Friends, in the modern world, we have many different forms of power production. Global warming is promoted with Coal. Oil leaks into the fields of North Dakota, and fought over in the hills of the Middle East. Yet there remains one form that the navies of the world continue to develop, despite widespread fear of the results of a disaster. I am, of course, talking about Nuclear Power.
Over the years, Nuclear Power has been the principle production method for several new classes of large, modern warships, from Frigates, prowling the seas with specialized armament, to Cruisers, armed to the brim with support weapons, to the Carriers they protect, launching the warplanes to take down the ever-constant threat of the Nuclear Submarine, stealthily infiltrating the task force to deliver it's torpedo payload with deadly effect.
Many in the world fear the consequences of continued nuclear development. Millions recall with fear the deadly radiation clouds of Chernobyl and Fukishima(Apologize for spelling). Countless more have stared in horror at the devastating effects that one Little Boy had on Hiroshima, and the horrifying results of Fat Man on Nagasaki. It is true, in the brief history of Nuclear Power in the vast book of naval legacy that there have been many catastrophic events on land involving nuclear power, however, this fails to consider the effects that Nuclear Power has had at sea. The purpose of this thread is to update it over time to eventually contain the full understanding of Nuclear implications in the world of naval affairs. As such, until that day comes, which in my honest opinion should be never, this guide will remain incomplete. Starting in the 1940's, we will look at the history of nuclear naval development, and as we reach the present day will endeavor to explain how it functions, and will end with what the future may hold for humanity's navies in the world of the atom.
Before we begin, it should be noted that this is going to be missing quite a lot. The original copy of the thread was missing a lot more than just what you see here, as it was simply from my knowledge, and was built upon over time by the comments and replies from the community. It is the goal to have the community help verify and expand this guide so that a comprehensive description of the modern navy may exist. And with that, full steam ahead!
It's December 2nd, 1942. Countless scientists stand ready to react to the slightest sign of error under the bleachers of Stagg Field. A pile is the focus of their attention as they await the news to see if their baby could actually function in the world of reality, and not their own vivid imaginations. This experiment, come to be known as Chicago Pile-1, is the world's first nuclear reactor. Although primitive and unable to harness the energy it produced, it proved that sustained nuclear reactions were possible. Three years later, at Trinity Test Site in the New Mexico desert, the world's first atomic bomb was detonated, spreading ash and debris for hundreds of miles, the flash seen as far away as Las Vegas, Nevada. These land-based developments would become the foundation of the modern nuclear force of the United States. Before we begin launching missiles, however, let's look four thousand miles east, in the waters of the Pacific Ocean...
The Pacific Fleet, the pride of the United States Navy, has been fighting the Japanese for months. Thankfully, their carrier production has gone through the roof, and now has the upper hand against the enemy. Carriers had gone from being simple take off platforms to full scale airports on the water, able to refuel entire squadrons in an hour. These carriers had only two weaknesses: They were large, flat targets for enemy bombers, and secondly, they had to refuel. A lot. Refueling at sea is a dangerous operation, when the tanker and carrier must be connected for a long period of time, leaving both especially vulnerable to attack. This gets the U.S. Navy to thinking: Is there a better way?
(If there are people out there with more information on this subject for the years after this, please post it below! I would love to give you credit in future renditions of this thread! I simply have little information myself about the history of the development)
Nowadays, the United States Navy has a demand for nuclear propulsion officers and enlisted, alike. Particularly, the Navy has founded the Nuclear Propulsion Officer Candidates Program(NuPOC) to help fill the void in the force. Training involves tours of reactors, Nuke School, and training at one of the two prototype reactors on land before deployment overseas as the Engineering Officer of the Watch.
The history of the reactor propulsion system is all well and good, but how exactly does it work? Nuclear reactors come in various forms, and many materials are available to describe Breeder reactors and other types, but for the stripped down, basic version of how reactors work: The reactor itself, contained in a thick shield to prevent radiation leakage, contains fuel cells, made up of what tend to be pellets of the fuel. Often the fuel is Uranium, however other elements are available to be consumed. The reaction, once started, is controlled by "heavy water," a chemical isotope of regular water with more neutrons that slows the particles released by fissioning atoms down enough so that they may hit other uranium atoms, and by control rods, which absorb excess neutrons. These rods can be raised and lowered depending on the circumstances to control the rate of the reaction.
Heat is generated by the reactor, which is used to turn water into steam. This steam is carried through pipes to a system of turbines, which spin at high speeds as the steam passes through. The turbines are connected to either a generator or a complex gearbox to then power essential functions throughout the ship or to turn the ship's propellers through the water.
(As previously mentioned, more information and corrections are welcomed. A quick note that much information surrounding the nuclear plants aboard ships remains classified, so make sure you don't violate the PATRIOT act before replying!)
The future of nuclear power lies not in bigger reactors, or different fuel types. The future lies in the opposite of splitting an atom: Fusing two together. Currently, scientists worldwide are pushing the boundries of scientific principle and resolve by attempting to create controlled fusion of hydrogen nuclei, to produce safe, clean energy. Some day we may have fusion powered carriers. The world simply must wait and see.
I hope you enjoyed this incomplete(VERY INCOMPLETE) guide to nuclear, shipboard power. I do not expect to ever update this to include Weapons of Mass Destruction, as while they have become a vital role in submarine warfare, they simply do not add much to the dimensional aspects of naval development. As far as this thread is concerned, they are another weapon attached to a vessel. Thank you, and leave comments, additions, corrections, and verifications in the replies below!