Tag Archives: nuclear submarines

Here to Stay: the Nuclear Supply Chain

The smallest nuclear-powered submarine, the U.S. Navy's NR-1. image from wikipedia

The report from the Energy Futures Initiative released on August 15, 2017 by former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz calls for greater federal investment in the US huclear-power industry. The report calls for expanded government loan guarantees, tax incentives and research on nuclear technology.

Nuclear power makes up about 20 percent of U.S. electricity generation, but the industry has been struggling.  Five nuclear plants, with a combined capacity of 5 gigawatts, have closed early since 2013, and an additional six plants are scheduled to shutter early over the next nine years. Of the two new nuclear plants under construction in the U.S., one was halted by Scana Corp. in July 2017 and backers of the other, Southern Co.’s Vogtle plant in Georgia, are seeking additional aid from the federal government.

Westinghouse Electric Co., the nuclear technology pioneer that is part of Toshiba Corp., went bankrupt in March, after it hit delays with its AP1000 reactors at each of those plants. After it declared bankruptcy, Westinghouse — whose technology is used in more than half the world’s nuclear power plants — said it shifted its focus from building reactors to helping dismantle them.

The U.S. needs companies and engineers that can both build and run nuclear enterprises…. The U.S. Navy’s reactors require supplies and qualified engineers, and American nuclear scientists fill vital national security roles, it said.  Companies, such as BWX Technologies Inc. of Lynchburg, Virginia manufacture nuclear components for both the commercial nuclear industry and naval reactors. If the commercial business collapses, that may mean one less company able to process highly enriched uranium, according to the report.

“A shrinking commercial enterprise will have long term spillover effects on the Navy supply chain, including by lessened enthusiasm among American citizens to pursue nuclear technology careers,” according to the report.

In addition to extending a tax credit for new nuclear power and the Energy Department’s loan guarantee program, the report says the federal government could also direct the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to “place a greater emphasis on the national security importance of nuclear power and its associated supply chain.”

Excerpts from Moniz: Nuclear Power’s Woes Imperil US National Security, Bloomberg, Aug. 15, 2017

 

Where Nuclear Ships Go to Die

USS Gerald R. Ford under construction

A $1.65 billion facility will be built at a nuclear site in eastern Idaho to handle fuel waste from the nation’s fleet of nuclear-powered warships, the Navy and U.S. Department of Energy announced Tuesday.Officials said the new facility is needed to keep nuclear-powered aircraft carriers and submarines deployed.

The new construction will be at the Naval Reactors facility on the Energy Department’s southeastern Idaho site that covers about 890-square-miles of high-desert sagebrush steppe. The area also includes the Idaho National Laboratory, considered the nation’s primary lab for nuclear research.  Officials said site preparation is expected to begin in 2017 with construction of the facility likely to start in 2019, creating 360 on-site jobs. The facility is expected to start operating in late 2024…

Officials say the new facility will operate through at least 2060 and can handle a new type of spent-fuel shipping container, which is not possible at the current facility. The Gerald R. Ford aircraft carrier will use the new container when the carrier becomes operational. So will nuclear-powered submarines under construction, officials said.  The facility will have storage spaces to submerge the fuel waste in water so it cools before being transferred into dry storage areas, said Don Dahl, a spokesman for the Naval Reactors facility.

The places where the waste will be submerged will meet seismic standards aimed at preventing them from being affected by earthquakes, unlike existing storage spaces at the site that don’t meet those standards.

The Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program, a joint Navy and Energy Department organization, has been sending spent Navy fuel to the Idaho site since 1957. It’s transported by rail from shipyards. Dahl declined to describe security at Navy site….

Nuclear waste coming into Idaho prompted lawsuits when state leaders in the late 1980s and early 1990s thought the site was becoming a permanent nuclear waste repository. The lawsuits culminated in a 1995 agreement, then a 2008 addendum, limiting such shipments and requiring most nuclear waste to be removed from the federal site by 2035. The deal applies to the Navy’s spent nuclear fuel.  Under the agreement, fuel waste coming to the new facility after 2035 will only remain for the six years it takes to cool in pools. After that, it’s required to be put in dry storage and taken out of Idaho. However, the nation has no repository for spent nuclear fuel at this time, so where it will go is not clear.

