry subsidies, breaking coal unions, usually all three!] to act on. They can be left to run for a significant period of time and have relatively cheap operating costs compared to their construction costs, while being comparable in output to a coal or oil or gas plant without significant air pollution or smog.

At least until you need to replace it, which is what France is running into the at the moment (their heavy industry has since broadly withered away) with their reactor program and realizing it may have built itself into a corner. Unfortunate.

Conversely, small reactors toss any theoretical advantages that nuclear power has out the window. So it's possibly the dumbest thing SCO has ever conceived of, and that's a fairly tall order considering what these guys have come up with since they were started by SECDEF Carter back in the Obama era. The good news is that they're being rolled into DARPA since they don't actually do anything of note or importance in practice.

The rise of Space Force isn't going to drain all the fighter jocks out of the USAF,

It's draining their SATCOM technicians and satellite operators, not "fighter jocks". No pilot flies a satellite.

so the Army finally getting around to running nukes isn't going to stop the Navy.

It isn't going to stop the Navy, no. It'll just objectively limit the number of nuclear operators the Navy already has. Given the suicide rates aboard USN submarines and the Navy's inability to adequately manage the admittedly meager quantities of personnel it already has, making the problem worse isn't going to help.

It's a good way to weaken the USA's ability to fight with its submarines, although that's something of an open question today. It'll be even more tenuous in the future when the hulls drop in the '40's and the birth cohorts are even smaller.

So really the Navy doesn't need competition. It doesn't have any to begin with. It just needs people. Competition would make sense for an over saturated market, where the number of applicants exceeds the number of jobs, like any STEM engineering or computer related degree. It doesn't make sense for jobs where the number of jobs exceeds the number of applicants, like doctors or Navy nuclear reactor technicians. You want consolidation at that point.

Especially if some clever Senator slips a clause into a Green New Deal bill that mandates that within 5 years the Navy run only carbon neutral ships over a hundred tons displacement.

Then the Navy will rapidly have no ships. Or it will use some sort arcane carbon accounting to bypass the law.
 
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Orionblamblam

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There are a certain number, per birth cohort, of people who can be nuclear technicians.

That number is decreasing every year due to declining birth rates and negative trend demography, in absolute terms. In relative terms, perhaps it's stayed static or improved slightly, though. Either way, it has been declining for the past 60 years, and will continue to do so for as long as anyone can tell.

Then *that* would seem to be a bigger problem to tackle than... well, pretty much *anything.* If you can objectively show that "Idiocracy" was a documentary, not a satire, then that would seem to be one of the biggest problems in the world.
 

Kat Tsun

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There are a certain number, per birth cohort, of people who can be nuclear technicians.

That number is decreasing every year due to declining birth rates and negative trend demography, in absolute terms. In relative terms, perhaps it's stayed static or improved slightly, though. Either way, it has been declining for the past 60 years, and will continue to do so for as long as anyone can tell.

Then *that* would seem to be a bigger problem to tackle than... well, pretty much *anything.* If you can objectively show that "Idiocracy" was a documentary, not a satire, then that would seem to be one of the biggest problems in the world.

Japan isn't exactly full of dumb people, just old ones, but alright.

I know I'm a bit long winded but you've managed to miss the point by a country mile. Sheesh.
 

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There are a certain number, per birth cohort, of people who can be nuclear technicians.

That number is decreasing every year due to declining birth rates and negative trend demography, in absolute terms. In relative terms, perhaps it's stayed static or improved slightly, though. Either way, it has been declining for the past 60 years, and will continue to do so for as long as anyone can tell.

Then *that* would seem to be a bigger problem to tackle than... well, pretty much *anything.* If you can objectively show that "Idiocracy" was a documentary, not a satire, then that would seem to be one of the biggest problems in the world.

Japan isn't exactly full of dumb people, just old ones, but alright.

I know I'm a bit long winded but you've managed to miss the point by a country mile. Sheesh.
The point is... we need more nukes, and more people who can design and operate them. If that's the Army, great. If that's McDonald's, great. If its frigging Barnes & Noble, that's great too.
 

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People argueing about the fragility of nuclear devices, specifically designed to be tough, should educate themselves. The testing they do for these kinds of things looks like this:

 

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An RPG would go through a nuclear flask like butter.

Has anyone actually read the Army study on these reactors?

If that's McDonald's, great.

Maybe they should master the ice cream machine first.
 
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There are a certain number, per birth cohort, of people who can be nuclear technicians.

That number is decreasing every year due to declining birth rates and negative trend demography, in absolute terms. In relative terms, perhaps it's stayed static or improved slightly, though. Either way, it has been declining for the past 60 years, and will continue to do so for as long as anyone can tell.

