WASHINGTON — All nuclear-powered US Navy ships go to die at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton, Washington. That’s been an immutable mantra since the early 1990s, when the shipyard developed a recycling plan to dispose of old submarines and cruisers that were piling up as they reached the end of their lives.
Under the shipyard’s direction, shipboard nuclear reactors are defueled, the reactor vessels and their compartments are removed, encased and barged to the federal government’s Hanford Nuclear Reservation in southern Washington State, and the ships’ remains are cut up for scrap and recycling. The program has successfully disposed of more than 100 nuclear submarines and eight nuclear cruisers.
As the only US-certified facility with experience recycling nuclear ships, the plan has long been that, sometime in early 2017, Puget Sound would take on its largest disposal job by far — that of the aircraft carrier Enterprise, one of the most famous ships of the Cold War era.
But now, the Navy is considering throwing open the job to commercial bidders — a clear break from prior practice that could open the nuclear ship-disposal world to more competition.