WASHINGTON — Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Washington, Bremerton's representative in Congress, asked the US Navy on Thursday to explain its plans for the ultimate disposal of the famous nuclear aircraft carrier Enterprise.
Bremerton is home to the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard where – at least until now – all nuclear warships have been recycled.
It has long been assumed the Enterprise, the world's first nuclear-powered carrier, would meet its ultimate demise at Puget Sound. The ship, inactivated in late 2012, has been since then at the Newport News Shipbuilding yard in Newport News, Virginia – the yard that built the Big E in the late 1950s and early 1960s – being stripped and defueled. When work is done in Virginia, the Navy plans to have the ship towed in early 2017 more than 14,000 nautical miles around the tip of South America to Puget Sound.
But for reasons that are unclear, the Navy has been considering throwing open to industry the recycling job, although ultimate disposal of the ship's eight nuclear reactors would still be handled by Puget Sound. The loss of much of the Enterprise work – the biggest and most complex warship disposal ever attempted – is seen by some as a blow to the Puget Sound work force, which nominally has been planning for years to take on the job.
"I want to ensure that those investments and the good work done at PSNS&IMF [Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and the Intermediate Maintenance Facilty] are not undercut," Kilmer wrote in his letter to Navy Secretary Ray Mabus. "The potential for a core function to be shifted to the private sector concerns me greatly."
The Navy, in written responses for a Defense News story published May 18, would say only that no decisions have been finalized on the Enterprise disposal.
Navy officials declined multiple requests for an interview on the Enterprise situation, or to speak on background.
Puget Sound shipyard is the only US Navy shipyard on the West Coast, although the much smaller Pearl Harbor naval shipyard is in Hawaii. The yard in Washington State routinely handles carrier overhauls, and has disposed of more than 100 nuclear-submarines and eight nuclear cruisers since the early 1990s. No nuclear ships have been recycled anywhere else in the US.
A press release from Kilmer's office, and the full text of his letter is below:
FROM THE OFFICE OF REPRESENTATIVE DEREK KILMER
Representing Washington's 6th District
May 28, 2015
Kilmer Urges Navy to Maintain Scrapping of the USS Enterprise at Kitsap Shipyard
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Representative Derek Kilmer (D-WA) urged the Navy to maintain the workload assigned to the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard. In a letter to Ray Mabus, Secretary of the Navy, Kilmer raised concerns about recent reports that detailed how the Navy was exploring opening up the USS Enterprise nuclear compartment dismantlement to private sector firms and other Naval facilities around the country.
Currently, Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and Intermediate Facility (PSNS&IMF) is the only shipyard that has handled and is certified to dispose of the nuclear compartments of deactivated naval vessels. In the letter to Secretary Mabus, Kilmer cited a recent Defense News article that stated the Naval Sea Systems Command is exploring the option of recycling parts from the USS Enterprise commercially and other Naval sites. The shipyard began a program to recycle nuclear powered vessels in 1990 after receiving clearance from the Navy.
"The Navy has consciously and correctly decided to make investments in the organic workforce throughout the public shipyard enterprise," Kilmer wrote in the letter sent today. "Given the assertions of the article I want to ensure that those investments and the good work done at PSNS&IMF are not undercut. The potential for a core function to be shifted to the private sector concerns me greatly. I believe that the private sector should be the Navy's partner and the readiness of both are vital to national security."
Full text of the letter follows.
The Honorable Ray Mabus
Secretary of the Navy
Pentagon, Room 4E686
Washington, D.C. 20350
Dear Secretary Mabus,
I write out of concern with a recent story in Defense News on May 18th, 2015, about where the USS Enterprise and its nuclear reactor could be dismantled. Representing Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and Intermediate Facility (PSNS&IMF), I am interested in understanding the Navy's current actions and considerations with this effort. In particular, I would appreciate a response to the reporting in the May 18th story and how the Navy views the conclusions it draws. Additionally, I request that no decisions be made until you provide an explanation.
For more than a year, I have respectfully engaged the Navy concerning the disposal of the USS Enterprise. Throughout this time, I have been told that no decision has been made as the Navy continues to evaluate the options of either sending all or part of the USS Enterprise to PSNS&IMF. Without exception, I have been told that the work of disposing the reactor compartment would be assigned to PSNS&IMF.
The Navy has consciously and correctly decided to make investments in the organic workforce throughout the public shipyard enterprise. Given the assertions of the article I want to ensure that those investments and the good work done at PSNS&IMF are not undercut. The potential for a core function to be shifted to the private sector concerns me greatly. I believe that the private sector should be the Navy's partner and the readiness of both are vital to national security. In fact just recently, I discussed the status of the local private sector ship repair industry with Naval Sea Systems Command and any potential projects that could be shifted to them so that they maintain their skills and abilities without impacting the workload of the shipyard. At that meeting, I was specifically told that dismantlement of reactor vessels and compartments would not be contracted out.
To ensure that we are all on the same page, I request your answers to the following questions:
• What was the justification for assigning PSNS&IMF recycling and disposal of the nuclear propulsion plant and related hull portions of Navy vessels? Has this justification changed?
• Does the Navy have any reason to believe that PSNS&IMF is not able to fulfill its missions of maintaining active subs and carriers and recycling and disposing of the nuclear propulsion plant and related hull portions of deactivated subs and carriers?
• Is the Navy considering the transfer of PSNS&IMF's dismantling portfolio for carriers to another shipyard or the private sector? Are there any other public or private shipyards that are currently qualified to perform the dismantlement of the nuclear sections of aircraft carriers and submarines? If not, how much would it cost the Department of Defense to qualify another shipyard and does the Department have the resources to support such an endeavor?
• How would transferring the recycling and disposal work to another facility impact PSNS&IMF's long-term workload?
• If nuclear reactor vessels and compartments are to be dismantled elsewhere other than PSNS&IMF, where would they be stored, how would they be transported, and ultimately disposed of? Are there other locations, other than Hanford, that could meet the requirement? If so, please provide a list of these facilities and describe the process for involving local and state governments in evaluating these options.
• How would contracting this effort out to the private sector impact the statutory requirements of 10 U.S.C. § 2464 (core logistics capabilities) and 10 U.S.C. § 2466 (50/50 rule)?
• What are the current plans for dismantling the nuclear compartments of the Nimitz class carriers?
The Navy and Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and Intermediate Maintenance Facility are vital components of my community. I seek to be your partner in protecting the Navy's investment in its organic workforce and abilities and look forward to receiving answers to my questions.