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Design and Performance Analysis of a Mobile, Land-based Micro-reactor for Domestic Military Energy Production
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In 1942 the U.S. achieved criticality with Chicago Pile-1 and in 1952 constructed the first nuclear-powered submarine. Given the rapid advancements in the first decade of nuclear reactor demonstration, it would not be a stretch of the imagination to think that a land-based, mobile micro-reactor would soon become a reality. However, almost 80 years have elapsed since the Chicago Pile-1 achieved criticality and land-based micro-reactors continue to face many obstacles. So, this begs the question: Are land-based, mobile micro-reactors still viable and sustainable within the scope of the Army’s Mobile Nuclear Power Program? This work examines a mobile, land-based micro-reactor concept for domestic U.S. Army installation energy production based on the mobile low power reactor prototype 1 (ML-1) concept. A detailed model of the ML-1 micro-reactor was created in MCNP® and benchmarked against experimental data from multiple demonstrations conducted between 1962-1965. A low cost-estimate of $71.1 million and high cost-estimate of $291.3 million in today’s dollars for a micro-reactor design based on the ML-1 concept was obtained using program costs captured in Congressional legislative records and the average inflation rate. Lastly, improvements were made to the ML-1 design with modern evaluated nuclear data files and advanced fuel material to meet Project Pele design requirements. The calculated keff after 3 years of operation at 3 MWt is distributed between 0.9969 and 0.9996 at the 95 percent confidence interval. The keff increases in the days following shutdown due to buildup and subsequent decay of fission poisons. Regular power cycling will aid in reducing fission product poison buildup to sustain criticality at the three-year mark. Ultimately, these results suggest that a critical system with a three-year operation at threshold power is possible utilizing the ML-1 concept with HALEU fuel in uranium carbide form and replacing nitrogen coolant with helium. A map of domestic U.S. Army installations was created in Python, incorporating installation energy consumption data, U.S. census data, and drought data to help make an informed decision on the optimal siting location. The FY19 energy consumption data, remote location, and hazardous weather conditions suggest Tooele Army Depot, UT is the best location for this mobile, land-based micro-reactor concept.
Passons, Branden Scott (2021). Design and Performance Analysis of a Mobile, Land-based Micro-reactor for Domestic Military Energy Production. Master's thesis, Texas A&M University. Available electronically from