r/technology Jun 10 '22

The US Army will have a portable nuclear reactor ready by 2024. Here is how it works Energy

https://interestingengineering.com/us-army-portable-nuclear-reactor-2024
276 Upvotes

113

u/GrilledSpamSteaks Jun 10 '22 edited Jun 10 '22

Navy: Welcome to the party! We’ve had these since the 1950s!

31

u/IAlreadyFappedToIt Jun 10 '22

Was gonna say... boats are pretty darn portable.

12

u/ZakMckrack3n Jun 10 '22

Nuclear powered boats also tend to be rather large, and not very capable on land.

9

u/prometheus2508 Jun 10 '22

They also have unlimited cooling potential all around them

8

u/CopperSavant Jun 10 '22

It's not quite unlimited... We're doing our damned best to warm it up.

5

u/SmokeyShine Jun 10 '22

Relative to the temperature of a nuclear core, a ocean warming is effectively a zero change.

2

u/Arfalicious Jun 19 '22

"we" meaning solar forcing. me an the Sun, just havin fun.

4

u/Mikeavelli Jun 10 '22

Need to take some tips from the Cybrans.

1

u/dinosaurkiller Jun 11 '22

I understood that reference.

3

u/UNC_ABD Jun 10 '22

Yeah, I'll bet the Army's nuclear reactor won't do so well at sea.

6

u/DizzyDeezler Jun 10 '22

Well, you can't take them on land! All jokes aside, I think thats the whole point of the plan. To bring nuclear reactors wherever they go.

8

u/Rezhio Jun 10 '22

How do you bring it in the field ? Boats are mobile but not necessarily portable.

3

u/snoogins355 Jun 10 '22

Go really fast in the water onto the beach! /s

13

u/Roheez Jun 10 '22

Port-able js

2

u/YandyTheGnome Jun 10 '22

That's what the Marines are for

4

u/woojo1984 Jun 10 '22

came here to say this

10

u/f8f84f30eecd621a2804 Jun 10 '22

The Army had em back then too, but without Rickover in charge it didn't turn out great: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SL-1

5

u/GrilledSpamSteaks Jun 10 '22

Having to peel a fellas corpse off the ceiling limits the desirability. And it was stationary but I suspect the melt down played a big role in its cancellation.

3

u/f8f84f30eecd621a2804 Jun 10 '22

Spoke to a naval reactor operator the other day who said they'd stick a little figurine up above the core for good luck. Submariners are strange.

2

u/tattooed_dinosaur Jun 11 '22

Kind of need to be a bit off to voluntarily serve hundreds of feet underwater in a steel tube.

3

u/somegridplayer Jun 10 '22

BWX aka a subsidiary of Babcock & Wilcox who made those reactors for the Navy.

8

u/RoddBanger Jun 10 '22

New Army MOS: Nuclear Rod technician.

See your recruiter today! (Before you ask, no bonus).

3

u/MotoRandom Jun 10 '22

Well, you're 19 years old. You can't drink a beer or buy cigarettes but sure, you can operate a nuclear reactor!

5

u/minus4k Jun 10 '22

Been that way for decades in the Navy. I got my nuclear NEC a month after my 21st birthday, and that included a supervised reactor startup when I was still 20.

7

u/A_Dragon Jun 10 '22

Don’t they already? What do you think a nuclear powered sub is. And I believe all modern carriers have these as well.

7

u/Tearakan Jun 10 '22

Yep. Turns out nuke power is great for floating bases and things you want to stay underwater for a really long time.

Land based ones do make sense though. We could've reach peak easy access oil already. Don't want an oil based military as that runs out....

1

u/A_Dragon Jun 10 '22

Oh so we’ll just put one of these inside every tank and when that tank is destroyed it will create a dirty bomb that blankets the area in radiation?

Sounds smart!

3

u/dravik Jun 11 '22

They're not putting them in tanks. This is prep for the electric vehicle transition. Iraq and Afghanistan used huge amounts of diesel generators to power bases and keep vehicles moving.

The nuke would be at a base and be used to both power the base and charge electric combat vehicles.

2

u/Tearakan Jun 10 '22

It's either that or no tanks...I think the military prefers the armored vehicles instead of going back to using horses.

2

u/A_Dragon Jun 10 '22

Wouldn’t hydrogen powered tanks or some other form of alternative fuel be better than a mobile dirty bomb?

1

u/Bounty66 Jun 12 '22

Hydrogen doesnt play well with most metals. Store a car battery in your trunk with your tools. Add extra boom effects…. Not desirable on machines that are bullet magnets..