Then *that* would seem to be a bigger problem to tackle than... well, pretty much *anything.* If you can objectively show that "Idiocracy" was a documentary, not a satire, then that would seem to be one of the biggest problems in the world.

Japan isn't exactly full of dumb people, just old ones, but alright.

I know I'm a bit long winded but you've managed to miss the point by a country mile. Sheesh.
The point is... we need more nukes,

Maybe to replace giant coal powerplants, but not for field generator use.

Again: nuclear reactors are best big.

Small reactors are a great way to kill nuclear power though. Not because they're contaminating the soil, of course, or because you're dropping them on Shenzen out of the back of C-17s as a way to salt the fields, but because they're economically unsustainable. Even commercial scale nuclear reactors require massive subsidies to get built, like was the case in France, and are heavily contingent on heavy industry being subsidised during lull periods between construction. The best way to screw with nuclear power, beyond making commercial reactors expensive as all get out (since I guess reactor engineers can't make them safe enough or something to lower the shielding requirements), is to make a bunch of little useless reactors that cost a ton of money.

I can't imagine what sort of mental gymnastics you'd need to go through to justify the use of a 5 MW reactor instead of 8 MEPS-810Bs TBH.

That reactor better be cheap. And if it is, then they should just make a commercial reactor based on it, instead of wasting their time trying to replace something with a solution for its only problems. Except it's not going to be cheap. And you can't make a reactor on it. Reactors don't scale down well. They scale up well, because they are dense, high energy units. Arguably they scale better than coal or something, but we don't charge coal operators based on their negative externalities such as the air pollution or failed crop yields their massive smog plants produce. Perhaps we should, but that's another discussion for another day.

and more people who can design and operate them.

An ever scarcer resource as the United States approaches the lofty heights of "middle aged" alongside Japan and Germany.

40-50 year old men don't make great nuclear technicians, and even those will eventually become "young" at some point.

If that's the Army, great.

The Army isn't making Pele. It is barely aware it exists, as far as I can tell.

The Strategic Capabilities Office, an Obama-era establishment, decided that by looking at the Army's current question of transportation of diesel by manned truck convoys, such as in the Battle of Nasiriyah, that a small scale nuclear reactor would work. It isn't clear if the Army actually wanted them to or not, or even considers it a question of notable issue, since they're too busy looking at things like precision strike and airlift to care about the cost of diesel.

If the SCO approaches the Army, the reception will be similar to the SCO's work on Army TACMS as a precision strike weapon: "Thanks, but no thanks. We have a cheaper and better solution," and then went go back to working on PrSM.

Or in this case, robotic HEMTTs, since the Army seems to think that robotic, remote-controlled convoys are better for field use than manned ones anyway. Since the BCTs are going to need combat power and more logistics, without making demi-divisions, robotic convoys will let fewer soldiers potentially operate more trucks. Some of the 88Ms will need to be turned into 91Bs but that's an improvement.

Either way, Pele doesn't endanger the 810B in any sense. Pele is rather indicative of a subsidy towards an industry that is desperately attempting to avoid contraction, because that means the USA will likely only have one major nuclear reactor contractor (Bechtel most likely) instead of the three or so it currently has.
 

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The point is... we need more nukes,

Maybe to replace giant coal powerplants, but not for field generator use.

Again: nuclear reactors are best big.

You hardly need a gigawatt powerplant to support a small asteroid exploratory mission, or a small Lunar outpost or to power a Europan sub or a TAU probe. We need reactors of *all* sizes, and lots of them.
 

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If a miniscule grant from the SCO can fund design work and potentially prototype a tiny nuclear reactor, then it's not a real problem of engineering work.

If people ever go to the Moon they can make tiny nuclear powerplants then, but I would think that the Moon would benefit vastly more from PVs given its proximity to the Sun. Until then I'm going to be more interested in using solar panels to power Phoenix, AZ's suburbs. If only Phoenix could ban lawns, ornamental greenery, and sod, and replace them with combed sand and gravel. Then they might actually be able to conserve water for once.

At a time hen nuclear power is more or less stagnant or declining, because it can't even meet low costs when the house is stacked in its favor (big reactors) due to high upfront capital costs, you really shouldn't be wasting time looking at nonsensical trash like a tiny reactor though.

Nuclear engineers, people who ostensibly understand manufacturing and nuclear reactors, should focus on making big reactors safe enough that they don't require expensive containment vessels, or massive heavy industry forges that simply don't exist anymore, and announce that they can build those, instead of lobbying random DOD agencies to get $30 million for a tiny reactor. Which they did, and proved they were incapable of meeting the demand, both in terms of construction requirements and in terms of actual design meeting manufacturing reality.

