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    USS Enterprise, 5th Fleet, near the coast of Athens, 2012.

    US Navy Considered $1 Billion Plan for Breaking Down Old Nuclear-Powered Carrier

    © AP Photo/ Petros Giannakouris
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    The US Navy has yet to choose a way forward for dismantling the USS Enterprise aircraft carrier. The delay has been motivated in part by the fact that disposing of the nuclear-powered craft could cost more than $1 billion ‒ a pill the Navy is loathe to swallow.

    The Government Accountability Office published a report Thursday indicating that in 2013 "the Navy's cost estimate for the shipyard" in Puget Sound, Washington, "to perform all [USS Enterprise] dismantlement and disposal activities increased — from a range of $500 million to $750 million — to well over $1 billion."

    As a result of this rather significant expense — about 25 percent of what it cost to build the ship in 1958 in inflation-adjusted terms — the Navy decided to ditch the plans. As the ship, built between 1958 and 1961, was the world's first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, the government wants to take special care in dismantling it and must comply with stringent guidelines set in place by nuclear regulation bodies separate from the Navy.

    There is also a policy precedent to be set by how the carrier is deconstructed, in terms of "the processes, costs and oversight that may be used to dismantle and dispose of nuclear-powered aircraft carriers in the future." Specifically, the manner in which the Enterprise is disposed of will set an example for how to do the same thing with the US Navy's aging fleet of Nimitz-class carriers.

    One of the thornier issues when it comes to disposal of the carrier is what to do with the nuclear waste produced by its propulsion generators. In 2016, the Navy thought it would have commercial contractors bid for contracts to break down the non-nuclear parts of the ship — everything except what's referred to as the propulsion space section.

    As GAO conducted its study, the Navy decided to ditch this plan. Instead, the Navy is now considering two options for the USS Enterprise, the watchdog noted. One route would be to do most of the deconstruction in Puget Sound, and then dump the nuclear waste at the US Department of Energy's Hanford Site in southeastern Washington state. The other route is for commercial contractors to do all the dismantling. There is no estimate provided in GAO's report for how much each of these routes would cost the US Navy, and by extension US taxpayers.

    Under the 100 percent commercial dismantling route, the US Navy needs to coordinate with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), which has regulatory jurisdiction over the private nuclear industry, the GAO said. The Pentagon agreed with this recommendation, Stars and Stripes reported Friday.

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    Tags:
    Nuclear, aircraft carrier, US Navy, Washington State
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