The Air Force says it is looking for other emergency power sources after scrubbing a program that would have placed small nuclear reactors at bases around the country.
"We continue to be concerned about secure power and secure energy for our Air Force bases," Gary S. Flora, associate director of Air Force engineering and services, told a House Government Operations subcommittee this week.His testimony came after an official of the General Accounting Office criticized the four-year reactor development program, which cost about $3.75 million, as ill-conceived and poorly managed. The program was terminated in May 1987.
Flora said the Air Force is pursuing other options, including additional feeder cables from the commercial power grid and installation of more auxiliary power generators at bases.
"Key facilities currently have backup generators," he said, but in most cases they can supply only a fraction of total power needs.
The local reactor project was prompted by the need to provide Air Force bases with auxiliary power supplies that would be more secure against disruption in the event of natural disasters, sabotage, terrorism or wartime attack.
Rep. Mike Synar, D-Okla., chairman of the subcommittee on the environment, energy and natural resources, said that while such concern was understandable, "the logical approach would seem to call for assessing all the options and choosing the one best suited to each individual base."
"Instead, DOE (he Department of Energy) pressed ahead with a plan to put cloned `mini nukes' at bases around the country at a cost which could ultimately approach $20 billion," he said.
As a start, the program envisioned locating 10-megawatt reactors at seven bases: Tinker Air Force Base, Okla.; McClellan AFB, Calif.; Kelly AFB, Texas; Robbins AFB, Ga.; Hill AFB, Utah; Mountain AFB, Idaho, and Shemya AFB, Alaska.
Initial work on the project was done at Los Alamos National Laboratory for DOE's Office of Defense Programs. Then, before the Los Alamos feasibility study was complete, the project was reassigned to DOE's Office of Nuclear Energy and the work was transferred to the department's Idaho National Engineering Laboratory.
Air Force responsibility for the project also was shifted, from an office at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., to another at Bolling AFB in Washington, D.C., before the plan was dropped.
Keith O. Fultz, senior associate director of the GAO's resources, community and economic development division, told the subcommittee that despite the time and money spent, the program "made little progress toward its intended goal."