D&D of USS Nautilus prototype reactor to begin in 2023

February 14, 2022, 3:04PMRadwaste Solutions
The interior of the Submarine 1st Generation Westinghouse prototype, located at the Naval Reactors Facility on the INL site, circa mid-1950s. (Photo: DOE)

The Department of Energy’s Office of Environmental Management (EM) announced on February 10 that it is set to deactivate and demolish the prototype for the reactor used for the USS Nautilus, the world’s first operational nuclear-powered submarine and the first submarine to complete a submerged transit of the North Pole.

Known as the Submarine 1st Generation Westinghouse (S1W) prototype, the land-based reactor was built inside a section of a submarine hull at the Naval Reactors Facility (NRF) on the Idaho National Laboratory site. EM has agreed to carry out the S1W facility demolition and other deactivation and decommissioning efforts for the Office of Naval Reactors (NR), which oversees the NRF.

A ceremony marking the transfer of the defueled reactor plant to EM was held on January 27 at the NRF.

A ceremony to mark the transfer of the S1W prototype facility from the Office of Naval Reactors to the DOE’s Office of Environmental Management for decommissioning was held on January 27. (Photo: DOE)

The history: The S1W prototype pressurized water reactor supported the development of the USS Nautilus, which was launched in 1954. Because nuclear propulsion allowed it to remain submerged far longer than diesel-electric submarines, the Nautilus broke many records in its first years of operation and traveled to locations previously beyond the limits of submarines.

The prototype was also used to train naval officers and enlisted personnel to operate the propulsion plants of nuclear-powered submarines and aircraft carriers and to test nuclear propulsion technology. The S1W prototype was shut down in 1989. Beginning in 2020, as part of the preparations to hand over the facility for D&D, EM worked with the Idaho State Preservation Office and other stakeholders to ensure the removal of historic property in accordance with the National Historic Preservation Act.

The work: According to EM, the demolition of support buildings adjacent to S1W is scheduled to begin this month. Activities to prepare for the deactivation of the reactor plant, including asbestos removal and characterization of other building components to confirm facility contents and any associated risks, will also start this month.

The actual D&D of S1W is expected to commence in fiscal year 2023. An engineering evaluation and cost analysis to evaluate alternatives for deactivating and decommissioning the S1W will be released for public comment.

They said it: “This project is the first in a partnership between EM and Naval Reactors at the INL Site,” said Connie Flohr, manager of the Idaho Cleanup Project for EM. “It allows NR to utilize EM expertise to remediate NR environmental liabilities such as unused infrastructure and excess facilities across the complex, the first of these being the reactor prototype and ancillary support structures.”

“Naval Reactors entered into this agreement because DOE-EM has established expertise in large-scale D&D across the DOE laboratory complex,” said Mike Huth, manager of the Naval Reactors Idaho Branch Office. “We look forward to working with EM in the years to come.”

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