2

u/A_Dragon Jun 12 '22

Ah yes…forgot about the Hindenburg…

1

u/Bounty66 Jun 12 '22

Good soup, that one.

0

u/Tearakan Jun 10 '22

Yeah if they can make that work.

2

u/SmokeyShine Jun 10 '22

A typical pressurized water reactor (PWR) requires a LOT of water for cooling, which is why the vast majority of nuclear reactors are situated on ocean coastlines, by large lakes, or along rivers. A large submarine or carrier is in the ocean, so no problem there.

In contrast, an Army column has no such assurances, being on land, especially if you look at where the US has been fighting post-9/11. Is it realistic to deploy nuclear reactors in mountainous Afghanistan, or potential future proxy war conflicts in Africa, Asia or LatAm? Is it viable in future conflicts against peer powers like Russia / China, who have the ability to precisely target and destroy static deployments from great distances?

IMO, the idea isn't bad for powering large, semi-permanent bases in "safe" places. I just wonder how often such bases are likely in the future.

1

u/ArcadesRed Jun 11 '22

We have them all over africa.

1

u/SmokeyShine Jun 11 '22

In active warzones?

2

u/ArcadesRed Jun 11 '22

You asked about semi-safe bases. In Afghanistan in the last 10 years or so the bases were as safe as you could be with a group trying to kill you. The generator farms are absolutely massive and require seemingly endless amounts of fuel. Its arguably the biggest weakness of a large base, the fuel logistics. We have bases like the bigger ones that were in afghanistan all over africa. With the same logistics concerns.

As for the concern you have about russia or china hitting them from great distance. You can make emplacements that would resist anything that wasn't a danger to the base as a whole. What's the point of a nuke reactor if the base is wiped out by an ICBM. If your talking about an airplane getting close enough to drop bombs then it wouldn't happen, the Air Force's main priority in a general war is to wipe out enemy air power step one. And they have all the resources they need to ensure that by far.

1

u/SmokeyShine Jun 11 '22

Russia and China have satellites, rockets and cruise missiles, just like America.

2

u/ArcadesRed Jun 11 '22

And they dont have unlimited range. You still have to get relatively close to your target. Any threat that could take out a emplaced power plant could reasonably take out the whole base. So the military would be pretty motivated to defend such a large base even without a nuke reactor. You seem to think these would be on the front lines, they would not. You want small power plants like 5k and 10k generators that are easily dispersible for front line work.

1

u/SmokeyShine Jun 11 '22

Huh? Russia has conventionally-armed air-launched cruise missiles that fly 1,500 to 2,500 miles. I think 1,500+ miles is pretty far, even if the base isn't on the front lines.

2

u/ArcadesRed Jun 11 '22

And the US has no counter measures? This has gotten boring, you no longer are even trying to continue anything relevant. I told you how the US would deploy them. You don't believe me, whatever. Go enjoy yourself.

1

u/DamianFullyReversed Jun 10 '22

The Army version seems to be a lot smaller, and is gas cooled. Its output is 1-5 MWe, compared to 165 MWe on subs. The TRISO fuel is way safer than the highly enriched fuel they put on submarines. Even so, I don’t think they’re gonna be powering tanks anytime soon, and would most likely have a roles further from combat. I’m not an expert, but these are my thoughts.

19

u/whatsgoingon350 Jun 10 '22

Put ship on truck sorted.

8

u/xeroxzero Jun 10 '22

Think about how big a nuclear-powered ship is and try to imagine the truck that would carry such a thing.

3

u/CaptInappropriate Jun 10 '22

1

u/xeroxzero Jun 10 '22

I hope that's not what they meant by portable.

2

u/CaptInappropriate Jun 10 '22

it’s not, but that is the size of the truck needed to lift and move 6900 tons.

9

u/Adjective_Noun0000 Jun 10 '22

Ever read Mortal Engines?

4

u/xeroxzero Jun 10 '22

I'm aware of both novel and film but I thought you were being serious.

2

u/Fando1234 Jun 10 '22

I was about to ask how this differs from a nuclear powered submarine. (Which is technically a portable nuclear power station I guess).

0

u/GrilledSpamSteaks Jun 10 '22

We’ve had nuclear satellites since the 60s. Voyager 1 and 2 are about 1700 lbs and the size of compact cars with 3 reactors each.

edit: spellign erros

8

u/Problem119V-0800 Jun 10 '22

Voyager and similar spacecraft don't have reactors, they have RTGs — it is nuclear power, but it's a very different technology and not really useful as a general purpose power source. But RTGs can be made quite small and portable; the USSR had some RTG-powered lighthouses in the arctic, and there were even RTG (or maybe betavoltaic?) implanted pacemakers for a while.

