The Nuclear Navy is a term coined to describe vessels powered by nuclear reactors. Incorporating nuclear energy to naval vessels revolutionized naval warfare. The general idea of nuclear ships was that they would not have to make regular stops for fuel like conventional vessels, making them only limited by supplies and crew endurance. The Navy recognized the benefits of nuclear energy for propulsion purposes and began research. From its humble beginnings, the Navy has produced many of the world’s first nuclear propelled vessels, from aircraft carriers to submarines.
Shortly after World War II, the Navy sought to develop secondary uses for nuclear energy and reactors. Navy Captain Hyman Rickover, an electrical engineer and proponent of the research, sought to use nuclear reactors for the production of electricity. Rickover led the effort to pursue and manufacture the first nuclear-powered submarine, USS Nautilus (SSN-571). In June 1952, construction began on Nautilus and on 17 January 1955 Nautilus became the first submarine underway on nuclear power. Nautilus would later become the first to complete a fully submerged transit under the North Pole as part of “Operation Sunshine.”
After the success of Nautilus, research into nuclear powered surface vessels began. Construction began in 1954 on the first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, USS Enterprise (CVN-65), and the ship was commissioned 25 November 1961. Enterprise would go on to complete 25 deployments during its 51 years of service. Today, all submarines and aircraft carriers are powered by nuclear propulsion. The Naval Nuclear Power Training Command in Goose Creek, South Carolina, trains today’s nuclear operators.
The deputy director of the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program, Chuck Taylor, discusses his perspective on the significance of the 75th anniversary of naval reactors and the lasting impact of Admiral Hyman G. Rickover.