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Powering the Nuclear Navy

The Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program provides militarily effective nuclear propulsion plants and ensures their safe, reliable and long-lived operation. This mission requires the combination of fully trained U.S. Navy men and women with ships that excel in endurance, stealth, speed, and independence from supply chains.

The Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program provides militarily effective nuclear propulsion plants and ensures their safe, reliable and long-lived operation. This mission requires the combination of fully trained U.S. Navy men and women with ships that excel in endurance, stealth, speed, and independence from supply chains.

NNSA's Navy Reactors Program provides the design, development and operational support required to provide militarily effective nuclear propulsion plants and ensure their safe, reliable and long-lived operation. 

This budget requests more than $1 billion to power a modern nuclear Navy:

  • Continuation of design and development work for the OHIO-class ballistic missile submarine replacement
  • Core development and refueling of the S8G land-based prototype reactor in upstate New York
  • Design work toward the recapitalization of the program’s spent nuclear fuel infrastructure


Presidential Executive Order 12344 off site link, 42 U.S.C. Sec 7158, Public Law 98-525 and 50 U.S.C. Sec. 2406, Public Law 106-65 set forth the total responsibility of Naval Reactors for all aspects of the Navy’s nuclear propulsion, including research, design, construction, testing, operation, maintenance, and ultimate disposition of naval nuclear propulsion plants.

The Program's responsibility includes all related facilities, radiological controls, environmental safety, and health matters, as well as selection, training, and assignment of personnel. All of this work is accomplished by a lean network of dedicated research laboratories, nuclear-capable shipyards, equipment contractors and suppliers, and training facilities which are centrally controlled by a small headquarters staff. The Director, Naval Reactors, also serves as a Deputy Administrator in the National Nuclear Security Administration.

The mission of the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program, also known as Naval Reactors, is to provide militarily effective nuclear propulsion plants and ensure their safe, reliable, and long-lived operation.  This mission requires the combination of fully trained U.S. Navy men and women with ships that excel in endurance, stealth, speed, and independence from logistics supply chains.

What Is the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program?

The Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program comprises the military and civilian personnel who design, build, operate, maintain, and manage the nuclear-powered ships and the many facilities that support the U.S. nuclear-powered naval fleet.  The Program has cradle-to-grave responsibility for all naval nuclear propulsion matters.  Program responsibilities are delineated in Presidential Executive Order 12344 of February 1, 1982, and prescribed by Public Laws 98-525 of October 19, 1984 (42 USC 7158), and 106-65 of October 5, 1999 (50 USC 2406).  Program elements include the following:

  • Research, development, and support laboratories.
  • Contractors responsible for designing, procuring, and building propulsion plant equipment.
  • Shipyards that build, overhaul, and service the propulsion plants of nuclear-powered vessels.
  • Navy support facilities and tenders.
  • Nuclear power schools and Naval Reactors training facilities.
  • Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program Headquarters and field offices.

Research, Development, and Support Laboratories

The government-owned/contractor-operated Bettis off site link and Knolls off site link Atomic Power Laboratories are research and engineering facilities devoted solely to naval nuclear propulsion work.  With combined staffs of over 6,100 engineers, scientists, technicians, and support personnel, their mission is to develop the most advanced naval nuclear propulsion technology and to provide technical support for the continued safe, reliable operation of all existing naval reactors.  Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory (KAPL) operates prototype nuclear propulsion plants in New York for the operational testing of new designs and promising new technologies under typical operating conditions before introducing them into the fleet.  Both Bettis and KAPL offer postgraduate research opportunities through the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Fellowship Program.

The government-owned/contractor-operated Naval Reactors Facility, located within the Idaho National Laboratory off site link, examines naval spent nuclear fuel and irradiated test specimens.  The data derived from these examinations are used to develop new technology and to improve the cost-effectiveness of existing designs.

The combined efforts of the Program's research, development, and support labs have led to tremendous advances in naval reactor technology.  For example, the first submarine core endurance was about 62,000 miles; today, submarine and aircraft carrier cores have an endurance of over 1 million miles.

Nuclear Component Procurement Organization

Since the late 1950s, the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program has had dedicated prime contractor support to provide engineering, procurement, and technical oversight of naval nuclear components.  Currently, the prime contractor is Bechtel Plant Machinery, Inc. (BPMI), with locations in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Schenectady, New York.  BPMI is involved in the design, purchase, quality control, and delivery of major propulsion plant components for installation in nuclear-powered aircraft carriers, submarines, and prototype plants.

Nuclear Equipment Suppliers

A number of privately owned companies throughout the United States perform the actual design and fabrication of the major propulsion plant components.  Manufacturing the heavy components used in naval reactors requires 4-8 years of precision machining, welding, grinding, heat treatment, and nondestructive testing of large specialty metal forgings, under carefully controlled conditions.  Standards for naval applications are far more rigorous and stringent than those required for civilian nuclear reactors because components on warships must be designed and built to accommodate battle shock; radiated noise limits; crew proximity to the reactor; and frequent, rapid changes in reactor power.  Many of these equipment manufacturers have been supplying the Program for several decades.


Two private shipyards build all U.S. nuclear-powered ships.  These two shipyards, together with four public shipyards, provide the nation’s capability to overhaul, repair, refuel, and inactivate nuclear-powered ships.  These complicated tasks require an experienced and skilled workforce specifically trained to do naval nuclear propulsion work.  With approximately 50,000 employees, these six shipyards are unique industrial assets with capabilities found nowhere else in the United States.

Shipyard Sector Location
Electric Boat Private Groton, CT
Norfolk Naval Shipyard Public Portsmouth, VA
Huntington Ingalls Industry - Newport News Shipbuilding Private Newport News, VA
Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard and Intermediate Maintenance Facility Public Pearl Harbor, HI
Portsmouth Naval Shipyard Public Kittery, ME
Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and Intermediate Maintenance Facility Public Bremerton, WA


Support Facilities and Tenders

Fleet Intermediate Maintenance Activities (deployed tenders and support facilities at major bases) perform maintenance and repair on nuclear-powered ships outside of major shipyard availability periods.  Staffed by specially trained personnel, these facilities provide upkeep and resupply support for the fleet.  The tenders are themselves seagoing naval vessels that routinely perform their missions while deployed all over the world.  Thus, the ability of the nuclear-powered fleet to remain on station is further enhanced by our ability to forward-deploy repair and maintenance activities.

Schools and Training Facilities

The Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program’s unique training requirements are met by special-purpose training facilities staffed by highly qualified instructors.  These facilities include the Nuclear Field "A" School and the Nuclear Power School in Charleston, South Carolina; and moored training ships and land-based prototypes which provide hands-on training and ensure that before their first sea tour, all operators have qualified on an operating naval nuclear propulsion plant.

With the repeal of the Combat Exclusion Law in the 1994 Defense Authorization Act and the Navy decision to open combatant ships to women, the Program began accepting women into the training pipeline to be propulsion plant operators aboard nuclear-powered surface combatants.  Because of that, women are now directly integral to the safe, reliable operation of these ships and their support organizations.


Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program Headquarters provides oversight and direction for all Program elements.  Because of the highly complex nature of nuclear technology, all major technical decisions regarding design, procurement, operations, maintenance, training, and logistics are made by a Headquarters staff expert in nuclear technology.  Headquarters engineers set standards and specifications for all Program work, while onsite headquarters representatives monitor the work at the laboratories, prototypes, shipyards, and prime contractors.

Based on nearly six decades of engineering experience in nuclear propulsion, the headquarters organization exercises exacting control over all aspects of the Program, demanding technical excellence and discipline unparalleled among nuclear programs.