Monday, May 22, 2023

In The News

Listening to the news this morning while running errands, I heard a report that the military has some small nuclear reactors under development. These are small enough to put in a shipping container and load on a flat bed truck.

We put these things in submarines, and I've often wondered why we don't have mobile nuclear power plants to use for far-flung military sites and for use during natural disasters. The only recent article I can find is here.

I know that there are a lot of technical hurdles to overcome, and the military would have to train folks to maintain and poerate these things, but this should not be a hurdle that is too high to vault.

Of course, I am almost totally ignorant about such things, so maybe I am way off base.


John Galt said...

Funny you should ask. The following is from the Center for Navel Analysis.

Although they dont say they currently have small Nuclear Power Stations it does seem they are studying the idea. ( Or if they do have a " test facility" I missed it....the writing was rather long.

However, Rumor Alert, there is a STRONG Rumor to the effect that they have indeed set up a small nuclear power station at the Naval Station near Corpus Christi. It is said they want to have power on regardless of the Texas power grid. Besides Corpus stated missions they also do border flights with traditional aircraft And Drones. Indeed again , Rumor Alert, some long distance drone flights are also controlled from the Naval Station. ( Thus ends the rumor portion of the post).

In any case, yes, several companies plus several countries ( and their military's) are studying and preparing Small nuclear power stations.

Xoph said...

The Army tried once before, look up SL-1. A little accident killed all 3 operations personnel. Being a former Navy Nuke we learned about that, the real points being the bad points of the design and what a bad way to go if you screw up. Technology has really advanced so a much safer design is possible.

I don't believe a small reactor will power Texas or even a large city. After the Navy worked for a power company and then an OEM fixing things. Would be possible to power a base, or a town, or vital infrastructure for a city (No homes, no factories, no office buildings except city govt).

Such mobile plants would be high value targets. About 70% of the energy produced is waste heat in conventional designs. Even high efficiency gas turbines the waste heat is >30%. Typically need lots and lots of water to remove the waste heat. Then there is the steam cycle, a reactor is basically a big tea kettle boiling the water. The Navy's designs have very high power density but still are big things. Then what happens if you hit them with a missal? They won't detonate but now you have radioactive contamination in addition to the normal high particulate metal in the area. I believe that is why the Army abandoned the project. Much more battlefield friendly ways of getting power, such as say use 3 flatbeds and an LM2500 to generate megawatts of power. Less training involved too. Independence from a fuel supply is the big plus.

Anonymous said...

Yup, the military mostly stopped working with small reactors after the SL1 accident. They completely stopped after the accident at McMurdo Sound a few years later.

Don McCollor said...

An ignored question about small reactors. How are they going to be cooled. (Not for nuclear, but thermal reasons). A nuclear reactor sends steam to a turbine, which has to be cooled again for reuse [unless it runs open cycle venting the steam or tries to run on air cooling which is horribly inefficient]. It is a heat engine like a Diesel, however disguised). It has to have a hot end and a cold end (2nd Law of Thermo). And just where do you site them where there is sufficient cooling water?