Nuclear Submarines

By: Larissa and Priscilla

Background and General Information

A nuclear submarine is a ship powered by atomic energy that travels primarily under-water, but also on the surface of the ocean.

Nuclear submarines can remain underwater for several months. This ability, combined with advanced weapons technology, makes nuclear submarines one of the most useful warships ever built.

Nuclear Submarines operate on the same technology that is used to make electricity (Nuclear Reactor).

Nuclear submarines are only manufactured for military use; the decision to build them is made by a national government.


The first serious proposal for a ship designed to travel underwater was made by the English mathematician William Bourne in 1578, the device was never built. The first working submarine was built by the Dutch inventor Cornelis Drebbel in 1620, using a similar design. By 1962, the U.S Navy had 62 Nuclear Submarines and 30 under construction. The technology on how to create the nuclear submarine were shared by Britain.

The making of a nuclear submarine began around the 1950’s during the cold war.

Both the United States and Soviet Union were trying out new technologies to build nuclear powered submarines, enhancements were needed on the conventional ones.

In 1954 the first nuclear powered submarine was USS Nautilus, launched by the United States. By 1959, some nuclear submarines, known as strategic submarines,were used to carry missiles with nuclear warheads while others were used to sink enemy ships.The first use of a nuclear submarine in active combat took place in 1982, when the British attack submarine Conqueror sank the Argentine ship General Belgrano during the conflict over the Falkland Islands.

Nuclear Submarine Pictures

What they're made of

The main material used in manufacturing a nuclear submarine is steel. Steel is used to make the inner hull and outer hull of the submarine. Between the two hulls are the ballast tanks, which take in water to make the submarine sink and eject water to make the submarine rise. The nuclear reactor that powers the submarine depends on uranium or other radioactive elements as a source of energy.

How they run

Nuclear reactors that power the submarines emit radiation, the reactor compartment is shielded by steel, water tanks, and polyethylene to protect the crew members. Nuclear submarines contain a nuclear power plant within the shield compartment of the boat. Within the nuclear reactor, atoms are split and generate heat. That heat is used to create highly pressured steam that is routed to the electricity and propulsion generator turbines, causing them to rotate and create power for both the ship’s electronics and propeller. The condensed steam is then routed back through the pipes to be used again for the same process.


The greatest concern dealing with wastes produced by nuclear submarines involves the radioactive waste produced by nuclear reactors.Radioactive waste contains alpha particles, beta particles, gamma rays and neutrons.

A nuclear submarine is heavily radioactive at the end of its lifetime. There is no set time for service of a nuclear submarine, however, from experience the United States nuclear submarines operate 25-30 years before having to be decommissioned.The ships last journey is to the naval shipyard where upon arrival the reactor must be shut down for a period to allow the immediate radioisotopes to decay.

The dismantling of a nuclear submarine is an extremely delicate process, which can lead to devastating catastrophes if done improperly.Under normal dismantling processes, the final step of the breakdown is transporting the spent fuel to a storage facility where it is either reprocessed or listed as radioactive waste. Defueling removes over 99 percent of the radioactivity.After all the fuel has been removed, the heavily radioactive reactor compartment is discarded one of three ways: sea disposal, shallow land burial, and deep land burial.

Works Cited

"Decommissioning Of A Nuclear Submarine." Decommissioning Of A Nuclear Submarine. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 May 2013. <>.

Gordon, Jeremy. "Naval Nuclear Contracts Awarded." Nuclear-Powered Ships. Ian Hore-lacy, Feb. 2013. Web. 08 May 2013.

Secrest, Rose. "Nuclear Submarine." How Products Are Made: An Illustrated Guide to Product Manufacturing. Ed. Jacqueline L. Longe. Vol. 5. Detroit: Gale Group, 2000. 329-334. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 8 May 2013.

Tortchich, Aicia. "Submarine Force Museum Home of Historic Ship Nautilus." About the Submarine Force Library & Museum. Michael G. Riegel, 11 Apr. 2006. Web. 08 May 2013.

"US Nuclear Submarine to Arrive in Philippines." We Speak News. WSN World, 31 Feb. 2013. Web. 14 May 2013.