Nuclear-powered submarines are a type of submarine that is powered by nuclear reactors. Nuclear materials heat water to create steam, which in turn powers the turbines. They can stay submerged for months at time and their strength is unmatched by any other vessel. The most famous nuclear-powered subs are probably the USS Nautilus (first commissioned in 1954) and the Soviet Kursk (sunk in 2000). If you want more information about this topic, keep reading!
They are called nuclear-powered subs because the source of energy for their propulsion is a nuclear reactor. This type of submersible vessel has the advantage of having almost unlimited range, due to an apparent lack of fuel limitations. Nuclear power gives them great speed, depths that unassisted propellers cannot achieve and continues operation even if there are mechanical failures.
A nuclear-powered submarine is a bit more complex than a standard submarine, even though both types need to be able to sink and surface in order to operate. The difference between a standard conventional sub and a nuclear powered one is the requirement for the latter to have a nuclear reactor on board. This is not an easy component to come by, since the technology that goes into it is highly classified.
Nuclear-powered submarines have an edge over their conventional counterparts in many aspects. They do not need to surface regularly for refueling or charging their batteries until they are decommissioned, so they have almost unlimited range. Also, this type of submarine does not rely on air to produce oxygen, which is a problem with traditional submarines. Even though nuclear subs can stay submerged for months, they do need to resurface at regular intervals for the sake of fitness and health standpoints. In addition, many naval powers require that their officers get clinical help from the shore when deep sea diving. Regular submarines do not have this problem since they only need to surface every few days and remain underwater for a couple of hours at the maximum.
The United States Navy has been operating nuclear-powered submarines from 1954 up until today, with no record of any major accidents or losses yet. In comparison, several conventional submarines were destroyed due to accidents.
The technology that goes into a nuclear reactor is classified, which helps to protect both the crew and this technological marvel. On the other hand, accidents involving nuclear reactors at sea are not good news due to possible proliferation of radioactive pollution in the surrounding waters. This has happened twice in history (in 1979 when the submarine U.S.S. George Washington had a reactor accident in the Atlantic, and in 1985 when U.S.S. Sam Rayburn ran aground near Scotland), but never with disastrous results for marine life or humans.
Nuclear submarines are expensive to build, operate and maintain when compared to their conventional counterparts. Additionally, their missiles can carry a limited payload and have less accuracy than those used by a modern guided missile destroyer.
Their reactors produce a lot of heat due to the nuclear fission going on inside them, so they need large radiators in order to dissipate the excess heat while submerged. This makes it easier for enemy forces to detect where this type of submarine is by using sonar.
The reactor core can be used as a makeshift weapon if it becomes accessible to the enemy, so security measures are very tight on board these vessels during peacetime. The core would require several men with tools in order to access, which makes this option unfeasible for most enemies outside