The Pentagon's Pele Transportable Nuclear Reactor program takes off

Every day, the Pentagon consumes 50 million liters of fuel for its armed forces, and this figure could more than double in the event of a major engagement. In addition to the exorbitant costs that such consumption represents even for an oil-producing country like the United States, and the increasingly problematic impact for the some 100 million kg of CO2 released into the atmosphere every day, this dependence also constitutes a permanent logistical headache for American forces deployed outside the territory, even as the War in Ukraine has demonstrated the immense vulnerability of logistical chains in the face of modern weapons systems and a motivated infantry exploiting guerrilla techniques efficient. Moreover, the problem can only increase with the entry into service of more and more operational capabilities linked to electricity production, such as directed energy weapons, electric or hybrid propulsion vehicles, computer systems, detection and communication systems increasingly powerful, and therefore energy-intensive.

The idea of ​​deploying a mini-nuclear reactor to produce the electrical energy needed by the forces is not new to the United States. Thus, the Pentagon had launched studies in the mid-50s to meet this specific need, and the technical progress recorded in recent years has made it possible to reinvigorate this concept from the beginning of the 2010s. 2020 for DARPA to officially take over the project, and finances a preliminary study for the design of a nuclear reactor with a power of 1 to 5 GW, capable of being embarked on board a 20-foot air-transportable container. Three companies were selected to carry out this preliminary research, BWX Technologies, Inc in Virginia, Westinghouse Government Services of Washington DC and X-energy in the State of Maryland, and the program was officially named the "Pélé Program", named after the goddess of fire and volcanoes from Hawaiian mythology.

The Pelé program as presented in 2020 by DARPA

On Wednesday April 13, the US Department of Defense announced that the Pelé program was going to take a new step, with the construction of a prototype by one of the two finalists selected, in this case BWX Technologies and X-Energy, the awarding of the final contract to take place in the coming weeks. The announced objective is to be able to start testing the new reactor in 2024 on the site of the Idaho National Laboratory, and an operational demonstration from 2025, according to Dr. Jeff Waksman in charge of this project. Eventually, the Pélé reactors will be able to be transported by air by C-17 aircraft wherever necessary to support the deployment of American forces, and thus considerably simplify the logistics chain to support these efforts.


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