Disposing of the world's first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier is turning out to be more of a challenge than the Navy bargained for.
Officials from Naval Sea Systems Command announced today that they're canceling a request for proposal to perform a commercial recycling of the non-nuclear elements of the USS Enterprise, CVN 65, which was decommissioned after 55 years of service Feb. 3.
"The Navy has identified that it requires more information to determine the approach for the disposal of CVN 65, including the reactor plans, that is more technically executable, environmentally responsible and is an effective utilization of Navy resources," a spokesman for NAVSEA, William Couch, said in an announcement today.
No decision has been made on a better approach to dismantle and dispose of the Enterprise, according to the announcement. For now, the history-making carrier is completing an "inactivation availability" at Newport News Shipbuilding until Aug. 2017. Following that, the Enterprise is set to enter temporary storage until the Navy can decide how to dispose of it. A storage location for the 1,122-foot-long, 94,780-ton ship has yet to be determined.
According to NAVSEA, three possible options remain on the table for disposing of the Enterprise. The Navy could conduct commercial recycling of the ship's non-nuclear portions and seal up its reactor compartments at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and Intermediate Maintenance Facility in Bremerton, Washington; it could complete commercial recycling of the whole ship, dismantling the carrier's eight reactor plants; or it could simply defer the disposal decision, placing the Enterprise in intermediate-term storage for "a limited number of years."
As the Virginian-Pilot reported in October, the Navy has been trying to figure out what to do with the hulking Enterprise since 2012. The initial plan had the ship being towed to the Puget Sound facility, where the reactors would be removed and disposed of in a trench designed for the purpose and the rest of the ship would be recycled.
But in 2014, Navy officials realized the carrier was so large that recycling it at Puget Sound was going to disrupt the shipyard's ability to do other work, the Virginian-Pilot reported. From there the service focused on commercial recycling, soliciting bids to dismantle and recycle the ship and isolate and seal the reactors.
An environmental impact statement for each remaining option, along with public meetings, will help the Navy determine the effect of each option on the environment and local community and a way forward for disposal of the Enterprise
"The Navy is taking these steps to ensure CVN 65 is recycled in a cost-effective and environmentally responsible manner," Couch said in a statement. "Given the complexities of the issues involved in recycling CVN 65, the Navy remains committed to a fully open and public process for conducting the first-ever disposal of a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier."