An Alaska Air Base Wants to Build a Micro Nuclear Plant for Backup Power

The Department of Defense’s drive for zero-carbon energy has led to solar power generation at Sun Belt bases from Florida to California and geothermal systems at installations with suitable geologies.

But what about Alaska? The deep winter there brings less than four hours of direct sun daily, and thawing permafrost – itself caused by climate change – threatens the existence of some bases.

Eielson Air Force Base may have a solution: micro-scale nuclear power.

Last month, the Air Force issued a call for proposals to build a 2.5-megawatt microreactor at Eielson to complement its current 20-MW coal-fired power plant, which provides power through the facility via overhead wires.

An Air Force spokesman said the proposed microreactor “is intended to supplement currently installed power sources as a redundant resilience measure to power the base.”

Established in 1944, Eielson serves a vital national security mission. It is home to the Air Force’s 354th Fighter Squadron, which provides “combat-ready air forces.” The base, which is 150 miles south of the North Pole, also serves as a “strategic Arctic base option,” according to its website. Eielson recently completed a major expansion to accommodate two new squadrons of F-35 fighter jets. The project required the construction of 36 buildings and 54 residential units.

The base currently relies on a decades-old central heating plant that uses between 700 and 900 tons of coal per day, a base spokesman said in an email. Coal is delivered by rail from the Uibelli coal mine approximately 120 miles southwest of the base. The emergency power supply is provided via a contract with the regional energy supplier and, if required, via two diesel generators with a nominal output of 7.5 MW.

Maj. Kathryn Stuard, flight commander for the 354th Civil Engineer Squadron at Eielson, said in an email that while the base’s existing power plants have been “continuously improved and upgraded,” the additional generation from the microreactor “further enhances energy resilience and autonomy.” ” at the base.

Unlike Eielson’s existing power plant, the Air Force will not own the new microreactor, but will purchase its power under a power purchase agreement with the future builder and owner of the facility. It is not known who that will be.

Officials did not provide a cost estimate for the pilot, but said the microreactor would be operational by fiscal year 2027. The project is consistent with the Department of Defense’s broader mission to drastically reduce its carbon emissions while improving the base’s resilience to extreme events.

Stuard said the base’s arctic environment is its “principal energy security threat,” adding that “extreme cold and darkness make us more dependent on power and heat than other sites.” She said the base experiences an average of two to three power outages a year.

In a statement, Nancy Balkus, the Air Force assistant assistant secretary for environment, security and infrastructure, said the microreactor program is “extremely important to mission assurance and sustainment in the face of climate change and ongoing threats to national defenses and demonstrates our department’s commitment.” , to ensure that our assets have a safe and reliable supply of energy, no matter where they are located.”

E&E News reprinted with permission from POLITICO, LLC. Copyright 2022. E&E News provides important news for energy and environmental professionals.

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