WASHINGTON — Less than a month after issuing a policy directive on space nuclear power, the White House released an executive order Jan. 12 seeking to promote the development of small nuclear reactors for space and defense applications.
The executive order, “Promoting Small Modular Reactors for National Defense and Space Exploration,” includes separate directions for NASA and the Defense Department to pursue small nuclear reactors for their uses, while cooperating on common technologies for those systems.
Another section of the executive order directs the Department of Energy to complete a three-year effort to develop technology for the production of high-assay low enriched uranium (HALEU). NASA and the Energy Department previously identified HALEU as a potential fuel for space nuclear power systems, providing higher performance than low enriched uranium but without the nonproliferation issues of highly enriched uranium.
The order also directs the Energy Department to transition the HALEU technology to the commercial sector for larger-scale production. There is currently no commercial source of HALEU in the United States, administration officials said.
Other sections of the order focus on defense applications of small modular nuclear reactors, including a demonstration of a “micro-reactor” licensed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission at domestic military installation as a test to see if such systems could meet Defense Department needs elsewhere. It also calls on the Defense Department to work with other agencies, including NASA, to identify national security applications of space nuclear power systems.
The executive order directs NASA and the Defense Department, along with the Energy Department and other agencies, to collaborate on a common technology roadmap “that coordinates, to the extent practicable, terrestrial-based advanced nuclear reactor and space-based nuclear power and propulsion efforts” through 2030.