The Navy may consider hiring a commercial shipyard to partially dispose of the famed aircraft carrier Enterprise, and several companies have expressed interest, including Newport News Shipbuilding.
Those developments, reported May 18 by Defense News, have prompted concern from a congressman in Washington state, the home of Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, where Navy nuclear ships have been recycled.
Rep. Derek Kilmer, a Democrat whose district includes the shipyard, wrote to Navy Secretary Ray Mabus asking for an explanation. Kilmer noted that the Navy has made investments in the Puget Sound facility and wants to insure they "are not undercut."
The matter has been under consideration since last year, documents show. In May 2014, Naval Sea Systems Command issued a request for information "from all potential sources" interested in dismantling the non-propulsion sections of the Enterprise. Disposal of the ship's eight nuclear reactors would still be handled by Puget Sound.
The world's first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, the Enterprise was retired from service in 2012 and is being defueled and inactivated at the Newport News shipyard, where it was built more than 50 years ago. The shipyard is a division of Huntington Ingalls Industries and is the sole U.S. manufacturer of nuclear-powered aircraft carriers.
The May request for information led to a meeting on June 18 with interested parties, hosted by the Navy's Program Executive Office, Aircraft Carriers. Representatives of Newport News Shipbuilding attended that meeting, as did a representative of S.M. Stoller Corp., an HII subsidiary. The company has experience in cleaning up government radioactive sites that are a legacy of the Cold War.
Stoller has since been combined with Newport News Nuclear to create Stoller Newport News Nuclear.
In a statement, HII spokeswoman Jerri Dickseski suggested Stoller and possibly other companies might come together to make a pitch for the job:
"Newport News Shipbuilding is aware of the Navy's RFI (Request for Information) and we believe that NNS, working with our SN3 nuclear energy business in a partnership that may also includeothers, possesses the technical expertise and certainly a great knowledge of the ship that, when combined, may offer our Navy customer with a lower cost option. We are interested in doing this work."
Defense News reported a statement from NAVSEA that confirms other options are being looked at. No final decisions have been made.
The original plan -- and still the plan, unless the Navy says otherwise -- is to tow the Enterprise around the tip of South America to Puget Sound for recycling. The nuclear components would be taken to the Department of Energy's Hanford Site in the desert of southeast Washington.
The U.S. government buries nuclear waste in trenches in Hanford, a small town cleared out to make way for a World War II-era nuclear production facility.