The plans to be presented next month will not affect the planned acquisition of three new conventionally-powered breakers - known as Polar Security Cutters - over the next six years. Instead, it will be a blueprint for three ships of yet-to-be-determined design that the Coast Guard and Department of Homeland Security would procure beyond 2026, the report said.
For decades, the United States has only used nuclear power on its aircraft and submarines. The ability to do long voyages without refuelling is attractive in the infrastructure-poor Arctic, especially given the immense power demands of ploughing a ship through ice, the report said.
As it stands now, the US icebreaker fleet consists of two ships, the Polar Star, a heavy icebreaker commissioned more than 40 years ago and the medium-duty vessel Healey that was commissioned in 1999.
A melting polar ice cap due to climate change has set in motion a scramble among Arctic nations to develop shipping routes and fisheries, as well as facilities to extract oil and other resources beneath the ocean floor.