APR: your source for nuclear news and analysis since April 16, 2010

Friday, August 9, 2013

USS Miami to be decommissioned, scrapped

I was prophetic, it would seem, in my May 25, 2012 post on the fire deliberately started on board USS Miami, SSN-755, when I said the following:

"We'll wait to see whether the Navy decides to rebuild and return the Miami to service, or decommission her and send her to NPSSRP (Nuclear Powered Ship and Submarine Recycling Program) early."

This week, the Navy decided that damage to the ship's systems and structure was too severe to warrant repair (which would by reports have entailed essentially building an entire front third of the submarine brand new) and announced that USS Miami would be decommissioned and defueled at Portsmouth, then sent to the Puget Sound shipyard on the opposite coast for recycling.

This process involves the removal of the reactor compartment from the other portions of the submarine. The reactor plant remains inside the reactor compartment, which is sealed, but the nuclear fuel is already long gone at this point.  The reactor compartment is then shipped to Hanford, where it is placed in a large burial area which contains the reactor compartments of all decommissioned and scrapped nuclear powered ships including all submarines and cruisers.  The rest of the ship other than the reactor compartment is scrapped and the material recycled. 

The Navy has been recycling nuclear powered vessels for many years.  Click the link below to see the official history of Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, in which you'll find the reference to the launch of the Navy's NPSSRP program.

Puget Sound Naval Shipyard History

Below is a link to an interesting, if brief, page on the Brookings Institute site that describes the Navy's nuclear powered ship recycling and provides a number of interesting photographs.

Brookings:  Dismantling Nuclear Subs

The following two site links show a selection of photos from Puget Sound from years long past.

Puget Sound at "Bottom Guns" Sub Site

Sub Recycling at Submarinesailor.com 

...but the "Grandfather" of all NPSSRP pages is that of Don Shelton, found linked below.

Nuclear Submarines undergoing SRP at Puget Sound

I have a paper copy (four large books) of the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) on the Disposal of Decommissioned, Defueled Naval Submarine Reactor Plants in my library.  Some interesting observations about the history of the recycling program can be gleaned from this document.

• In May 1984 when the document was issued, the Navy had still not decided to dispose permanently of any nuclear powered submarines or ships at all.  According to this FEIS, at the date of issuance, only seven nuclear submarines (and no nuclear surface ships) had been decommissioned; six of them were in "protective storage at Naval shipyards."  These six were USS Triton (decommissioned 1967), USS Halibut (decom 1976), USS Abraham Lincoln and USS Theodore Roosevelt (both decom 1981), and USS Ethan Allen and USS Thomas A. Edison (both decom 1983.)  USS Nautilus was decommissioned in 1980 but had special status as a historic ship, and was eventually preserved as a museum and memorial. 

• The FEIS states that the Navy expected further submarines to be placed in protective storage in the year 1984; it states that submarines could be stored this way for about 20 years, at which time they would have to be drydocked for maintenance.  After this it expected three to five decommissionings of nuclear subs each year, and a total of perhaps 100 nuclear submarines to be decommissioned between 1984 and the end of the century.

• The Navy had long realized that there would be an eventual need for a program to deal with disposal of nuclear powered ships; the Draft Environmental Impact Statement was issued in December 1982.  Over 1500 copies were distributed for comment and review.

• The FEIS examined three methods of disposal for nuclear submarines.  First was to cut out the reactor compartment, seal it, and then ship it to either Hanford or the Savannah River Site for burial.  Next was to cut out the reactor compartment, seal it, and sink it in the ocean at a designated and approved area.  Finally, an examination of continued preservation of the entire submarine was made as a comparison.  The first option, with Hanford selected as the burial site, won out, as we now know with the actual recycling program starting in 1990.

The USS Miami will, it is reported, be deactivated (reactor fuel removed) at its present location, Portsmouth, and will then likely be towed through the Panama Canal to Puget Sound for the recycling program.

2:00 PM Eastern 8/9/2013


  1. The damage (by fire?) was even worst than that sub that nearly sank after hitting that undersea mountain and splitting its bow wide open to be partially repaired in Guam and getting a new front end in stateside shipyards??

    James Greenidge
    Queens NY

    1. Apparently so. Damage has been stated now to have been much more serious to wiring and piping systems that run through the bulkheads than previously thought. I have read that there was serious damage in the torpedo room as well as the auxiliary machinery space. With present budgetary problems and new Virginia class subs coming out, there apparently just wasn't the money anywhere.

  2. Thanks for writing back, but this pops up an even more sobering question to me; unless that arsonist (who is getting away with murder being slapped so lightly) spread gasoline all over that place, is the way all those component lit up and were so damaged an indication of how susceptible those parts and components are to fire and maybe how inadequate on-board underweigh fire control would've been?

    James Greenidge

    1. The entire environment underway is completely different. Large numbers of people available immediately, meaning little time to spread (unless it's a major hydraulic rupture) and close control of combustibles make the environment very much less likely to allow such damage. This boat was in drydock, not manned as normal and the situation is difficult to compare. Apples and oranges.

    2. I served on the Miami and did an overhaul in PNSY (but not this overhaul). There is an enormous difference in ship access and firefighting capability while in overhaul. If the ship was underway, the same fire would not have done nearly the amount of damage.