The solicitation represents a key opportunity for advanced and micro-reactor developers and is another critical step in the Department of Defense’s (DoD) use of rapidly advancing nuclear technology to provide power to military installations.
Solutions will follow either the U.S. Army regulatory authority or Nuclear Regulatory Commission process, and reactor designers may propose one or more preferred approaches to regulatory and government affairs.
The response window is narrow, with solution briefs due no later than June 21, 2024.

The Defense Innovation Unit (DIU) has released a solicitation for Solution Briefs addressing the U.S. Army’s need for a full life cycle prototype micro-reactor nuclear power plant(s). The micro-reactor will preferably supply between 3MW and 10MW of electrical power and must be in operation by the end of 2030. The selected micro-reactor design(s) will follow either the Army regulatory authority or the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) process, with the Army announcing plans to update its regulatory document and guidance to facilitate the prototyping effort.*

A successful prototype solution that provides a sound technological path coupled with an integrated solution for the regulatory, transactional and environmental certainty will be eligible to enter into sole-sourced, follow-on contract(s) for production agreements for the continued purchase(s) of electricity and decommissioning at the end of the operating life of the micro-reactor(s).

The 2019 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) required the Secretary of Energy to report on a pilot program to provide resilience for Department of Defense (DoD) facilities by contracting with a commercial entity to build and operate at least one NRC-licensed micro-reactor by December 31, 2027. In October 2021, the Department of the Air Force announced Eielson AFB as the installation to pilot its first micro-reactor, to comply with the mandate of the 2019 NDAA.

The 2021 NDAA subsequently required the DoD to attain a minimum level of 99.9% availability for energy loads that support critical missions by the end of fiscal year 2030, favoring the use of full-time, installed energy sources rather than emergency generation. The purpose of DIU’s current solicitation is to find a solution that helps the Army maintain military mission continuity and comply with the mandate of NDAA 2021 using recent advances in the nuclear industry.

Procurement Process
The Army expects that the Solution Briefs will address the full life cycle of micro-reactor power plant(s) that would start operations before the end of the calendar year 2030. Briefs must address design, construction, operation, deconstruction and returning the site to an unrestricted release status. The solution should follow an integrated and phased approach to compliance with planning and design, planning and construction, architecture and engineering, building construction, environmental, operating, safety and physical/cyber protection, deconstruction, and spent fuel management requirements. Contractors are allowed to propose one or more alternative approaches to addressing these regulatory issues.

Successful offerors(s) will be awarded initial prototype award(s) in accordance with the competitive process outlined in DIU’s Commercial Solutions Opening solicitation HQ0845-20-S-C001. Under this process, the government first evaluates the Solution Briefs and then requests a Pitch Session, followed by full written proposal(s) for the award of prototype Other Transaction Agreements (OTA) from any vendors(s) whose Solution Brief(s) are evaluated as meritorious. The prototype OTA, if successful, may be followed by a much larger sole-sourced production agreement to construct additional reactors.

Desired Solution Features
The solicitation provides further details on the desired features for the solution. Of particular note, the desired features include the following:

  • Utilize fuel that is enriched to 20% or less U-235 that will be made available to meet the timeline. Of importance in the context of advanced reactor designs, the solution must provide evidence that the proposed fuel form can be provided within the proposed schedule.
  • Capable of producing 3MW to 10MW of electrical power. However, compelling solutions outside this anticipated range may also be considered.
  • All operations, maintenance and support staff to operate the reactor for the useful life of the electricity generation asset, anticipated to be 20 years, with remote or wireless operations prohibited.
  • Capability to provide power supply for a minimum of 20 years, including operations, maintenance, sustainment, refueling and maintenance activities as needed to meet electricity production and availability objectives. The solicitation does not place restrictions on the proposed strategy to achieve this desired feature, i.e., refueling or “replaceable” modules to maintain continuity of operations may be allowed. The overall economic strategy by the Offeror will be evaluated and must include associated costs/risks with that strategy.
  • Decommissioning requirements, including that non-core irradiated material should be removed or qualified for unrestricted release within two years upon completion or termination of the power production contract. This plan, along with associated finance structure, must be approved by the Army. Further, irradiated core material should be removed from the site notionally within five years of completion or termination of the power production contract, or as otherwise agreed upon by the Army.
  • The available footprint for the reactor site (including radiation boundaries) should not exceed five acres, with a protected area of less than 540-ft diameter.

The successful micro-reactor developer(s) will follow either the Army regulatory authority or the NRC process for the entire lifecycle of the reactor(s). At minimum, this includes an integrated and phased approach to compliance with planning and design, planning and construction, architecture and engineering, building construction, environmental, operating, safety and physical/cyber protection, deconstruction, and spent fuel management requirements. However, reactor designers may propose one or more preferred approach(es) to regulatory and government affairs addressing the above attributes inclusive of existing procedure, policy and process.

The Army’s nuclear regulatory authority is derived from section 91b of the Atomic Energy Act (AEA) (42 U.S.C. § 2121(b)) and to facilitate the prototyping process, the Army initiated revisions to its primary regulatory document, Army Regulation 50-7, and development of a new guidance document, Army Pamphlet 50-7. The final regulation and pamphlet are expected to be published during the concept of design phase.

The solicitation can be found at this link. The Solution Briefs are due on June 21, 2024. Interested parties are encouraged to contact the authors of this alert, or their current Pillsbury point of contact, for more information on meeting the solicitation’s requirements and time frame.

*An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the microreactor must be licensed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

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