Nuclear power for Navy combatants, an idea that won’t go away

By Edward Lundquist at May 03, 2011 09:07
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Former Congressman Gene Taylor is no longer chairman of the Seapower Subcommittee, or representing Mississippi’s 4th congressional district, but he is still an outspoken proponent of nuclear power on naval combatants.  The former 11-term congressman recentl;y participated in a panel discussion on shipbuilding at the Navy League’s Sea-Air-Space Expo on April 13, where he reiterated his conviction that the Navy needs nuclear power.

“I think we should put a nuclear power plant in the hull of every hull that would hold it,” Taylor said.


Taylor says ships such as the Arleigh Burke-class of guided missile destroyers are vulnerable because they must refuel every three to five days.  “If I were the adversary, my first move would be to take out the tankers.”

When in Congress, Taylor moved ahead with requiring that new classes of major surface combatants are designed and constructed with integrated nuclear power systems.


Section 1012 of the FY2008 Defense Authorization Act (H.R. 4986/P.L. 110-181 of January 28, 2008), that made it U.S. policy to construct the major combatant ships of the Navy with integrated nuclear power systems, unless the Secretary of Defense submits a notification to Congress that the inclusion of an integrated nuclear power system in a given class of ship is not in the national interest.


The U.S. Navy’s aircraft carriers and submarines all are nuclear powered, but the Navy no longer has nuclear powered surface combatants.

In general, nuclear ships have overall lower operating and support costs for sustained operations because of their “fuel independence.”  But, they are more expensive to build.  Additionally, the cost of disposal of the reactor and other systems is much higher for nuclear ships, which figurers into the total life-cycle ownership cost.

Dr. Delores Etter, who was assistant secretary of the Navy for research, development and acquisition, testified to Congress in 2007 that when focusing on the life-cycle costs or the break-even point aspect of a ship power decision, it was clear that the energy requirements of a ship, not its physical size, are the major driver in the selection of power systems. “These energy requirements are dependent on the power demand of the combat system and also on how much time the ship will spend at sea, and at what speeds.”

With the cancellation of the CG(X) cruiser, there are no new combatant programs that could have the size to accommodate a nuclear plant.  Instead of CG(X), the Navy plans to build an air and missile defense destroyer based on the current DDG 51 design.  The first ship of that class, USS Arleigh Burke, was commissioned in 1991.

Comments (5) -

All new ships should be of nuclear power.oil dependence is not the way to go ,we have the technology.Commericial ships that are nuclear are being talked about with new designed reactors,we need to think outside the box.What about air quality ?? not a problem with nuclear.Lets take the SS United States and convert to nuclear and make it a high speed hospital ship and goodwill ambassador of the united states interesting thought?? The ship could handle nuclear power and the hull is sound and ready for refit.Good idea i think

pat bailey |     5/3/2011 1:39:12 PM #

It makes real sense for US DDGs chasing our CVNs nuclear powered carriers to have a nuclear power plant themselves.......Long periods at sea still require
resupply of food and ammo for small boys, whatever their power plant may be....
just NOT as often, plus their high speed with a nuclear plant would help them quickly resupply and get back into the fight....At the same time, high transit speeds make the DDGs a bit safer when operating without air cover.....

Bob Melley |     5/3/2011 2:11:17 PM #

Big picture, Gene Taylor wants back into the food chain, Pascagoula (Ingalls) previously built nuclear powered submarines.  Follow where the money would be.  I once worked with a Naval Officer who was a nuclear submariner, my comment to him was so what if I needed to refuel every three to four days, I still have a full head of hair.  

Ken |     5/3/2011 2:20:14 PM #

Didn't attend the Navy League’s Sea-Air-Space Expo? Interested in the Navy League's position?

Read online the Navy League's 2011-2012 Maritime Policy Statement: "Internationally Engaged - Ensuring Freedom of the Seas",

The Navy League’s annual Maritime Policy Statement is produced by our Maritime Policy and Resolutions Committee and approved by the Board of Directors. The analyses and recommendations in the Maritime Policy Statement are derived from multiple sources, including the expertise and decades of experience of our members themselves, open source materials, and public information from the seagoing services.

The views expressed are those of the Navy League of the United States, and do not necessarily reflect the official views of the Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard or Maritime Administration.

If you concur with this policy statement and you and your firm are not members of the Navy League, please inquire. Visit or better yet the website of the ever expanding maritime logistics council, the Pacific Merchant Marine Council,

Phelps Hobart |     5/3/2011 4:53:39 PM #

I agree with the article. Trend needs to be a downsized smaller reactor power plant with the same output and increased safety factors.

JohnMrva |     5/4/2011 7:49:48 AM #

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