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The Pentagon has recently awarded three separate contractors deals to build modular nuclear reactors for the United States Military. The contracts come as part of a larger program called Project Pele. The Project’s main goal is to fit military units with advanced microreactors.

“Project Pele is a mobile microreactor program using a two-phased approach to mitigate project and technical risk. Phase I is design and Phase II is construction. In Phase 1, Department of Defense intends to award multiple prime contracts,” Idaho National Laboratories mentioned. Idaho is hosting most of the development and testing that goes along with Project Pele.

Over the past few years, there has been a push to develop small nuclear reactors. Small nuclear reactors are capable of providing clean and safe energy from practically anywhere. However, the Pentagon is interested in microreactors and not small nuclear reactors. Small nuclear reactors are already in late testing and nearing installation phases around the world, microreactors are still far from being completely developed, however, the Pentagon hopes to kickstart this industry with hopes that the civilian sector will join in eventually.

The Military has a history of kickstarting civil innovations first developed for military applications. A good example of this would be the modernization of aircraft and jets. The earliest jets flown were developed for World War II, however after the war ended and military technologies were losing demand, the commercial industry took a look at the new jet technology and managed to implement the technology for civilian applications.

“How [microreactors] then would be developed to commercial applications may depend not only on industry developments, but also on establishing an effective regulatory environment,” mentioned the World Nuclear Association spokesperson. “Most likely though we would be looking at microreactors coming into a commercial basis in the 2030s.”

However currently, microreactor technologies still have a few barriers they must first overcome. For example, reports that many governments may not condone the use of portable nuclear energy due to anti-nuclear agreements and dirty bomb concerns.