US to build $1.6B Idaho facility for warships’ nuclear waste, Associated Press, Dec. 6, 2016

The Slayers of Enemies: nukes in Asia

INS Arihant during sea trials 2014 image from wikipedia

The INS Arihant, India’s first nuclear-powered submarine armed with ballistic missiles (SSBN, in military jargon)… is a 6,000-tonne boat that will provide India with the third leg of its nuclear “triad”—it already has land- and air-launched nukes….India believes SSBNs are a vital part of its nuclear strategy, which forswears the first use of nuclear weapons….Because they can readily avoid detection, SSBNs can survive a surprise attack and thus ensure India’s ability to launch a retaliatory “second strike”….Some nuclear theorists argue that submarine-based deterrents promote peace by making the other side more frightened to attack first. …

China is ahead of the game. It has a fleet of four second-generation Jin-class SSBNs and is testing JL-2 missiles to install in them. These weapons have a range of 7,400km (4,600 miles)—too short, for now, to reach the American mainland from the relative safety of the South China Sea. Pakistan, for its part, is in the early stages of a lower-cost approach. This involves arming diesel-powered subs with nuclear-armed cruise missiles with a range of 700km.

A more immediate worry to India is Pakistan’s development and deployment of smaller “tactical” nuclear weapons for use on the battlefield. These may make it more likely that any war between India and Pakistan will go nuclear. They also increase the risk of Pakistan’s weapons being used accidentally—or falling into the hands of extremists (such weapons are under the control of lower-level commanders whose professionalism and loyalty may be dubious)….

India says it will not develop battlefield nukes of its own. Instead, it will rely on the threat of massive retaliation against any use of nuclear weapons by Pakistan. Still, it may be another decade before India has a fully-fledged sea-based deterrent. Arihant’s Russian nuclear-power generator is unsuited to long patrols. Initially, the sub is due to be armed with the K-15 missile, with a range of 750km—not enough to reach big cities in northern Pakistan. Striking Chinese ones would be harder still.

Asian Nuclear Weapons: What Lurks Beneathh, Economist, Feb. 6, 2016, at 36

Nuclear Submarines with Attack Boats: China

SS X 1 Midget Submarine of the United States. Image from wikipedia

China’s latest nuclear submarine design appear to include a shelter capable of holding a miniature submarine for special operations forces (SOF) not unlike vehicles used to deliver Navy SEALs to shore from U.S. nuclear attack boats, according to an image in wide circulation in Chinese online networks.  The Chinese boat — a Type-93T or Shang-class nuclear attack submarine — features a hangar for the SOF submersible that would allow People’s Liberation Army troops to discrete deployment much like U.S. forces, according to a translation of a March 17 story in the state-run Reference News.  The image was first reported in English by Jane’s Defence Weekly….

The Chinese report on the delivery vehicle follow a consistent trend in Chinese ship design, according U.S. Naval Institute’s Combat Fleets of the World author Eric Wertheim. “It shows that they are really looking at Western designs and take lessons learned and look at how we use our subs and incorporate some those features into their own,” he told USNI [U.S. Naval Institute] News…In a wider context, China’s submarine abilities improve and their operations expand beyond their home waters it is making neighbors nervous.   Recenty the Indian Navy expressed concern over a Shang SSN that patrolled near its coastline from December 2014 to February 2015, according to a report in The Telegraph

Excerpt from Sam LaGrone, Chinese Nuclear Sub Design Includes Special Operations Mini-Sub,  U.S. Naval Institute News, Mar. 25,2015

The Military Capabilities of India 2014

INS Chakra. Image from wikipedia

India’s first-ever dedicated military satellite, Rukmini or GSAT-7, “seamlessly networked” around 60 warships and 75 aircraft during the massive month-long naval combat exercise in the Bay of Bengal that ended on Feb. 28, 2014…Apart from GSAT-7, the exercise this year also saw the “maiden participation” of nuclear-powered submarine INS Chakra, on a 10-year lease from Russia for $1 billion, and the newly-acquired P-8I  [Boeing P-8 Poseidon] long range maritime patrol aircraft [bought from the United States].

