A Proposed Decision Framework for DoD Investment in Nuclear Energy Technology

Focused on Microreactors at DoD Locations in the U.S.

by Kyle D. Haak

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Although new and advanced nuclear energy technologies (NETs) could provide reliable electricity and reduce carbon emissions for Department of Defense (DoD) locations, the values of these benefits and the NET's characteristics, costs, and regulations are uncertain. This dissertation proposes a decision framework to help DoD decisionmakers determine whether an investment in an NET is worthwhile.

I developed the framework based on observations from a literature review, a historical analysis of the Army Nuclear Power Program, a site visit to Eielson Air Force Base, and semi-structured interviews with subject matter experts. The steps of the framework articulate why DoD might invest in an NET, characterize each NET of interest, and identify which DoD locations could viably host that NET. The steps also describe how to disclose assumptions, account for uncertainties, and examine risks that could impact an investment in an NET. I scoped the framework to focus on NETs with low power capacities that DoD implements at locations in the United States for the entirety of the NET's lifespan. I demonstrate how to use the framework by applying it to unclassified data, which also produced key findings and recommendations for DoD decisionmakers.

The framework application showed that few DoD locations have a relative average electricity cost greater than an NET's levelized cost of electricity and an average power consumption greater than the NET's power capacity; however, there are some cases (combinations of future scenarios and NETs) with numerous viable location-technology pairs. The data suggests that DoD should abandon the independent pursuit of microreactors with 1-5 MWe power capacity for DoD locations in the United States because the monetary and non-monetary costs are greater than the monetary and non-monetary benefits for DoD. Alternatively, implementing a 17 MWe NET at twenty-one viable DoD locations in the United States could be a worthwhile investment for DoD. Therefore, this dissertation recommends DoD decisionmakers invest in more accurate cost estimates of a 17 MWe NET and perform a more targeted investigation of the twenty-one viable DoD locations.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter One

    Introduction

  • Chapter Two

    History of the Army Nuclear Power Program

  • Chapter Three

    Eielson Air Force Base Site Visit

  • Chapter Four

    The Proposed Decision Framework

  • Chapter Five

    Example of Applying the Framework

  • Chapter Six

    Conclusions

  • Appendix A

    Summary of ANPP reactors' lifespan

  • Appendix B

    Semi-Structured Interview

  • Appendix C

    The Framework Questionnaire (Step 1 through Step 7)

  • Appendix D

    How Scale of Power Impacts NET Cost Estimates

  • Appendix E

    Framework Application: Supplemental Content

Research conducted by

This document was submitted as a dissertation in September 2022 in partial fulfillment of the requirements of the doctoral degree in public policy analysis at the Pardee RAND Graduate School. The faculty committee that supervised and approved the dissertation consisted of Anu Narayanan (Chair), Benjamin Miller, and Rodney Ewing.

This report is part of the RAND Corporation Dissertation series. Pardee RAND dissertations are produced by graduate fellows of the Pardee RAND Graduate School, the world's leading producer of Ph.D.'s in policy analysis. The dissertations are supervised, reviewed, and approved by a Pardee RAND faculty committee overseeing each dissertation.

The RAND Corporation is a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis. RAND's publications do not necessarily reflect the opinions of its research clients and sponsors.