With the nuclear power plant crisis in the Chernobyl reactor in 1986 and now the recent Japanese nuclear crisis at the Fukushima nuclear power plant many people are still wondering if there is any possible good use for nuclear energy , especially when it can create “dead zones” in areas surrounding the damaged reactors, as in case of both Chernobyl and Fukushima, affecting both people and animals as well. Maritime nuclear may circumvent some of the risks.
How a nuclear submarine reactor works
What may not have been taken into account is the maritime success of nuclear energy, and its use in both military and civilian maritime vessels since the first nuclear powered submarine, the USS Nautilus was launched in 1954.
The use of nuclear power has enabled both ships and submarines to travel on the world’s seas and oceans for extended periods of time without the need to refuel. Nuclear power has also been considered as being cleaner and less expensive that the heavy fuel oil needed to power conventionally powered models. Due to the advantages of being able to be at sea for extended periods of time; and in the case of submarines to cruise at depths and in areas not possible in conventional diesel powered models (in the Arctic Ocean for example) nuclear powered military vessels have been the rule since the 1970’s.
Although nuclear energy has not been used much in commercial merchant vessels, it has been used to provide power for ships like large ice breakers which help ensure clear sea lanes for merchant marine vessels sailing in waters above the Arctic Circle.
The Down Side of Nuclear Powered Navy Vessels
Naturally, there is a “down side” to empowering nuclear energy to provide to provide the power for operating large naval vessels. And this is particularly when a nuclear powered vessel, especially a submarine, sinks to the bottom of “Davy Jones’ Locker” with its nuclear reactor and radioactive fuel aboard, as well as possibly a number of nuclear armed missiles.
Since the 1960’s a number of nuclear powered submarines have sunk; two from the USA, including the USS Thresher which sank in April 1963 with 129 crew members and civilian technicians on board. To this day, the remains of this vessel, which broke up into 6 parts, and its nuclear reactor, are still lying in 8,400 feet (2,900 meters of water) in the Atlantic Ocean.
USS Thresher under water
The number of Russian nuclear subs which have sunk is not as well known, although international records indicate that a number of nuclear bombs have been lost at sea from various accidents (US records indicate at least 11 nuclear bombs from American submarines and aircraft alone).
The last Russian nuclear sub lost at sea was the Kursk, which sank in the Barents Sea in August 2000 with 112 crew members on board.
The cause of the sinking of this vessel was later attributed to it colliding with another unknown submarine and although it was not carrying nuclear weapons at the time of the disaster its nuclear reactors were in operation, although Russian authorities testified that the sub’s reactors were shut down when the accident occurred.
Nuclear powered vessels have not yet been introduced into the Middle East; and although the navies of Israel, Egypt, Iran, and possibly other countries have submarines, none are nuclear powered. This doesn’t mean that this could change in the future, however.
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Images via Wikipedia.com