Air Force Looks to Alternative Fuel and Mini-Nuclear Reactors to Address Climate Change

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U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Rey Sedantes of the 61st Civil Engineering and Logistics Squadron at Los Angeles Air Force Base receives instruction on how to operate the Princeton Power Systems' bidirectional electric vehicle charging stations from vehicle operations contractor Oscar Machado during a training demo in El Segundo, Calif.
U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Rey Sedantes of the 61st Civil Engineering and Logistics Squadron at Los Angeles Air Force Base receives instruction on how to operate the Princeton Power Systems' bidirectional electric vehicle charging stations from vehicle operations contractor Oscar Machado during a training demo in El Segundo, Calif. (Sarah Corrice/U.S. Air Force photo)

The Air Force unveiled ambitious goals to address the service's impact on climate change, ranging from using less jet fuel, powering bases with nuclear reactors and introducing electric vehicles into the fleet over the next decade.

The service's 20-page Climate Action Plan, released Wednesday, comes as natural disasters have become a regular issue for bases, something scientists expect will become more common as a result of climate change.

In 2016, wildfires delayed a rocket launch at what's now called Vandenberg Space Force Base in California, while 2018's Hurricane Michael leveled structures on Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida and a 2019 flood at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska rendered runways unusable. 

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"Increasing temperatures, changing precipitation patterns, and more frequent, severe weather conditions driven by climate change pose increasing risks to our installations and operational readiness," the plan reads. "We cannot launch or recover aircraft on a flooded runway, nor can we operate from installations devastated by hurricanes and wildfires."

To shrink the service's contribution to climate change, the Air Force aims to have net-zero emissions by fiscal 2046, reducing 50% of emission levels by fiscal 2033.

The majority of the Air Force's energy consumption, about 80% of it, comes from fuel burned for planes and jets, according to the climate plan. The service is aiming to decrease that percentage by creating more aerodynamic planes and also looking into alternative fuel sources. 

"Our overall goal is to deliver more combat power to the warfighter using less fuel," the plan reads. 

One way the service hopes to do this is through what it's calling the Mission Execution Excellence Program -- otherwise known as MEEP -- which tasks airmen to come up with new ways to identify fuel waste and make plans to use fuel more efficiently. 

"Over the next five years, we estimate these efforts will cut greenhouse gas emissions by a combined 3.7 percent (or approximately 650,000 metric tons annually), the equivalent of 67 million gallons of fuel," the plan details. 

Additionally, the Department of the Air Force is looking at using alternative energy sources such as solar power for various Air Force and Space Force bases. There are also designs on increasing the use of nuclear power. 

At Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska, the department is currently testing a micro-reactor to "promote energy security and independence by employing a safe and resilient source of carbon pollution-free energy," according to the plan. The department is also working to fully electrify all non-tactical vehicles by 2035. 

The Air Force's plan was released on the same day as the Army's climate change initiatives. Notably, the U.S. military has been one of the largest contributors to climate change.

A 2019 report from Brown University estimated that, in the last two decades, the U.S. military has emitted 1,212 million metric tons of greenhouse gases, outpacing several industrialized nations. 

Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall said in a statement that the Department of the Air Force remains focused on China, but that climate change must also be recognized as a threat. 

"Our mission remains unchanged, but we recognize that the world is facing ongoing and accelerating climate change and we must be prepared to respond, fight, and win in this constantly changing world," Kendall said in a press release.

-- Thomas Novelly can be reached at thomas.novelly@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @TomNovelly.

Related: Army Releases New Plan to 'Mitigate' Climate Change

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