Reduce, Reuse, Recycle?

The former nuclear powered cruiser USS Virginia (CGN-38) undergoing preparation for recycling at Norfolk Naval Shipyard in 1994. Note the concrete structure over her deck that has replaced the original superstructure. US Navy photo.


The safe disposal of nuclear waste is important, but it took some time for environmentally friendly measures to be put into place. In 1959, the submarine USS Seawolf had her reactor replaced, and the old one was simply dumped into the Atlantic Ocean, about 9,000 feet down. The Russians scuttled several of their old nuclear submarines after encasing the reactors in concrete. In the 1990s, the US Navy developed the Ship/Submarine Recycling Program, or SRP. It is a multi-stage operation that allows for the safe disposal of nuclear fuel and reactors, and the materials used to house them.

The reactor is defueled and sealed, before being cut out of the hull. The spent nuclear fuel and reactors are shipped to US Department of Energy sites for long-term storage, while the hulls are decontaminated and the materials either repurposed, reused, or scrapped.