While the over 8,000-tonne INS Chakra is not armed with long-range nuclear missiles because of international treaties like the Missile Technology Control Regime, it serves as “a potent hunter-killer” of enemy warships and submarines, apart from being capable of firing land-attack cruise missiles.  INS Chakra adds some desperately-needed muscle to underwater combat arm at a time when the Navy is grappling with just 13 ageing diesel-electric submarines, three of which are stuck in life-extension refits  As for the P-8Is, the Navy has till now inducted three of the eight such sensor and radar-packed aircraft ordered in 2009 for $2.1billion from the US. Also armed with potent anti-submarine warfare capabilities, the P-8Is are working in conjunction with medium-range Dorniers [from Germany] and Israeli Searcher-II and Heron UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) to create a three-tier surveillance grid in the heavily-militarized IOR.  India, in fact, is in the process of ordering another four P-8I aircraft.

Excerpt from Rajat Pandit, Navy validates massive exercise under country’s first military satellite’s gaze, The Times of India Mar. 1, 2013

The Nuclear Submarines of India: to fire nuclear weapons from the land, air and sea

INS_Arihant. Computer  Graphics. Image from Wikipedia

The miniature reactor on board India’s first indigenous nuclear submarine INS Arihant has gone “critical”, which marks a big stride towards making the country’s long-awaited “nuclear weapons triad,” an operational reality.  Sources, in the early hours of Saturday, said the 83 MW pressurized light-water reactor attained “criticality” after several months of “checking and re-checking” of all the systems and sub-systems of the 6000-tonne submarine at the secretive ship-building centre at Visakhapatnam.

INS Arihant, till now, was being tested in the harbor on shore-based, high-pressure steam. With the reactor going critical now, the submarine will eventually head for open waters for extensive “sea- acceptance trials”, which will include firing of its 750-km range K-15 ballistic missiles. The sea trials will take at least another 18 months before INS Arihant can become fully operational.

When that happens, India will finally get the long-elusive third leg of its nuclear triad — the capability to fire nuclear weapons from the land, air and sea. The first two legs — the rail and road-mobile Agni series of ballistic missiles and fighters like Sukhoi 30MKIs and Mirage-2000s capable of delivering nuclear warheads — are already in place with the armed forces.

The capability to deploy submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) is crucial since India has a declared “no first-use policy” for nuclear weapons, and hence needs a robust and viable second-strike capability

Rajat Pandit, Reactor of India’s first indigenous nuclear submarine INS Arihant goes ‘critical’, The Times of India, Aug. 10, 2013

India’s Nuclear Submarines

Nuclear Waste Issues in Russia

Andreyeva Bay, the former naval technical base come solid radioactive waste storage facility has undergone many improvements, but problems also remain. Andreyeva Bay is one of the hottest radioactive spots in Northwest Russia and work deadlines are hard to meet.  Founded in between 1960 and 1964, Andreyeva Bay’s task was to remove, store and ship for reprocessing at the Ural Mountains Mayak Chemical Combine spent nuclear fuel from nuclear submarines. After a 1982 accident in the spent nuclear fuel storage, Russia Ministery of Defense decided to reconstruct the facility. But the turbulent political and economic conditions of the 1980s and 1990s scuttled the plans. Andreyeva Bay was assigned to Minatom, Rosatom’s precursor, in 2000.  The beleaguered facility, which is nearby the Norwegian border is of special concern to Oslo. Norway’s Deputy Ambassador in Moscow, Bård Svendsen, noted that the two countries had cooperated on solving the Andreyeva bay issue for many years.  “Over these years, much has been done and much remains to be done,” said Svendsen. “Norwegian authorities will continue this work, which costs some €10 million euro a year.”  According to Rosatom’s deputy head of Department for Project Implementation and Nuclear and Radiaiton Safety, Anatoly Grigorieyev, the last 10 years have seen the installation of constant radiation monitoring and significant improvements in the conditions in which radioactive waste and spent nuclear fuel is stored.  A new installation for working with spent nuclear fuel is expected to be installed at Andreyeva Bay in 2014, and by 2015 the fuel is slated for removal – the same year a facility for handling radioactive waste should be installed, he said in remarks reported by Regnum news agency.  “The work we have planned will allow for the territory to be brought up to suitable conditions within 10-15 years,” said Grigorieyev.

