Getting fuel to remote operating bases is a big problem for the U.S. military. In 2008, during the height of combat in Iraq, the Government Accountability Office estimated that more than 900,000 gallons of fuel went to bases for basic power needs like lighting and refrigeration (on top of the 6.7 million gallons the military burned that year in jets and ground vehicles.) The U.S. military’s Strategic Capabilities Office has put out a request for information about small nuclear reactors that could deploy to the sorts of hillside forward bases U.S. troops set up in places like Afghanistan.
According to the request for “Project Dilithium,” the reactor should fit on a truck and a C-17 aircraft and generate from one to 10 megawatts of electric power for three years without refueling. Soldiers have to be able to stand it up in 72 hours and take it down in a week. It’s got to be meltdown-proof. The office is looking to fund three different prototype designs and will then select a winner from among them.
The idea of deployable nuclear reactors only seems outlandish. In fact, the research has a long history in the military.
In 1954, the Army launched the Nuclear Power Program, under its Corps of Engineers developed a variety of nuclear reactor cores of different sizes.