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Subs for Recycling Stacking Up at Washington Shipyard

The Los Angeles-class fast-attack submarine USS Houston departs Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, for the final time,  June 6, 2016. Michael Lee/US Navy
The Los Angeles-class fast-attack submarine USS Houston departs Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, for the final time, June 6, 2016. Michael Lee/US Navy

BREMERTON -- Los Angeles-class fast attack submarines are piling up at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard.

In a recent 10-day stretch, three arrived at the only place the Navy recycles them. The USS Houston, USS City of Corpus Christi and ex-Norfolk joined 11 others waiting to be scrapped or in the process. (Ships become exes after their fuel is removed, and they're decommissioned.)

Sixty-two Los Angeles-class boats were built between 1971 and 1996. Fourteen are here, including two hulls now undergoing recycling and two to begin in July. Nine have already been scrapped and 39 remain active.

They're being replaced by Virginia-class subs, at the rate of about one per year. Forty-eight Virginias are planned. Twelve have been produced.

Since being assigned the responsibility in the late 1980s of dismantling the Navy's nuclear ships, the shipyard has recycled eight cruisers, 60 fast attack subs and 28 ballistic missile subs.

Spent nuclear fuel is shipped by rail to the Idaho National Laboratory near Idaho Falls, where it's stored in special containers. Empty reactor compartments are shipped by barge to the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, where they're buried. What's left is cut up and recycled.

Moored with the Los Angeles-class boats are two unique submarines and a cruiser.

The ex-USS Narwhal is a one-of-a-kind vessel commissioned in 1969. It was the quietest submarine of its era and featured many innovations. Little is publicly known of its operations, except that it received a Navy Unit Commendation and four Meritorious Unit Commendations for them.

It entered the recycling program in October 2001. Over the next five years, efforts were to made to make the Narwhal the centerpiece of a planned National Submarine Science Discovery Center in Newport, Kentucky, but fundraising fell short.

Another one-of-a-kind boat is the naval research vessel ex-NR-1. With a crew of just 13, it was the smallest nuclear submarine to ever operate. It could dive deeper than any other. When it reached the ocean floor, it could roll on wheels with lights illuminating the depths outside its windows.

Launched in 1969, it was primarily a research vessel but also carried out military missions that remain under wraps. It was never officially named or commissioned. It was deactivated in 2008, de-fueled and sent to PSNS to be scrapped.

De-fueled, inactivated ships are stored at the shipyard's Mooring A. They begin the recycling process at Pier 7 before completing it in drydock.

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