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Propulsion

Travel to the Top Of The World

Defined as latitude 90 degrees North and referred to as the top of the world, the North Pole no longer requires travelers to have years of training or special equipment to explore the Arctic region. This form of travel originated with the world’s first nuclear powered cargo-passenger ship launched in 1962.

More than 150 ships around the world use nuclear propulsion.

Built as a showpiece under President Eisenhower’s “Atoms for Peace” program, the NS Savannah demonstrated the peaceful use of nuclear propulsion. Today, Russia has nuclear-powered icebreakers that make trips through treacherous ice packs near the North Pole. For a fee, travelers can reserve berths aboard these massive ships that ride on frozen arctic waters and using their weight smash through ice as thick as seven feet. Some scientific experts prefer nuclear power to diesel because not only is it reliable but it reduces the number of refueling trips needed when traveling to remote areas.

Traveling Aboard a Nuclear Powered Icebreaker

Icebreaker in action

Icebreaker in action

The Arctic Ocean is one of the least known and least visited oceans in the world. But lately more adventure travelers are enjoying the sites and sounds of the North Pole in style and comfort thanks to nuclear powered icebreakers.

Work on nuclear marine propulsion began in the 1940′s first by creating submarines. By 1962 the first nuclear powered cargo-passenger ship, the NS Savannah was launched. Built as a passenger-cargo showpiece under President Eisenhower’s “Atoms for Peace” program, the Savannah demonstrated the peaceful use of nuclear propulsion and sparked the interest of other countries to build similar ships for efficient and reliable water travel.

Icebreakers quickly started to appear. In the late 50′s they ensured safe passage of cargo ships crossing the artic circle covered in shifting icepack. Then in the 70′s these vessels assisted scientific expeditions and continue to do so. In the late 80′s the nuclear powered icebreakers joined the tourism industry providing adventure vacations to areas most tourists are unable to get to.

Today nuclear powered vessels make the North Pole an easier place to visit. They carry scientists and tourists alike. A trip to the North Pole on an icebreaker would provide you with a chance to see an area few have ever seen in comfort and style. These trips are not cheap costing roughly $25,000 a person but to go where few have been is a once in a lifetime experience.

How They Work

These massive ships are designed to ride up on the frozen ocean waters using its sheer weight to smash through the frozen layers of ice that exist year-round. Made with a strong steel hull and a special skin to withstand the frigid water temperatures, these ships can charge through ice that’s as thick as seven feet thick, keeping travelers safe, sound, and warm.

Nuclear power is preferred because it allows these vessels to be out at sea for long periods of time only having to refuel once every four years. The amount of room this technology takes up on board is also a benefit because many ships must carry their own diesel fuel aboard, losing valuable cargo space thus making voyages less cost efficient.

Where is the NS Savannah?

Nuclear Ship Savannah, the world's first nuclear-powered merchant ship.

Nuclear Ship Savannah, the world’s first nuclear-powered merchant ship.

Nuclear propulsion is also used for:

Space Technology

Nuclear generators that are powering space missions may one day help answer questions about Earth. Called radioisotope thermoelectric generators (RTGs), these generators have been in use since 1961, when the U.S. Navy first launched a navigation satellite. They convert heat from nuclear fuel into electricity.

Space missions have helped us learn about the planets, stars, and even the edges of our solar system. Spectacular pictures and scientific data have painted a detailed pictured of not only what our galaxy looks like but also what it’s made of.

The technology used to provide electric power to capture and transport this information from outer space to Earth has been around since 1961. Back then government scientists first used radioisotope thermoelectric generators (RTGs) with the launch of a U.S. Navy transit navigation satellite, similar to today’s global positioning satellite system installed.

Now RTGs are helping Cassini-Huygens, the spacecraft and probe, launched in 1997 explore Saturn and one of its moons Titan. According to scientists, Titan’s atmosphere is similar to that of young Earth. More information sent back from Titan could tell us if it is able to support some form of life. Powered by only three RTGs, which is the equivalent of nine 100 watt-light bulbs, Cassini-Huygens spacecraft has enough electrical energy to power not only all the equipment on-board but also take and send back pictures and data from the Saturn system even after its 2008 mission end date.

RTGs have been involved in more than 25 space missions providing power in deep space for Voyager 1 and 2, several Apollo missions, Galileo, Nimbus and LES, and many others. The requirements for power in space are specific to the remote and harsh conditions they operate in. The generator must meet the missions power needs and space limitations plus the unit must be reliable enough to work without moving parts which may fail or wear out years later. RTG’s have proven to be the best option to date especially where solar panels cannot supply enough power.


Submarines

Modern submarines are powered by one of 2 primary propulsion methods – nuclear power (NP) or diesel-electric (DE).

DE propulsion has been around since John Holland invented the first viable combat submarine with range. The design hasn’t changed much in over 100 years, though the technology of course has been greatly improved. The design consists of at least 2 diesel engines that recharge large battery cells, which in turn power an electric motor while submerged. The diesel is also used for surfaced propulsion and while recharging either on the surface, or at periscope depth. Current generations of nuclear submarines never need to be refueled throughout their 25-year lifespans

DE submarines today, unlike those of past wars, are primarily used by smaller navies for coastal defense, rather than for long-range strategic purposes. This is because the advent of Nuclear Power for most blue-water navies using submarines leaves the DE submarine at a disadvantage in a tactical situation. Though DE’s are extremely quiet on an electric motor, their speed limitations against another boat using NP means they’re on the defensive as soon as they make enough noise to be detected. Battery power also limits the scope of electronic and weapons systems they can carry, and their fuel limits their range and capability and speed.

US Nautilus

Nuclear Power is the choice of large blue-water navies for submarines, since the USS Nautilus circumnavigated the globe in the ’50′s without the need for refueling and in record time. Nautilus could remain underwater for up to four months without resurfacing. Nuclear Power gives naval vessels a huge advantage in the systems it can employ, crew comfort, and tactical employment. Nuclear submarines can be in a target area gathering intelligence or inserting covert teams long before main battle groups enter the area.


Nuclear-Powered Aircraft Carriers

The U.S. Navy’s USS Long Beach (CGN-9) & USS Enterprise (CVN-65) are the first Navy surface combatants to be powered by nuclear reactors. Both ship keels were laid within 2 months of each other, and commissioned at almost the same time. The Long Beach was commissioned a few weeks prior to the Enterprise, (September 9, 1961). The Enterprise was commissioned on November 25 of that same year. The Long Beach was the only ship of her class, and was the last cruiser built on a traditional cruiser hull. Subsequent cruisers were built on modified, scaled up destroyer hulls. The Long Beach was also the Navy’s first guided missile cruiser, which showed the reality that missiles had finally replaced traditional guns for surface-surface engagements. She was decommissioned on July 2, 1994.

U.S.S. Enterprise

U.S.S. Enterprise

The U.S.S. Enterprise was in service for over 50 years – the oldest active commissioned warship in the Navy. In December 2012, the Big E left active-duty Navy service in a formal deactivation ceremony at Pier 12 in Norfolk, Virginia. Her hull type is a bit different from modern carriers, and she has 4 screws instead of the 2 that many others have.

The third ship of the class, the U.S.S. Enterprise, CVN-80, is slated to sail in 2025.

In addition to the Navy’s 10 currently steaming carriers, three of the new Ford class are now under construction. The U.S.S. Gerald R. Ford will set sail in 2015, followed by the U.S.S. John F. Kennedy in 2020.

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