Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program

What is the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program?

The Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program includes the civilian and military personnel who design, build, operate, maintain, and manage the nuclear-powered ships and the many facilities that support the U.S. nuclear-powered naval Fleet. The Program has cradle-to-grave responsibility for all naval nuclear propulsion matters. Program responsibilities are delineated in Presidential Executive Order 12344 of Feb. 1, 1982, and prescribed by Public Laws 98-525 of Oct. 19, 1984 (42 USC 7158), and 106-65 of Oct. 5, 1999 (50 USC 2406).

Program elements include:

Research, Development, and Support Laboratories

The government owned/contract operated Naval Nuclear Laboratory employs research and engineering facilities devoted solely to naval nuclear propulsion work. With a staff of nearly 7,000 engineers, scientists, technicians, and support personnel, the Naval Nuclear Laboratory’s mission is to develop the most advanced naval nuclear propulsion technology and to provide technical support for the continued safe, reliable operation of all existing naval reactors. The Naval Nuclear Laboratory operates prototype nuclear propulsion plants in New York for the operational testing of new designs and promising new technologies under typical operating conditions before introducing them to the Fleet.

The Naval Nuclear Laboratory also examines naval spent nuclear fuel and irradiated test specimens at the Naval Reactors Facility in Idaho. The data derived from these examinations is used to develop new technology and to improve the cost-effectiveness of existing designs.

Nuclear Component Procurement Organization

Since the late 1950s, the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program has had dedicated prime contractor support to provide engineering, procurement, and technical oversight of naval nuclear components. The prime contractor is Bechtel Plant Machinery, Inc. (BPMI), with locations in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Schenectady, New York.

BPMI is responsible for the design, purchase, quality control, and delivery of major propulsion plant components for installation in nuclear-powered aircraft carriers, submarines, and prototype plants.

Schools and Training Facilities

The Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program’s unique training requirements are met by special purpose training facilities staffed by highly qualified instructors.  These instructors include both military and Naval Nuclear Laboratory personnel. These facilities include moored training ships and land-based prototypes, which provide hands-on training and ensure that before their first sea tour, all operators have qualified on an operating naval nuclear propulsion plant.


Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program Headquarters provides oversight and direction for all Program elements. Because of the highly complex nature of nuclear technology, all major technical decisions regarding design, procurement, operations, maintenance, training, and logistics are made by a Headquarters staff expert in nuclear technology. Headquarters engineers set standards and specifications for all Program work, while onsite Headquarters representatives monitor the work at the laboratories, prototypes, shipyards, and prime contractors.

Based on nearly six decades of engineering experience in nuclear propulsion, the Headquarters organization exercises exacting control over all aspects of the Program, demanding technical excellence and discipline unparalleled among nuclear programs.

Support Facilities and Tenders

Fleet Intermediate Maintenance Activities (deployed tenders and support facilities at major bases) perform maintenance and repair on nuclear-powered ships outside of major shipyard availability periods. Staffed by specially trained personnel, these facilities provide upkeep and resupply support for the Fleet.

The tenders are themselves seagoing naval vessels that routinely perform their missions while deployed all over the world. Thus, the ability of the nuclear-powered Fleet to remain on station is further enhanced by our ability to forward-deploy repair and maintenance activities.


Two private shipyards build all U.S. nuclear-powered ships. These two shipyards, together with four public shipyards, provide the nation’s capability to overhaul, repair, refuel, and inactivate nuclear-powered ships. These complicated tasks require an experienced and skilled workforce specifically trained to do naval nuclear propulsion work. With approximately 50,000 employees, these six shipyards are unique industrial assets with capabilities found nowhere else in the United States. The Naval Nuclear Laboratory provides on-site representatives at each of the shipyards to monitor and support naval nuclear propulsion work.

Shipyard   Sector   Location
Electric Boat   Private  Groton, CT
Norfolk Naval Shipyard   Public  Portsmouth, VA
Newport News Shipbuilding   Private  Newport News, VA
Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard and Intermediate Maintenance Facility   Public  Pearl Harbor, HI
Portsmouth Naval Shipyard   Public  Kittery, ME
Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and Intermediate Maintenance Facility   Public  Bremerton, WA