Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 03/2011

Small Nuclear Reactors for Military Installations: Capabilities, Costs, and Technological Implications

Richard B. Andres, Hanna L. Breetz

February 2011

Institute for National Strategic Studies


The technology being proposed for small reactors (much of which was originally developed in U.S. Government labs) is promising. A number of the planned designs are self-contained and highly mobile, and could meet the needs of either domestic or forward bases. The argument that this technology could be useful at domestic bases is virtually unassailable. The argument for using this technology in operational units abroad is less conclusive; however, because of its potential to save lives, it warrants serious investigation. Unfortunately, the technology for these reactors is, for the most part, caught between the drawing board and production. Claims regarding the field utility and safety of various reactors are plausible, but authoritative evaluation will require substantial investment and technology demonstration. In the U.S. market, DOD could play an important role in this area. In the event that the U.S. small reactor industry succeeds without DOD support, the types of designs that emerge might not be useful for the department since some of the larger, more efficient designs that have greater appeal to private industry would not fit the department's needs. Thus, there is significant incentive for DOD to intervene to provide a market, both to help the industry survive and to shape its direction.