Could tiny nuclear reactors power Alaska villages?

Assistant Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette visited the Cook Inlet Tribal Council’s workshop in Anchorage in August 2019. (Photo by Liz Ruskin/Alaska Public Media)

President Trump’s nominee to be the next secretary of energy says he would continue the quest to develop mini nuclear reactors that could one day power communities in rural Alaska.

“We want to get to a place where we can develop small micro-reactors, one to five megawatts,” Dan Brouillette said Thursday at his confirmation hearing in the U.S. Senate Energy Committee. 

The idea of nuclear reactors frightens many, but among their advantages is that they don’t produce greenhouse gas emissions the way coal plants and diesel generators do. Energy Committee Chair Sen. Lisa Murkowski says modular reactors may be a solution for remote Alaska communities that now depend on diesel.

Related: Experts say nuclear power in Alaska is not as far-fetched as you might think

Brouillette is now the deputy secretary. He told Murkowski there’s reason to be optimistic about the development of reactors that are a fraction of the size of those in use today.

“But if we can make them even smaller, then they can serve communities that you showed me in Alaska, I think much more easily,” he said.

Brouillette and Murkowski visited the Western Alaska villages of Kwigillingok and Kongiganak in August.

He says he also wants the department to expand renewable power and improve large-scale battery storage. And he says the U.S. should  develop carbon capture technology, because the world will need to burn coal and other fossil fuels for decades to come.

“If we care about the climate, if we care about minimizing the carbon impact of the use of these fossil fuels, we have to get these technologies off of the shelf and into the market,” he said.

If confirmed, Brouillette would replace Secretary Rick Perry, who announced he would resign last month.