Located in West Mifflin, PA, the site of the Bettis Atomic Power Laboratory was originally developed as Pittsburgh’s first airfield. The site is named after Lt. Cyrus K. Bettis, a famous air-racing Army pilot who died in a tragic plane crash near Bellefonte, PA, in the 1920s. The land was acquired according to a contract between Westinghouse and the Atomic Energy Commission. Westinghouse purchased the land and began operations to support the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program in 1948.
Bettis was assigned responsibility for the engineering, design, procurement, and construction work on the prototype of the first naval nuclear propulsion plant, and in 1955 the USS NAUTILUS, the world’s first nuclear-powered submarine, went to sea under nuclear power. Prior to NAUTILUS, submarines had been limited by battery power that allowed for undersea travel of 150 miles or fewer at much slower speeds than what NAUTILUS was capable of running. In August 1958, NAUTILUS was able to sail more than 2,000 miles under the polar ice cap. Since NAUTILUS, Bettis led the development of the first nuclear-powered surface ship (the cruiser USS LONG BEACH) and the first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier (USS ENTERPRISE).
Bettis designed and developed the first full-scale nuclear power plant for civilian use, the Shippingport Atomic Power Station, which began operation in 1957. The primary objective for building Shippingport was to be a source of scientific data for building future nuclear power stations, and the technology developed for the Shippingport program has been made available to industry for commercial application. During its first year of operation, Shippingport ran the equivalent of more than 3,000 hours at its full-power output of 60,000 kilowatts of electricity. Shippingport was also the site of the first Light Water Breeder Reactor, operated from 1977 until 1982.
Today, Bettis provides design and engineering support for the NIMITZ Class aircraft carriers and the SEAWOLF Class fast attack submarines. Bettis is the lead design laboratory for the reactor plant design effort for the next generation of Aircraft Carriers (FORD Class).
Supporting the Nation Since 1946
© 2018 Naval Nuclear Laboratory