Given Westinghouse's inability to make a large commercial scale reactor properly, I'm doubtful they'll do anything of note with Pele. Currently it's broadly cheaper for investors to continue paying for fossil fuels. The government enjoys subsidizing coal, gas, and oil plants and as it starts plopping down PVs and wind farms, because the latter basically cost nothing, it might cut the subsidies back even more (although whether these would go to nuclear or not remains to be; IMO you'll still need big powerplants for places with agriculture [wind power in big scales can reduce temperature gradients] and low insolation] so like Nebraska or the Dakotas or something). This also might bite people in the ass in 20-30 years when all the PV farms need to be replaced with new PVs, or the wind farms start creaking, and the manufacturing landscape has changed again.

Anyway the nuclear industry is going through the doldrums right now. It's also pretty bad at lobbying. It won't disappear but it won't make tiny powerplants to compete with PVs or wind, since PV and wind are the ultimate tiny powerplants. Pele won't fix this, anymore than fuel depot did, because it's a symptom of it.
 
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If people ever go to the Moon they can make tiny nuclear powerplants then, but I would think that the Moon would benefit vastly more from PVs given its proximity to the Sun.

Sure, because PV arrays work *spectacularly* during those two weeks of night the moon has.

If only Phoenix could ban lawns, ornamental greenery, and sod, and replace them with combed sand and gravel. Then they might actually be able to conserve water for once.

And Los Angeles sits on a friggen *ocean,* yet they drain the west dry because they're too lazy to build reactors and desalination plants.
 

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This is rapidly getting off topic.

Lunar power is probably best met by a space based solar system using rectennas to transfer energy. That lets you power everything without getting the PVs covered in dust, and wirelessly, so you don't need big radiator panels or anything. Just a rectenna farm on the surface and some cables, which don't need to be dusted off, or get scratched by regolith. But, it's not a particularly serious concern, since the chances of people going to the Moon, at least for any significant period of time, are pretty slim.

By the time people go to the Moon for long periods, they can figure out that problem, but it's no one's problem today to solve.

Trying to spin a silly idea to power a air-transported cafeteria in Afghanistan or Iraq with a nuclear reactor as being related to space travel, though? Well it is a bit like saying that because people in the year 2000 will have used up all the coal in their steamships' boilers by then, we need to use Mssr. E. Becquerel's photovoltaics to avoid this, so we shouldn't be using English coal. It's a bit silly.

It might be true, in a sense (as the photovoltaic argument was in the 1850s in France), but it's so far off into the future it's impossible to say for sure, and regardless there's no Moon colonies to power, so no need to build a tiny reactor in the first place. That's a problem if you want to talk seriously about nuclear energy. But Pele isn't serious about nuclear energy, it's a subsidy to Westinghouse and a couple other companies until someone decides to buy more AP1000s besides the PRC. But since Peak Coal came to the PRC for many of the same reasons it came to the UK and USSR, they're shaping up to need a lot of nuclear reactors.

....or at least they would be, if Westinghouse weren't staffed by incompetent people who can't do their jobs. But that's pretty much the US nuclear industry in a nutshell.

Still, provided no more fuck ups with the AP1000 building plans goes on, and they actually get a few more orders in, Westinghouse might turn it around.

Also Los Angeles isn't a real serious water consumer to look at, although they could do with closing down a lot of parks and golf courses and replacing the sod greenery with fine sand or gravel, and desert or arid native shrubberies. Most of California's water is consumed by farmers who have no sense of water management and plant terrible crops for the Central Valley climate, and resist any attempts to manage the diminishing aquifer by calling Sacramento communist or something.

Arizona doesn't grow crops though, and compared to people's dumb lawns and downtown parks or golf courses that are all sod, PVs on Phoenix's rooftops would be a pretty meager water investment. Phoenix, thankfully, isn't stupid and is starting to promote exactly that at least.
 
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The Westinghouse effort has the reactor in a 40' container with shielding (going by the crosssection, easily 30 cm thick), and specifies a concrete bunker to be built at the destination.

A nuclear flask for rail transport weighs on the order of 50 t, and has walls ~37 cm thick. If the goal is to make the reactor air-transportable, 50t is about the high end (and already limits what aircraft can be used).
The Westinghouse video shows a standard 44t GVW lorry configuration, which can carry about 25t. A 50t container would need an Oshkosh M1070 with M1000 trailer.
 

