Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Congress Pushing for Nuclear Surface Ships?

From Defense News:

The prospect of the U.S. Navy once again using nuclear energy to propel its larger surface warships edged a bit closer to reality May 3 with a push from a powerful congressional subcommittee.

“We are requiring that new classes of major surface combatants are designed and constructed with integrated nuclear power systems,” Rep. Gene Taylor, D-Miss., chairman of the House Armed Services seapower subcommittee, said during the panel’s markup of the 2008 defense authorization bill.

Taylor’s predecessor as chairman, Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Md., echoed the call.
“Nuclear propulsion is simply the right thing to do,” said Bartlett, now the panel’s ranking minority member.

Both lawmakers have strongly supported nuclear power as a means to reduce the military’s dependence on oil for fuel. At their request, the Navy produced a study on the viability of re-introducing nuclear power into surface ships — a capability the service stopped buying in the mid-1970s.

Most observers expected the Navy study to repeat the assertions made since those years — that the dramatically higher cost of buying nuclear-propelled surface ships outweighed tactical advantages.

But appearing before the committee March 1, Delores Etter, the Navy’s top acquisition official, surprised onlookers with her testimony that the high cost of oil is making the nuclear option more economically viable — at least for some ships.


Rod Adams said...

It has been interesting to watch how the Navy, which prides itself as a leadership based organization, has had to be dragged kicking and screaming to a conclusion that is hard to avoid when reasonable numeric assumptions are used.

No utility executive in his right mind would suggest to his board that it would be more economical to purchase oil fired gas turbines for base load power than to purchase nuclear power plants - especially if his company OWNS approved designs that have a long track record and the proven ability to be constructed within four years of initial order! However, that is what the Navy leaders tried to do with Congress.

We are fortunate that there are at least a few numerate congressmen like Roscoe Bartlett and Gene Taylor.

Anonymous said...

To be fair Navy reactor cost, specifically fuel cost, are not comparable to the commerical sector. The highly enriched fuel used in Navy reactors does have a significant impact on the economics involved in this decision.

Anonymous said...

During a search on the progress of the "re-introduction" study, I found this blog. Anonymous is right. Somewhere, there is a study the navy did, outlining the "breakover" point where HEU reactors became more cost effective than FF ships - including the gas turbine designs. I can't find it now, but I seem to remember that the point was when the price of fuel was somewhere around $200.00 per ton. Of course we are well beyond that now. Personally, I believe Rickover would have driven this a lot harder if he was still alive.