Six years after decommissioning USS Enterprise, the world’s first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, the U.S. Navy is still figuring out how to safely dismantle the ship. The General Accounting Office estimates the cost of taking apart the vessel and sending the reactors to a nuclear waste storage facility at up to $1.5 billion, or about one-eighth the cost of a brand-new aircraft carrier.
The USS Enterprise was commissioned in 1961 to be the centerpiece of a nuclear-powered carrier task force, Task Force One, that could sail around the world without refueling. The fleet was a symbol of the Navy’s global reach and its nuclear future. During its 51 years in operation, the Enterprise served in the Cuban Missile Crisis blockade, the Vietnam War, and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The Navy decommissioned Enterprise in 2012 (don’t worry, the third carrier of the new Gerald R. Ford class will be named Enterprise, so the name will live on) and removed the fuel from the eight Westinghouse A2W nuclear reactors in 2013. The plan was to scrap the ship and remove the reactors, transporting them by barge from Puget Sound Naval Base down the Washington Coast and up the Columbia River, then trucking them to the Department of Energy’s Hanford Site for permanent storage.
However, after decommissioning the cost of disposing of the 93,000-ton ship soared from an estimated $500-$750 million to more than a billion dollars. This caused the Navy to put a pause on disposal while it sought out cheaper options. Today the stripped-down hull of the Enterprise sits in Newport News, Virginia awaiting its fate
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