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If people ever go to the Moon they can make tiny nuclear powerplants then, but I would think that the Moon would benefit vastly more from PVs given its proximity to the Sun.

Sure, because PV arrays work *spectacularly* during those two weeks of night the moon has.

They have these things called batteries now.

Sure, because batteries that work for weeks in the nearly cryogenic cold of the lunar night capable of supporting industrial operations are far lighter than compact nuclear reactors.
 

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By the time people go to the Moon for long periods, they can figure out that problem, but it's no one's problem today to solve.

And that line of reasoning is why civilizations fail.

Rather the opposite: Solving problems as they come along is generally superior to "solving" hypothetical problems that might disappear entirely on their own. Pele's justifications in the real world are tenuous enough. You don't need to make it more comically antiquated by saying it would be a good powerplant for a Moon base.
 

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You don't need to make it more comically antiquated by saying it would be a good powerplant for a Moon base.

And who, exactly, said that it would be a good powerplant for a moon base? Or did you simply assume that the knowledge and experience and technologies to be gained from one small, sorta-serial-produced nuclear reactor in a nuclear industry that has been hidebound and moribund for decades would only be applicable to that one specific design, thus no future small, sorta-serial-produced reactor would be able to take advantage of the new and improved tribal knowledge unless it used that one specific design?

And the problems of conquering the accessible universe will not just "disappear on their own," unless by that you mean by ignoring the future we'll soon enough get whacked by an asteroid we could have easily diverted had we only had a functional industrial civilization in space powered in large part by nuclear reactors of every scale, and thus all of mankinds problems will be over?
 

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You don't need to make it more comically antiquated by saying it would be a good powerplant for a Moon base.

And who, exactly, said that it would be a good powerplant for a moon base?

You brought it up. I was just talking about air transportable nuclear reactors for powering cafeterias in Afghanistan.

And the problems of conquering the accessible universe will not just "disappear on their own,"

The problems of "conquering space" are less pressing than dealing with real problems. Problems like water scarcity, de-industrialization, and changing climates shifting cereal grain growing regions in coming decades.

Or in Pele's case, dealing with fueling convoys being a vulnerable "soft target" in a counter-insurgency conflict and leading to human casualties. Machines can be replaced, trucks are cheap, but humans aren't. So if you eliminate convoys you eliminate the double cost of trucks and casualties. Problem being that trucks aren't going to be actually eliminated. You're just shifting a minor diesel use (generators) towards the real use (fueling vehicles). So all you eliminate is the potential for Jessica Lynch to be captured and turned into a war hero by the press, or killed.

Robotic convoys do the latter without the investment in a more divergent technology. Plenty of civilian companies are investing in robotic driving and the technologies that robotic driving uses can leverage rear facing cameras, radars, and such, that are already pretty common on newer vehicles. So Pele is probably dead on arrival.

I'm not going to complain because it seems fairly obvious to me: nuclear reactors aren't very energy dense, so they're best as big power stations, and not tiny generators.

OTOH the SCO is the same people who said they could make Army TACMS go 500 kilometers and chase down boats or something. They're sort of full of bad, hot takes.

unless by that you mean by ignoring the future we'll soon enough get whacked by an asteroid

Asteroids aren't a particularly realistic concern for human extinction. They basically never hit Earth.

Humans are more likely going to render themselves extinct in the long run, like tons of animals before them, through incredibly boring ways. Eating our way out of a biosphere, or causing a few local ecological collapses, like the various American ungulates and hypercarnivore dogs, and going extinct several million years later when the humans of the future can't recover.

Or maybe that won't happen and some human of the future will discover a lunar rover in a few thousand years. Who knows. Who cares.

Both outcomes are the realm of fiction as far as anyone today is concerned.

we could have easily diverted had we only had a functional industrial civilization in space powered in large part by nuclear reactors of every scale,

I can't wait for my nuclear powered cellphone.

And trillion trillion dollars of debt and collapsing infrastructure because people would rather launch rockets into space instead of pave roads and build bridges I guess.

and thus all of mankinds problems will be over?

If mankind's problems are "over" then there's no reason for mankind to exist.

The point of living is to overcome problems and find solutions to barriers that affect people's immediate lives. Usually the individuals affected have to overcome their own problems, since that tends to result in fairly efficient/"good enough" solutions, to be solved. But I don't think living in microgravity where you're exposed to radiation and bone disease is a particularly hopeful future. It might allow room for centrally planned economies to come back though.

A tiny nuclear powerplant for powering FOBs isn't particularly efficient when a diesel generator works fine. Someone should tell the SCO the old saying about if it ain't broke.
 

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