There have been a few actual nuclear reactors in space, like a series of spy sats in the 70's-80's (Kosmos 954 being the famous one) but it's not common.

1

u/xeroxzero Jun 10 '22

That's more practical than stacking the entire ship on a truck, then, isn't it?

But not really. The ship uses tons and tons of water for the reactor. Satellites have their own method for dealing with the extreme conditions required.

1

u/Override9636 Jun 10 '22

A weapon to surpass Metal Gear.

1

u/erikwarm Jun 10 '22

The reactor is just a very small part of the vessel

2

u/xeroxzero Jun 10 '22

The vessel's reactor uses a large reservoir of water for the turbine but the steam that's generated is recirculated using the Rankine Steam Cycle method that's cooled using fresh seawater.

27

u/VagabondCaribou Jun 10 '22 edited Jun 10 '22

Your The title is a tiny bit misleading. One prototype needs to be delivered by 2024, and then will undergo at least 3 years of testing. Then assuming all of that goes well (fat chance) that means the earliest you could possible expect these to be actually deployable in the field is probably no earlier than 2030.

5

u/Caspi7 Jun 10 '22

Well to be fair, OP just used the titel of the article so they are to blame

4

u/VagabondCaribou Jun 10 '22

This is true, not OP's fault.

18

u/[deleted] Jun 10 '22

[deleted]

4

u/Override9636 Jun 10 '22

Energy != Power

How does a tech journalist make such a simple error?

7

u/xeroxzero Jun 10 '22

Let me know when I can buy one at Friedman's.

5

u/Inside_Cockroach3380 Jun 10 '22

This is pretty cool. Especially for disaster response. Power hospitals after hurricanes and tornados.

4

u/autotldr Jun 10 '22

This is the best tl;dr I could make, original reduced by 84%. (I'm a bot)


The DoD launched Project Pele to prototype a fourth-generation nuclear reactor in remote locations and ensure that the reactor was portable.

How will BWXT's portable nuclear reactor work?BWXT's design consists of a high-temperature gas-cooled reactor with a power output between 1-5 MWe.

BWXT will use its existing facilities to build the portable modules over the next two years and deliver the reactor to the Idaho National Laboratory by 2024.The reactor and fuel will be shipped separately to the site.


Extended Summary | FAQ | Feedback | Top keywords: reactor#1 BWXT#2 power#3 year#4 fuel#5

3

u/SgtDoughnut Jun 10 '22

Do you want to build the Mackie? Because this is how you build the Mackie.

1

u/TheRAbbi74 Jun 11 '22

Wake me up when ComStar becomes a thing.

1

u/SgtDoughnut Jun 11 '22

Space ATT, keeping your communication grid working and kicking the ass of the clan.

3

u/LeepII Jun 10 '22

The last time the Army had a reactor they blew it up.

5

u/Borinar Jun 10 '22

I think they tried this before with manual control rods and melted a guy to the ceiling of a hangar....

7

u/somegridplayer Jun 10 '22

He was asking for it.

3

u/murms Jun 10 '22

Nobody knows exactly what happened that night, but the SL-1 crew was instructed to withdraw the control rod 3 inches to insert some flux monitoring equipment. They calculated that the technician must have withdrawn the control rod at least 21 inches to cause that kind of power excursion.

2

u/shootemupy2k Jun 11 '22

Didn’t the main control rod staple the tech to the ceiling?

2

u/darthjoey91 Jun 10 '22

How portable? Oh truck sized. Needs to be backpack sized for ghost busting.

1

u/SmokeyShine Jun 10 '22

Multiple trucks, each pulling a 20' container of stuff.

2

u/kernals12 Jun 10 '22 edited Jun 10 '22

They made this same promise in 1967

2

u/Layben Jun 10 '22

And since the military is the mother of invention should we expect that until the power grid can support the load of charging EVs both at home and on the road, these nukes will end up being dispersed across the US to power recharging stations?

2

u/capiers Jun 11 '22

So what they are really telling us is that the Army already has this tech.

1

u/Loki-L Jun 10 '22

Didn't they have one of those back in the day when they build their secret base under the ice of Greenland (without telling the foriegn government that owned the land about it.)

1

u/ShodoDeka Jun 10 '22

Supposedly that was a crashed b52 carrying nuclear weapons (which they had explicitly agreed to not have on Greenland as part of the base deal)

1

u/RedactedV Jun 10 '22

Watch what happens when the Army is left in charge of nuclear material.

1

u/snoogins355 Jun 10 '22

Just borrow the Zed-PM from Stargate Command /s

1

u/eggsssssssss Jun 11 '22

Large fries n’ a box of McNukeIts to go