A rendering of a ship concept under development by Lynchburg-based BWX Technologies and the marine logistics firm Crowley to transport a nuclear microreactor for military and disaster response operations. Photo courtesy of BWXT and Crowley.

Lynchburg-based nuclear services firm BWX Technologies and Jacksonville, Florida-based marine logistics company Crowley will collaborate on a new ship design to deliver small nuclear reactors for supplying power during military and disaster-response operations.

The 378-foot ship would carry a five- to 50-megawatt microreactor to a place where regular sources of power are damaged or otherwise unavailable. Buoyed cables would then connect the power plant on the ship to facilities on shore to supply electricity, according to a joint news release from the companies.

After it’s no longer needed, the power plant could be disconnected and taken elsewhere.

“The idea is to provide power where and when needed, so response to something like a storm or other situation where significant power is needed quickly and for more than just a few days would be one of the best uses of this concept,” BWXT spokesperson Jud Simmons said in an email.

The ship itself would not be nuclear powered but would use traditional propulsion methods.

Its hull would be designed to allow it to maneuver in shallower water than some other ships could handle, which could be beneficial for military operations or if access to a harbor is limited.

Furthermore, the vessel and reactor would be designed with adequate shielding to protect the crews operating the vessel and the technicians in the reactor control room, said Jeffrey Brunell, director of business development for Crowley Solutions, a business unit of Crowley.

“The vessel is designed and dedicated to ensure the safest operation of the reactor, including the ability to withstand and continue operations in a range of harsh weather conditions and sea states, and reduced environmental impact (noise and heat),” Brunell said via email. “Maintenance of the micro-reactor would be handled at qualified locations by specially trained personnel working under strict federal regulations.”

The two companies said they have a memorandum of understanding “to jointly pursue and develop opportunities relative to the design, engineering and development” of the new ship, combining Crowley’s logistics and maritime expertise with the nuclear capabilities of BWXT’s Advanced Technologies subsidiary.

There is not yet a definitive timeline for developing the ship design, Simmons said.

BWX Technologies is also creating a mobile nuclear reactor as part of the U.S. military’s Project Pele program. While this ship-based reactor would not be the same one, it likely would be a similar type using the same kind of uranium-based fuel, Simmons said.

The collaborative project represents the latest endeavor by BWXT to develop a small reactor along with a way to move it. Project Pele requires using various transportation methods such as rail, road and air, based on specific requirements from the Department of Defense, Simmons said.

The partnership is Crowley’s first foray into nuclear energy, and it “supports the U.S. Department of Energy’s goal of maintaining U.S. leadership in nuclear energy technology as well as many [of] the U.S. Department of Defense’s strategic goals for operational energy,” Shiju Zacharia, senior vice president and general manager for Crowley Government Solutions, said in the release.

BWXT (NYSE:BWXT) provides nuclear fuel and components for the U.S. military and is developing other technologies such as nuclear medicine and spacecraft fuel. It employs about 7,000 people, including 2,600 in the Lynchburg area, most of whom work at the company’s Mt. Athos site in Campbell County. 

Crowley is a privately owned maritime, energy and logistics solutions company with commercial and government customers. It employs about 7,000 people worldwide.

Matt Busse is the business reporter for Cardinal News. Matt spent nearly 19 years at The News & Advance,...