The defueled reactor compartments of the USS Enterprise, the world's first nuclear-powered naval aircraft carrier, could be coming to the Hanford nuclear reservation.
The Navy has used a trench in central Hanford since 1986 to dispose of reactor compartments and other reactor components from 114 nuclear-powered ships. To date, that has included compartments from just submarines and cruisers.
But the Navy is proposing also adding compartments from the Enterprise's eight reactors to Trench 94 in Hanford's 200 East Area about seven miles from the Columbia River.
The Navy has prepared a draft environmental assessment that selects Hanford disposal as its preferred alternative and will accept public comment on it from Sunday through Nov. 30.
However, disposing of the Enterprise will be a long, slow process. The reactor compartment disposal work is not expected to start earlier than 2018, and shipments to Hanford would not be expected until about 2023 to 2027.
The Enterprise was commissioned in 1961 and has operated for almost 50 years. It served during the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Vietnam War and the Iraq War. It is the oldest operating ship in the Navy and will reach the end of its useful life in 2012.
It is expected to enter dry dock at Newport News Shipbuilding in Virginia in 2013. Removal of nuclear fuel also would be done there by about 2017 or 2018, with used fuel sent to the Idaho National Laboratory. Then the Enterprise would be towed to Bremerton.
The reactor compartments would be removed at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and Intermediate Maintenance Facility, with the rest of the ship recycled, under the proposal.
The Enterprise's eight reactors are in four pairs of reactor compartments that would be separated by cutting through a structural space between the two reactor compartments. A containment structure would be built around the reactor compartments, enclosing them to form a package.
A barge would be used to ship the reactor compartments through the Puget Sound, along the Pacific Coast and then up the Columbia River to the Port of Benton to be unloaded for the trip across Hanford.
The packaged compartments could be up to 47 feet tall, making clearance potentially tight under the cable bridge.
The Enterprise was the only nuclear aircraft carrier with eight reactors. Newer ones have two.
The draft environmental assessment concludes that the Enterprise's smaller reactor compartments would be similar to those on carriers already disposed of, so there would be no additional environmental impact beyond that already studied for carriers.
The state, a Hanford regulator, is studying the draft environmental assessment and will comment on it by Nov. 30, said John Price of the Washington State Department of Ecology.
Public comment on the environmental assessment may be sent to Public Affairs Office (Code 1160) Bldg. 850, 5th floor, Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and Intermediate Maintenance Facility, 1400 Farragut Ave., Bremerton, WA, 98314.