US Navy May Dismantle USS Enterprise (CVN-65), the service’s first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, at Commercial Yard

US Navy May Dismantle USS Enterprise (CVN-65), the service’s first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, at Commercial Yard

By Dario Leone
Aug 24 2022
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Due to a heavy workload at the US Navy’s yard Puget Sound, the service is looking to contract with a commercial dismantlement facility to dispose of USS Enterprise (CVN-65), the service’s first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier.

Due to a heavy workload at the US Navy’s yard Puget Sound, the service is looking to contract with a commercial dismantlement facility to dispose of USS Enterprise (CVN-65), the service’s first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier.

Commissioned at Newport News, Virginia, on Nov. 25, 1961, USS Enterprise was the world’s first nuclear aircraft carrier. Ordered to assist the Project Mercury Program in February 1962, she tracked and measured the flight of the first American orbital spaceflight, Friendship 7. During the Cuban Missile Crisis that October, Enterprise participated in the blockade of Cuba. Along with USS Bainbridge (DLGN-25) and USS Long Beach (CGN-9), she was part of the nuclear-task force, Operation Sea Orbit, from May to October 1964, circumnavigating the globe without refueling. Following this cruise, Enterprise was redesginated CVAN-65 and was deployed in November 1965 for service in the Vietnam War, becoming the first nuclear-powered ship to engage in combat by utilzing her aircraft against the Viet Cong. On Jan. 14, 1969, an accident involving an F-4 “Phantom” on her flight deck resulted on 27 Sailors killed and 314 injured. After repairs, Enterprise continued to serve off Vietnam until 1973 and assisted in Operation Frequent Wind, the evacuation of Saigon, in April 1975. She was redesignated back to CVN-65 the following year. Deployed mainly in the Pacific and Indian oceans during the late 1970s and early 1980s, she entered the Mediterranean in April 1986 to assist in Operation El Dorado Canyon, the bombing of Libya. Two years later, she was assigned to Operation Earnest Will, escorting merchant Kuwaiti tankers in the Persian Gulf. Following a lenghty overhaul, Enterprise returned to sea duty in September 1994 and enforced no-fly zones in Operation Joint Endeavor off Bosnia and Operation Southern Watch over Iraq. In 1998, she successfully attacked Iraqi targets in Operation Desert Fox. To assist in the war against terrorism, she participated, beginning in 2001, in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom and underwent further refurbishments and deployments until deactived in 2012. Enterprise was struck from the Naval Vessel Register on Feb. 3, 2017, and is currently awaiting nuclear recycling.

The ship is currently stored at HII Newport News Shipbuilding and according to a National Environmental Act Policy draft report, any shipyard would not start dismantlement until 2025.

The Navy listed several options for the dismantlement of the aircraft carrier but recommended one that allowed for a commercial yard to perform the work, according to the draft plan, first reported by The Kitsap Sun. According to USNI News, that option would cost $554 million to $696 million and take five years, compared to the other two alternatives that would last 15 years and cost $1.102 billion to $1.358 billion, according to the draft report.

US Navy May Dismantle USS Enterprise (CVN-65), the service’s first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, at Commercial Yard
This is perhaps the most famous of all flight deck spell-outs of all time. At least, this is the first I remember seeing. The year is 1964 and USS Enterprise (CVN-65), in the company of USS Long Beach (centre) and USS Bainbridge, formed Task Force One (the first all-nuclear-powered surface ship group) and embarked on Operation Sea Orbit, the first un-refuelled circumnavigation of the globe—sailing 26,540 nmi (49,190 km) around the world in 65 days. Accomplished without a single refuelling or replenishment, “Operation Sea Orbit” demonstrated the capability of nuclear-powered surface ships. Here the Big E’s crew spell out Einstein’s famous E = mc2 formula which led scientists into the nuclear age. Photo: US Navy

The sea service also considered a no action alternative, which would see the Navy store Enterprise long-term.

In justifying the option to do commercial dismantlement, as opposed to a combined effort between a commercial facility and the Navy, the sea service wrote that the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and Intermediate Maintenance Facility has a growing workload due to a “higher fleet operational tempo and capacity shortages across all of the Navy public shipyards,” according to the draft. It has already exceeded its capacity between current and expected projects.

According to the draft, the Navy can focus Puget Sound’s work on active fleet maintenance by using a commercial shipyard.

The 428-page draft looks at the environmental effects of dismantling Enterprise, which was built with eight nuclear reactors. The ship has already been defueled, with the fuel kept at Department of Energy Idaho National Laboratory property.

Under the preferred option, Enterprise would be towed to a commercial facility in Brownsville, Texas, Mobile, Ala., or Hampton Roads, Va. The commercial facility would then take apart the ship.

It’s possible the Navy chooses to send the ship to Hampton Roads, which is closer to its current resting place. However, a shipbreaking company is not named in the draft.

According to the draft, whichever shipbreaking facility wins the Navy contract will disassemble the eight defueled reactors and package them into several hundred small containers.

The low-level radioactive waste will then go to one of the three facilities to be recycled or disposed of in accordance to all applicable laws. The three facilities under consideration are Waste Control Specialists, LLC.,, in Andrews, Texas, EnergySolutions in Clive, Utah, or the Department of Energy’s Savannah River Site in Aiken, S.C.

If the Navy were to use Puget Sound to dismantle Enterprise, it would not be able to start until at least 2030, according to the draft.

Photo credit: U.S. Navy

USS Enterprise

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Dario Leone

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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