Jan 25, 2024

Potential nuclear power on Guam draws questions, concerns from senators

What happens if a Chinese missile strikes a mobile nuclear reactor stationed on Guam?

That was among the questions raised by senators during a Thursday sit down with a visiting research team from the Pentagon’s Project Pele, as part of a cross-country assessment of potential sites to host mobile, micro nuclear reactors.

Possible contamination of the island, especially in the case of a war or from the disposal of nuclear waste, was one of the top concerns for several lawmakers.

Pele project manager Jeff Waksman repeatedly assured senators that there was no possibility of the reactor that’s being developed causing widespread, long-term contamination of the island.

“I’d much rather be living near a nuclear reactor than near a fuel farm. The fuel farms get in the water, they pollute the water,” Waksman said.

He said he would not be recommending to the Department of Defense that the reactors—which could potentially roll out by 2030—be placed in any place where they were not wanted.

His team will not give a “yes or no” to the DoD, but provide whatever information they find.

But some, like Sen. Sabina Perez, aired skepticism about the safety of the system.

Waksman told Perez the newly developed fuel used by the reactor was the “Cadillac of nuclear fuel,” and a key to much of the safety of the new reactor. Uranium in the nuclear fuel is held inside of millions of spheres, meant to absorb any radioactive gas produced by the operations of a reactor.

It was also “low yield,” he said, and could not be repurposed for nuclear weapons, for example.

As for any nuclear waste, “the DoD would not tolerate leaving nuclear waste on any local location,” Waksman told senators, and nuclear waste was more tightly controlled than waste from any other type of energy source.

Questioned by Sen. Chris Barnett about the possibility of a reactor being damaged during an attack, Waksman said there will be “kinetic testing” of the new reactor’s resilience in Idaho.

“I can’t describe exactly what we’re going to be doing. But we are going to be blowing some stuff up,” he said.


Sen. Joanne Brown at one point said it was difficult to believe in a technology that was not “tried and true.”

“For us from our end, just a little skeptical because DoD does not have a very good history on Guam, with regards to how it’s handled disposal of what we would consider chemicals and other things that have not been so good to our environment,” she said.

Perez, meanwhile, accused Waksman of being on a “PR campaign.”

“I just can’t believe that you’re trying to make the claims that it’s safe in a community that has suffered for so many years regarding radiation exposure,” the senator said, questioning the research around how safe the fuel used for Pele was.

Both Brown and Perez pointed to nuclear weapons testing on the Marshall Islands, which researchers in 2005 found had subjected Guam to nuclear fallout.

Waksman said that sort of fallout was not associated with nuclear energy.

“I’m very sorry about the things that were done in the past with nuclear bombs that has nothing to do with anything that we’re doing here,” he said.

That sort of testing was now illegal for a reason, the researcher said.

The Pele reactor also did not require any water cooling, and had an automatic safety system to avoid the types of disasters seen in Fukushima, Japan in 2011.

Location questions

Lawmakers wanted to know the certainty of reactors created by Pele being stationed on Guam.

According to Waksman, Pele reactors were not being designed to power the 360-degree missile defense system the military is planning to build for Guam, nor was it designed specifically for the island.

He said no final decisions about placement have been made by the DoD yet.

Barnett and Speaker Therese Terlaje noted that Guam has been identified in a number of documents as a potential host for micro nuclear reactors.

For example, a draft version of the National Defense Authorization Act called for a congressional brief on the possibility of the technology for Guam, and a 2018 study commissioned by the Army identified Naval Base Guam and Andersen Air Force Base as potential sites.

Besides Alaska, “there are a number of islands in the Pacific that we are looking at. So it’s not just Guam,” Waksman told lawmakers.

He stressed that he would not be recommending that reactors be put in a location where the local population did not want them.

“I’m not gonna speak for (Joint Region Marianas), but I can tell you that … I have a lot of engagements with not only Army senior leaders but also the political leadership in the country. The Secretary of Energy has been very clear about this. She’s very clear that she believes in consent-based siting,” Waksman said.

Terlaje said it was getting local consent for the idea “that has not been our experience at all.”

Barnett questioned whether the siting of a reactor on Guam had been “predetermined” and if the Army has already decided that “yes, we’re going to use this technology.”

Meanwhile, Sen. Jesse Lujan noted that putting a nuclear microreactor made sense if he was a “military mind.”

“So I know it’s not in your mind, but it may be another level above your pay grade,” Lujan told Waksman.

By: Joe Taitano II

Source: Pacific Daily News