Vladimir Romanov, deputy director of the Federal Medical and Biological Agency, said that studies conducted by his institute confirm that the radiological conditions at Andreyeva Bay and at Gremikha – the second onshore storage site at the Kola Peninsula for spent nuclear fuel from submarines – are indeed on the mend…. According to Valery Panteleyev, head of SevRAO, the Northwest Russian firm responsible for dealing with radioactive waste Some 846 spent fuel assemblies have been taken from storage at the former naval based to the Mayak Chemical Combine for reprocessing thanks to infrastructure built for fuel unloading purposes.  Panteleyev said Gremikha still currently is home to used removable parts from liquid metal cooled reactors submarine reactors, spent fuel assemblies, a reactor from an Alpha class submarine and more than 1000 cubic meters of solid radioactive waste.  Panteleyev said that by the end of 2012, all standard and non-standard fuel will have been sent to Mayak from Gremikha. He said that between 2012 and 2020 the removable parts of the liquid metal cooled reactors would also be gone, and that during the period between 2012 and 2014, 4000 cubic meters of solid radioactive waste would also be removed to long term storage at Saida Bay.  If all goes according to schedule, the Gremikha site will be rehabilitated by 2025.

Rosatom also presented detailed reports on an international project to build long-term storage for reactor compartments at the Saida Bay storage site for aged submarine reactors.  Panteleyev said none of the achievements at either Saida Bay or Gremikha would have been possible without international help.  The projects are being completed with funding from Germany, Italy, France, Norway, Sweden, Great Britain and the EBRD.  “These countries are investing in the creation of infrastructure for handling radioactive waste and spent nuclear fuel, dismantlement of nuclear vessels of the atomic fleet and in the infrastructure for the safe storage or reactor compartments,” said Panteleyev….

Another item of special concern at the Bellona/Rosatom seminar was the disposition of the floating spent nuclear fuel vessel, the Lepse. A former technical support vessel, taken out of service in 1988 the Lepse presents the biggest nuclear and radiation risk of all retired nuclear service ships in Russia. The Lepse’s spent nuclear fuel storage holds – in casks and caissons – 639 spent fuel assemblies, a significant portion of which are severely damaged.  Extraction of these spent fuel assemblies presents special radiological risks and technical innovation. The vessel is currently moored at Atomflot in Murmansk, the base of Russia’s nuclear icebreaker fleet.  Mikhail Repin, group director for the Russian Federal State Unitary Enterprise the Federal Center for Nuclear and Radiation Safety, said work on the Lepse is divided into three categories: transfer of the vessel to the ship repair yard Nerpa in the Murmansk Region, fixing it to an assembly based, removing the spent fuel and dividing into blocks. The work is expected to be complete by 2012.  But the barriers to enacting this project, however, remain largely bureaucratic.  “One gets the impression that international and Russian bureaucrats are capable of muddling any project, as shown by the experience with the Lepse,” said Bellona’s Niktin. The project of dismantling the Lepse have remained on paper since 1995.  The Lepse was built in 1930, and the vessel has been afloat for 75 years, said Repin… The equipment necessary for removing the spent fuel assemblies must be fabricated for specifically this project. The equipment must first ensure the safety of the workers, meaning the work will have to be done essentially remotely to ensure minimum exposure.

Nuclear Waste in Russia, for more info see Bellona

See also Nuclear Waste and Secrecy