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Under Way On Nuclear Power

Under Way On Nuclear Power

Work on nuclear marine propulsion started in the 1940s, and the first test reactor started up in USA in 1953. The first nuclear-powered submarine, USS Nautilus, put to sea in 1955.

This marked the transition of submarines from slow underwater vessels to warships capable of sustaining 20-25 knots submerged for weeks on end. The submarine had come into its own.

Nautilus led to the parallel development of further (Skate-class) submarines, powered by single pressurised water reactors, and an aircraft carrier, USS Enterprise, powered by eight Westinghouse reactor units in 1960. A cruiser, USS Long Beach, followed in 1961 and was powered by two of these early units. Remarkably, the Enterprise remained in service to the end of 2012.

By 1962, the US Navy had 26 nuclear submarines operational and 30 under construction. Nuclear power had revolutionised the Navy.

The technology was shared with Britain, while French, Russian and Chinese developments proceeded separately.

After the Skate-class vessels, reactor development proceeded and in the USA a single series of standardised designs was built by both Westinghouse and GE, one reactor powering each vessel. Rolls Royce built similar units for Royal Navy submarines and then developed the design further to the PWR-2.

Russia developed both PWR and lead-bismuth cooled reactor designs, the latter not persisting. Eventually four generations* of submarine PWRs were utilised, the last entering service in 1995 in the Severodvinsk class.

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