Nuclear Navy: “The Atom Goes to Sea” 1954 General Electric 12min04:33

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Published on December 2, 2017

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“Explains how an atomic powered submarine operates. Includes scenes at the Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory in Schenectady and the submarine reactor test site at West Milton, New York.”

NEW VERSION with improved video & sound:

Public domain film from the National Archives, slightly cropped to remove uneven edges, with the aspect ratio corrected, and mild video noise reduction applied.
The soundtrack was also processed with volume normalization, noise reduction, clipping reduction, and equalization (the resulting sound, though not perfect, is far less noisy than the original).

Nuclear navy, or nuclear powered navy consists of ships powered by relatively small onboard nuclear reactors known as naval reactors. The concept was revolutionary for naval warfare when first proposed, as it meant that these vessels did not need to stop for fuel like their conventional counterparts, being limited only by crew endurance and supplies.

Nuclear-powered aircraft carriers

The United States Navy has by far the most nuclear powered aircraft carriers, with 11 in service. France’s latest aircraft carrier, the R91 Charles de Gaulle, is nuclear powered. The United Kingdom rejected nuclear power early in the development of its Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers on cost grounds, as even several decades of fuel use costs less than a nuclear reactor. As currently envisaged, France’s new aircraft carrier could be nuclear-powered or conventionally powered.

Nuclear-powered submarines

The United States Navy operates the largest fleet of nuclear submarines. Only the United States Navy, the Royal Navy of the United Kingdom, and France’s Marine Nationale field an all-nuclear submarine force. By 1989, there were over 400 nuclear-powered submarines operational or being built. Some 250 of these submarines have now been scrapped and some on order cancelled, due to weapons reduction programs. Russia and the United States had over one hundred each, with the United Kingdom and France fewer than twenty each and China six. The Indian Navy launched their first indigenous Arihant class nuclear-powered submarines on 26 July 2009. India is also reported to be leasing two additional nuclear submarines from Russia.

Nuclear-powered submarines can stay submerged for up to 400 days if the vessel is fully loaded.

Other nuclear-powered vessels

The United States no longer has nuclear cruisers.

Russia has four Kirov-class battlecruisers, though only one is active, the other three being laid up. The Soviet command ship SSV-33 Ural, based on the Kirov class, is also laid up. Seven civilian nuclear icebreakers remain in service: four of six Arktika class icebreakers, Taymyr, Vaygach, and the LASH carrier and container ship Sevmorput.

The United States Navy

The U.S. Navy has accumulated over 5,400 “reactor years” of accident-free experience, and operates more than 80 nuclear-powered ships…

Admiral Hyman G. Rickover, (1900–1986), of the United States Navy, known as “father of the nuclear navy” was an electrical engineer by training, and was the primary architect who implemented this daring concept…

Soon after World War II, Rickover was assigned to the Bureau of Ships in September 1947 and received training in nuclear power at Oak Ridge, Tennessee. In February 1949 he received an assignment to the Division of Reactor Development, U.S. Atomic Energy Commission and then assumed control of the United States Navy’s effort as Director of the Naval Reactors Branch in the Bureau of Ships. This dual role allowed him to lead the efforts to develop the world’s first nuclear-powered submarine, USS Nautilus (SSN 571), which was launched in 1954. As Vice Admiral, from 1958, for three decades Rickover exercised tight control over the ships…

Leading nuclear physicist Philip Abelson (1913–2004) turned his attention under the guidance of Ross Gunn to applying nuclear power to naval propulsion. Their early efforts at Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) provided an early glimpse at what was to become the nuclear Navy…

At the present time, many important vessels in the United States Navy are powered by naval reactors. All submarines and aircraft carriers are nuclear powered. Several cruisers were nuclear powered but these have all been retired.

United States naval reactors are given three-character designations consisting of a letter representing the ship type the reactor is designed for, a consecutive generation number, and a letter indicating the reactor’s designer. The ship types are “A” for aircraft carrier, “C” for cruiser, “D” for destroyer, and “S” for submarine. The designers are “W” for Westinghouse, “G” for General Electric, “C” for Combustion Engineering, and “B” for Bechtel. Examples are S5W, D1G, A4W, and D2W…

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