Hanford could be the resting place for the historic USS Enterprise’s nuclear reactors

The Navy is taking a second look at whether to send nuclear reactor compartments from the world’s first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier to Hanford for disposal.

In 2012, the Department of Defense found no issues that would prevent the defueled reactor compartments of the U.S. Navy’s USS Enterprise from being disposed of at the Hanford nuclear reservation.

But a new study is being launched after the Navy identified commercial disposal alternatives, which might cut costs.

Options are being considered to set a standard that the Navy may use for decades to come as the Navy’s Nimitz-class carriers also are retired, according to Government Accountability Office.

A GAO study in August estimated the cost of dismantling and disposing of the Enterprise at $1 billion.

An open house is June 27 in Richland to share information about possible alternatives for the disposal of the aircraft carrier, including its nuclear reactor compartments.

The USS Enterprise was commissioned in 1961 and served for more than 50 years, sailing 1 million miles.

Sailors aboard USS Enterprise spelled out “E = MC2x40” on the carrier’s flight deck to mark 40 years of U.S. Naval nuclear power as ship and crew returned home from a Mediterranean Sea and Arabian Gulf deployment in 2001. Douglass M. Pearlman Courtesy U.S. Navy

It served during the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Vietnam War and the Iraq War.

8 nuclear reactors powered Enterprise

At 1,123 feet long, it could hold up to 90 aircraft, but normally carried fewer.

It had eight nuclear reactors, unlike the Nimitz class aircraft carriers that were built next with two nuclear reactors.

The possible alternatives now being consider for the decommissioned aircraft carrier include disposing of compartments at a Hanford trench with other Navy compartments, a commercial disposal facility at Hanford, or at a disposal site elsewhere in the nation.

The Enterprise, which was decommissioned in 2017, is now being stored pier-side at Huntington Ingalls Industries Newport News Shipbuilding in Virginia. Nuclear fuel has already been removed.

The aircraft carrier USS Enterprise is shown underway with the Enterprise Carrier Strike Group in the Atlantic Ocean in March 2012. MCSN Harry Andrew D. Gordon U.S. Navy

It could be partially dismantled there or at another commercial site, with the remainder of the ship containing the defueled reactor compartments transported to the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and Intermediate Maintenance Facility in Bremerton, Wash.

The shipyard would package each of the compartments for the aircraft carrier’s eight reactors separately or in four double packages.

The reactor compartments would then be barged up the Columbia River to the Port of Benton in Richland and offloaded to be hauled out to Hanford.

The aircraft carrier USS Enterprise in the Strait of Bab Al Mendeb. MC3 Daniel Meshel U.S. Navy

Reactors go into Hanford trench

Since 1986 the Navy has used a trench about seven miles from the Columbia River in central Hanford to dispose of about 130 reactor compartments and other reactor components of nuclear-powered submarines and cruisers.

Ships from the Enterprise Carrier Strike Group were underway with the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CVN 65) in the Atlantic Ocean in January 2011 MCSN Jared M. King U.S. Navy

In another possible alternative the eight reactor plants could be cut into segments and packaged into several hundred small containers for disposal at a DOE or other licensed commercial waste facility.

Possible disposal facilities include the US Ecology disposal site on leased land in central Hanford; the Energy Solutions disposal site in Utah; the Waste Control Specialists disposal site in Texas; or the Department of Energy Savannah River Site in South Carolina.

The first step in the planned environmental study is to ask the public what it wants included.

A comment period on the scope of the study is planned through July 15.

The current route used for defueled naval reactor plans from the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard to the Hanford nuclear reservation near Richland. Courtesy Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and Intermediate Maintenance Facility

Comments may be submitted at the Richland meeting or online at www.CarrierDisposalEIS.com. T

They also may be mailed to Congressional and Public Affairs Office; Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and Intermediate Maintenance Facility; Attn: Kellie Randall, CVN 65 EIS; 1400 Farragut Ave., Stop 2072; Bremerton, WA 98314-2072.

The Richland meeting will be an open house with posters and a chance to ask questions. It will be 5 to 8 p.m. June 27 at the Richland Public Library, 955 Northgate Drive.

Disposal sites potentially available to accept radiological material generated by the commercial dismantling of the former USS Enterprise. Courtesy Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and Intermediate Maintenance Facility
Senior staff writer Annette Cary covers Hanford, energy, the environment, science and health for the Tri-City Herald. She’s been a news reporter for more than 30 years in the Pacific Northwest.