How Long Can a Nuclear-Powered Ship Stay at Sea?

Nuclear power has enabled submarines to stay underwater for up to twenty years without needing to refuel. Food supply is the only limitation for a nuclear submarine's time at sea. British submarines can remain submerged for a maximum of fifteen years before needing to refuel. The new iteration of submarines can stay underwater for a quarter of a century, only resurfacing to restock on food.

But does Godden really think that building Astute was more difficult than constructing a space shuttle? He states that both are some of the most challenging projects the world has ever undertaken, and he is trying to emphasize the complexity of the task from his perspective.

Nuclear submarines

can remain submerged for three or four months in a row and traverse oceans with ease. While some conventional submarines can travel long distances, none have the same level of underwater endurance. These vessels are powered by steam turbines, each producing up to 33 MW in the propellers, with a total propulsion power of 54 MW.

The SSNs will be similar in size to the Arihant class SSBN and will be driven by a new reactor developed by BARC. Shang class SSN type 93 and Jin class SSBN type 94 have one or two PWRs with an approximate total of 150-175 MWt, providing shaft power of around 25 MW. The Charles de Gaulle is a 42,000-ton nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, commissioned in 2001 and is the flagship of the French Navy (Marine Nationale). It is driven by a KLT-40 reactor similar to the OK-900 used in larger icebreakers, but with only 135 MWt of power delivering 32.5 MW of propeller power.

Among modern warships, they are second in size after large aircraft carriers, and are comparable in size to battleships from the Second World War era. For use in shallow waters, such as estuaries and rivers, Taymyry-class shallow draft icebreakers were built in Finland and then equipped with its single-reactor nuclear propulsion system in Russia. They deliver a lot of energy from a very small volume and therefore run on highly enriched uranium (originally c.Gerald Ford class aircraft carriers have more powerful and simple A1B reactors* that are reportedly at least 25% more powerful than the A4W, therefore around 700 MWt, but with a ship that, apart from steam, the turbine's propulsion is completely electric, including an electromagnetic aircraft launch system or a catapult. It is a small fast neutron reactor that uses eutectic lead-bismuth cooling and is capable of operating for ten years at full power before refueling, and in service lasts 25 years of boat life.

Compared to the excellent safety record of the United States nuclear navy, early Soviet efforts resulted in a series of serious accidents: five in which the reactor was irreparably damaged and others in which radiation leakage occurred. In the future, restrictions on the use of fossil fuels in transportation may cause marine nuclear propulsion to become more widespread use. The Gerald Ford class (CVN 78 onwards) has a similar hull and about 800 fewer crew members and two more powerful Bechtel A1B jets that drive four axes, as well as the electromagnetic aircraft launch system.


submarines have become very quiet, at least an order of magnitude quieter than a diesel submarine with the engine running. The largest Russian icebreakers use two KLT-40 nuclear reactors each with 241 or 274 fuel assemblies with 30% to 40% enriched fuel and a refueling interval of 3 to 4 years.

The study indicated that certain routes and loads lent themselves well to the nuclear propulsion option, and that technological advances in the design and manufacture of the reactor had made it an increasingly attractive option. The capabilities of nuclear-powered ships have come a long way since their inception. Submarines can now stay underwater for up to twenty years without needing to refuel; British submarines can remain submerged for fifteen years; while aircraft carriers like Charles de Gaulle can stay at sea for up to twenty-five years before needing maintenance or refueling. Nuclear propulsion has also enabled vessels like icebreakers to traverse shallow waters like estuaries and rivers with ease. As restrictions on fossil fuels increase, marine nuclear propulsion may become more widespread.

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