The Navy is trying to figure out how to dispose of the world's first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier

Military Tech
Preserving the Legend of USS Enterprise

The Navy plans to decide by late 2022 how to dispose of the world's first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier and likely will turn to the private sector for help, documents show.

The former USS Enterprise, now rusted and gutted, sits pier-side at Huntington Ingalls Newport News shipyard, where it was built and launched amid great fanfare more than 50 years ago.

It remains to be seen whether HII will be involved in disposal of the Big E. The Navy has scheduled a public meeting June 18 in Newport News to hear comments on different options as it develops an environmental impact statement.


The ship's fate has been an open question for a few years.

Since the early 1990s, the end of the line for aging nuclear warships has been Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and Intermediate Maintenance Facility in Bremerton, Wash. But that yard has handled older cruisers and submarines.

Disposing of Enterprise is a first-of-its-kind job, and the Navy has re-examined its traditional Pacific Northwest strategy with eye toward cutting costs and saving time.

The alternatives currently on the table:

  • Dismantle Enterprise at a commercial ship-breaker except for the naval reactor compartments. Those would go to Puget Sound for processing and disposal. The compartments would be divided into eight packages — one for each nuclear reactor — and shipped to the Department of Energy's (DOE) Hanford site in eastern Washington, the longstanding facility for disposal of naval reactor compartments.
  • The same process as the first, except the naval reactor compartments would be divided into four heavier packages, not eight smaller ones
  • Dismantle Enterprise at a commercial ship-breaker, then cut apart the eight reactor plants into segments and package them into several hundred small containers for storage at an established DOE site or a licensed commercial waste facility.
  • Keep the Enterprise intact and mothball it. That would require "periodic maintenance to ensure storage continues in a safe and environmentally responsible manner," according to a Navy document.

The third option is of particular interest to Hampton Roads.

The USS Enterprise under way in 2004 (U.S. Navy/Photographer's Mate Airman Rob Gaston)

The Navy did not go into detail, but documents list the commercial sites for that alternative as Newport News and Brownsville, Texas, which is a hub of ship recycling.

Towing the Enterprise to Brownsville would be less expensive than transporting it around the tip of South America to Washington state, a necessary route because the ship is too large for the Panama Canal.

The third alternative also identifies three disposal locations, including DOE's Savannah River Site, a nuclear reservation in Aiken, S.C. The site is operated and managed by Savannah River Nuclear Solutions LLC, which includes Newport News Nuclear, a HII subsidiary.

Newport News Shipbuilding did not offer specifics on its involvement, other to say that it "remains committed to support the Navy" as plans proceed.

A draft environmental impact statement would be available in early 2021, according to a Navy timeline. A final statement is scheduled to be released in summer 2022, and the Navy expects to select an alternative that fall.

A storied history

The Enterprise, also known as CVN-65, served the country from the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Its final combat deployment came in 2012. Its configuration of eight reactors made it unique, the only ship of its class. Even today, CVN-65 commands a loyal following.

In 2018, the Government Accountability Office said using commercial industry to dismantle the ship could benefit the Navy.

If the Navy went the traditional route at Puget Sound, GAO pegged the cost at between $1 billion and $1.55 billion, with work starting in 2034.

A full commercial option would be $750 million to $1.4 billion and the work could start 10 years earlier.

At present, Puget Sound is recycling three submarines and 14 are awaiting recycling, said spokesman Matt Bailey.

"The pace of recycling has been fairly consistent in recent years," Bailey said in an email. The facility "averages about two reactor compartment disposals shipped annually."

It takes about a year to inactivate a sub and another 18 months dispose of the reactor compartment and recycle the vessel, he said.

———

©2019 the Daily Press (Newport News, Va.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

SEE ALSO: Here's How The World's First Nuclear-powered Aircraft Carrier Lives On In Other U.S. Navy Flattops

WATCH NEXT: The Enterprise Carrier Strike Group In Formation

U.S. Army Astronaut Lt. Col. Anne McClain is captured in this photo during a media opportunity while serving as backup crew for NASA Expedition 56 to the International Space Station May, 2018, at the Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan. (NASA photo)

NASA is reportedly investigating one of its astronauts in a case that appears to involve the first allegations of criminal activity from space.

Read More Show Less
New York National Guard Soldiers and Airmen of the 24th Weapons of Mass Destruction Civil Support Team (CST) and 106th Rescue Wing prepare to identify and classify several hazardous chemical and biological materials during a collective training event at the Plum Island Animal Disease Research Facility, New York, May 2, 2018. (U.S. Army/Sgt. Harley Jelis)

The Department of Homeland Security stored sensitive data from the nation's bioterrorism defense program on an insecure website where it was vulnerable to attacks by hackers for over a decade, according to government documents reviewed by The Los Angeles Times.

The data included the locations of at least some BioWatch air samplers, which are installed at subway stations and other public locations in more than 30 U.S. cities and are designed to detect anthrax or other airborne biological weapons, Homeland Security officials confirmed. It also included the results of tests for possible pathogens, a list of biological agents that could be detected and response plans that would be put in place in the event of an attack.

The information — housed on a dot-org website run by a private contractor — has been moved behind a secure federal government firewall, and the website was shut down in May. But Homeland Security officials acknowledge they do not know whether hackers ever gained access to the data.

Read More Show Less
A U.S. Marine with Task Force Southwest observes Afghan National Army (ANA) 215th Corps soldiers move to the rally point to begin their training during a live-fire range at Camp Shorabak. (U.S. Marine Corps/Sgt. Luke Hoogendam)

By law, the United States is required to promote "human rights and fundamental freedoms" when it trains foreign militaries. So it makes sense that if the U.S. government is going to spend billions on foreign security assistance every year, it should probably systematically track whether that human rights training is actually having an impact or not, right?

Apparently not. According to a new audit from the Government Accountability Office, both the Departments of Defense and State "have not assessed the effectiveness of human rights training for foreign security forces" — and while the Pentagon agreed to establish a process to do so, State simply can't be bothered.

Read More Show Less
The Topeka Veterans Affairs Medical Center (Public domain)

The Kansas City VA Medical Center is still dealing with the fallout of a violent confrontation last year between one of its police officers and a patient, with the Kansas City Police Department launching a homicide investigation.

And now Topeka's VA hospital is dealing with an internal dispute between leaders of its Veterans Affairs police force that raises new questions about how the agency nationwide treats patients — and the officers who report misconduct by colleagues.

Read More Show Less
Jeannine Willard (Valencia County Detention Center)

A New Mexico woman was charged Friday in the robbery and homicide of a Marine Corps veteran from Belen late last month after allegedly watching her boyfriend kill the man and torch his car to hide evidence.

Read More Show Less