The Navy has disposed of 142 reactor compartment packages

Tuesday, November 21st, 2023

For more than a decade, the US Navy has considered the former Enterprise — CVN-65, not NCC-1701 — no longer operational:

In fact, since 2018, the 1,101-foot behemoth has been mostly floating pier side in Newport News, Va., awaiting final dismantlement and disposal.

Ships come and go in the Navy, but their disposal is not usually such a prolonged and complicated affair. They can be used as target practice for what the Navy calls a “SINKEX” or handed over to scrapping and salvaging companies, among other options.

But for a host of reasons, those routes are non-starters for the service’s first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier.


The Navy is not going into this process blind. It has decades of experience rendering nuclear-powered submarines and cruisers safe. Since 1986, the service has disposed of 142 reactor compartment packages, according to Navy spokesman Alan Baribeau.

The traditional process for disposing of a nuclear-powered sub begins with defueling the boat and towing it to Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton, Wash., where workers cut out the section of the ship containing the propulsion plants. The spent fuel, reactors and reactor compartments are packaged and sent to various Department of Energy facilities, which specialize in long-term storage and disposal of nuclear materials, in the Pacific Northwest.

“That was a lot easier with submarines and cruisers,” said Steven Wills, an analyst at the Center for Maritime Strategy. “These [carriers] take up too much space and affect operational units that are based in Bremerton.”

Compared to modern submarines that house just one reactor, Enterprise has eight, a remnant of the early stages of nuclear technology when construction began in 1958. The Nimitz-class, which the service started building in the 1960s, has two reactors per ship. (Baribeau noted that the design differences between Enterprise, the Nimitz and Ford-class carriers will be taken into consideration when the latter classes are prepared for disposal, but added that “lessons learned” from Enterprise will inform the Navy’s choices for its successors.)

Even just finding a place to dock a carrier can be challenging.


Clark noted the Navy’s original nuclear propulsion programs predate the civilian nuclear energy sector, meaning it was an imperative at the time for the Pentagon to have the expertise in-house to see the technology’s lifecycle through from start to finish. But, unlike when Enterprise was being built, there are now private companies capable of dismantling nuclear power plants.


  1. Jim says:

    The main issues are size and mass production. Miniaturization and mass manufacture of computers are what turned them from dog-slow room-sized glorified artillery calculators to lightning-quick Apple Vision Pro and gAI estuaries. I should be able to have a disposable nuclear reactor the size of a D battery with the power output of a portable gas generator and the half-life of an unvaccinated house cat. Instead they chose to zero out real economic growth in 1971 and give women bank accounts in 1974 to “solve the population problem” and play peekaboo with 280 characters and “flying cars” in the form of upsized upjumped quadcopter drones of impossibly high disk loading.

    America was cool once, once upon a time, before the lawyer coup.

  2. Lu An Li says:

    Idaho Falls where most if not all of those reactors buried. Most atomic place the USA. I hope all that stuff properly safeguarded.

  3. Bob Sykes says:

    A professor of construction management who did research on reactor disassembly and disposal told me that the costs of doing so equalled the costs of the initial construction, and that the regulatory agencies had not built that cost into the electric rates.

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