Oklo selected for Alaska airbase microreactor

05 September 2023

The US Department of the Air Force, in partnership with the Defense Logistics Agency Energy, has selected Oklo Inc to site, design, construct, own and operate a microreactor facility to deliver electricity and steam at the Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska.

An F-35A Lightning II takes off from the Eielson airbase (Image: US Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Jose Miguel T Tamondong)

The Defense Logistics Agency Energy has issued a Notice of Intent to Award a contract to Oklo to provide power and heat at the base as part of the US Air Force's microreactor pilot programme. This marks the start of the acquisition process to potentially award a 30-year, firm-fixed-price contract to Oklo. The company would need to obtain a licence for the plant from the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) before constructing and operating the plant. The FY2019 National Defense Authorisation Act requires the reactor to be operational by the end of 2027.

The US military is the nation's largest single energy consumer. The US Congress, in the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act, directed the Department of Defense (DOD) to site and operate at least one nuclear reactor at a DOD facility within a decade, to meet energy resilience and assurance needs. The US Air Force confirmed in 2021 that Eielson - which currently relies on coal to power its operations - would be the site for its first microreactor, and in September 2022 issued a request for proposals for a "nuclear microreactor energy production facility" able to produce electricity and steam and to meet a baseload electricity demand of 5 MWe.

Assistant Secretary of Defense for Energy, Installations, and Environment, Brendan Owens, said the department would be "watching this project closely and working with the other military departments to identify additional installations where deployment of US-developed advanced nuclear technology will improve power reliability and installation resilience".

"Today is a historic first for the Air Force, state of Alaska, and the nation," said Ravi Chaudhary, assistant secretary of the Air Force for Energy, Installations, and Environment. "Safe, reliable, clean energy using microreactor technology will be an integral part of Air Force installations in the future. The best part of this innovation is that we are coming together at the beginning to demonstrate this capability - partnering with key regulatory authorities, state, and local communities to ensure we get this right and do it safely."

"We are honoured to be at the forefront of increasing resilience and reducing emissions, while driving national security forward," Oklo co-founder and CEO Jacob DeWitte said.

Oklo's fast reactor technology is able to operate independently from the grid while providing a clean and reliable power source. This makes it an ideal solution for domestic military installations critical to national security infrastructure, the company said. The company submitted an application to build and operate its first plant at a site at Idaho National Laboratory (INL) in 2020 - the first such application to be submitted for an advanced fission plant. The NRC in 2022 said it would need additional information to resume the application, but the company says it remains on track to bring its first plant online before the end of the decade.

The DOD Strategic Capabilities Office has also partnered with the Department of Energy in Project Pele to develop, prototype and demonstrate a transportable microreactor. BWXT has been selected to build the prototype, which is to be tested at INL.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News