Enterprise Moves So Newport News Shipbuilding Can Upgrade 80-Year-Old Pier

USS Enterprise Newport News Shipbuilding
USS Enterprise (CVN 65) sits pierside at Newport News Shipbuilding following its decommissioning in February 2017, July 15, 2018. (Cat Campbell/U.S. Navy)

The old Big E — the nation’s first nuclear aircraft carrier, now decommissioned — has moved from its home at Newport News Shipbuilding’s Pier 2 so the shipyard can complete a several million dollar upgrade to the quay.

That work will allow the USS Gerald R. Ford to tie up at the yard for a final check-up later this year after its first shock tests — setting off explosions near the ship. It will be the first shock testing of a U.S. Navy carrier in decades.

Pier 2 dates from 1942, and has been upgraded in 1989, 1994 and 2013.

The work this year includes installing new 40-ton bollards, which are used to tie a carrier to the pier; repairing fender piles; replacing some wooden decking; and improving the stair tower, gangways and forklift ramp to make getting on and off a ship easier, said Jim O’Brien, the shipyard’s director of facilities.

In addition, the yard will upgrade electrical and mechanical systems to make sure they’re up to the big demands of the Navy’s newest carrier when the Ford comes in for its check-up.

The work should be completed this summer.

The Big E, meanwhile, was moved this month to the yard’s Dry Dock 12.

The old Enterprise has been at the yard since 2017, and seems set to stay there for a while, even as shipbuilders work on the newest carrier to bear the name, which will be the third Ford class to join the fleet when it is commissioned in 2028.

The Navy is studying four options for the old Enterprise, including simply leaving it as is — basically, a hull with all its reactors, engines, mechanical systems and electronics removed.

The challenge with dismantling the ship is low-level radiation that could be released once the compartments that contained the reactors are cut to pieces.

Two alternatives involve partially dismantling the carrier at a commercial yard and shipping the section or sections that contained the nuclear power plants to the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard.

That’s the Navy yard that has recycled and disposed of nuclear-powered naval submarines and cruisers since 1986, handling 136 reactor compartments from 127 vessels. The yard has dedicated space at the Department of Energy’s Hanford, Wash., storage site.

The fourth option is to dismantle the Big E at a commercial yard, but the Hanford site will not accept reactor compartments from a commercial facility.

It is too early to say which way the Navy is leaning, said Kellie Randall, the Congressional and public affairs officer at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard.

The Navy is working on a draft Environmental Impact Statement to evaluate the options, she said.

The aim is to to see if the Navy could “more effectively utilize the limited resources available, such as manpower and dry dock space ... [to] maintain the shipyard’s ability to complete the highest priority fleet maintenance work,” Randall said.

The yard’s maintenance workload has grown in recent years, as top Navy officers and Congress have become ever more concerned about delays in maintenance and repair work at Naval shipyards.

At the same time, alternatives to doing the work at Puget Sound have become more feasible with the opening of new disposal sites for radioactive waste, and the growth of a commercial ship breaking industry and of businesses that can dismantle nuclear power plants, Randall said.

The impact statement will evaluate the economic and environmental costs of each option and with any public comment.

This article is written by Dave Ress from Daily Press (Newport News, Va.) and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the Industry Dive publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@industrydive.com.

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