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Navy exploring private firms for typically PSNS work

Aug. 09, 2016
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Sailors watch as the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise departs Naval Station Norfolk on June 20, 2013, headed for Newport News Shipbuilding. It's still at Newport News, and whether it is ever brought to PSNS to have its reactor plant removed is unknown. (U.S. Navy file)
Sailors watch as the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise departs Naval Station Norfolk on June 20, 2013, headed for Newport News Shipbuilding. It's still at Newport News, and whether it is ever brought to PSNS to have its reactor plant removed is unknown. (U.S. Navy file)
The USS Enterprise was in service for 51 years before being inactivated on Dec. 1, 2012. (U.S. Navy file)
The USS Enterprise was in service for 51 years before being inactivated on Dec. 1, 2012. (U.S. Navy file)

By Ed Friedrich of the Kitsap Sun

Aug. 09, 2016 2

BREMERTON — The possibility of a private company, instead of Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, disassembling the USS Enterprise's reactor plants gained more legitimacy last week. The Navy issued a request for information to determine which companies are interested and how they'd conduct the work.

The Enterprise, the first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, is at Newport News Shipyard, where it is being deactivated and the nuclear fuel removed by Huntington Ingalls Industries under a $745 million contract.

The Navy planned to tow it to Bremerton, where the remaining parts associated with the reactor plant would be removed and barged to the Hanford nuclear waste dump. It still might do that, but the Navy is exploring its options. PSNS is the only U.S. facility certified to recycle nuclear ships. It has scrapped more than 125 submarines and some cruisers.

Though the idea of sharing the work with private firms has been around for a while, shipyard spokeswoman Mary Anne Mascianica is concerned some workers might be caught off guard.

"It's well known that we have done all of the recycling of nuclear-powered ships to date," she said. "It may not be on everyone's radar screen that somebody else could do it just because the history of the program is all here."

Navy officials a year ago said they were concerned that the work would adversely affect the ability of the shipyard to carry out its existing workload of maintaining and modernizing the Pacific Fleet's aircraft carriers, 13 locally based submarines and others as assigned. They said they'd begin an environmental-impact statement in about a year to evaluate whether PSNS or private industry should do the work. That process has been delayed.

"I know there is enough work to keep us certainly at capacity with operational fleet maintenance," said Mascianica.

Last week's request asked firms how they would dismantle the reactor plants — there are eight small ones on the Enterprise — and dispose of the low-level radioactive waste. The work is expected to begin in fall 2019.

The information is for planning purposes only, said the solicitation. The government is not seeking proposals.

"It's just gathering information to help make an assessment," Mascianica said.

The company needs to have a facility, or access to one, where the work would take place. The Navy would barge the center section of the ship containing the reactor plants to the site. The company would have to be licensed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission or a state under agreement with the NRC, and all workers would need at least a "confidential" security clearance.

The Enterprise, the only ship of its class, was inactivated on Dec. 1, 2012, after 25 deployments and 51 years of service. The next aircraft carrier in line for retirement is the USS Nimitz, which happens to be at PSNS wrapping up a major maintenance period. It was commissioned on May 3, 1975, more than 41 years ago.

The 10 Nimitz-class carriers have a service life of about 50 years with one midlife refueling of their two reactors.

Ed Friedrich thumbnail
About Ed Friedrich

Ed Friedrich is the Kitsap Sun’s transportation and military affairs reporter. He has worked for the paper for 32 years.

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