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About Naval Reactors

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 Naval Nuclear Laboratory consists of four government-owned/contractor-operated sites that support the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program: Bettis Atomic Power Laboratory in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory (KAPL) in Schenectady, New York; KAPL – Kesselring Site in West Milton, New York; and the Naval Reactors Facility on the Idaho National Laboratory.

Bettis and KAPL are research and engineering facilities devoted solely to naval nuclear propulsion work.  With combined staffs of over 6,800 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.  The KAPL – Kesselring Site 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 Naval Reactors Facility, located within the Idaho National Laboratory, 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.