Naval Nuclear Propulsion Project

Project Mission

In 2014, FAS started a project, under the leadership of then FAS president Charles D. Ferguson, to examine two security and nonproliferation issues related to naval nuclear propulsion. The first issue is to understand the technical and policy challenges for converting U.S. naval nuclear reactors in submarines and aircraft carriers from weapons-grade uranium fuels to low-enriched uranium fuels (which cannot be used in nuclear weapons). The second issue is to assess the implications of non-nuclear weapon states such as Brazil or Iran deciding to develop nuclear powered naval ships. Under the provisions of nuclear safeguards agreements, these states could request from the International Atomic Energy Agency non-application of safeguards on nuclear materials used in naval propulsion, raising the concern that such materials might be diverted into nuclear weapons programs.

The project has proceeded in two phases. The first phase involved a task force of about 10 experts in nuclear engineering, naval operations, and political science. This task force produced a consensus report titled “Naval Nuclear Propulsion: Assessing Benefits and Risks,” published in March 2015. Members of the task force along with some graduate students also wrote four papers (three working papers are available on FAS.org with links below, and one journal article is available in the June 2015 issue of Nonproliferation Review).

The second phase, from late 2015 to summer 2017, delved more deeply into the two fundamental issues by forming two study groups: one group of about a half dozen experts has examined the experience of the French nuclear navy in its conversion from highly enriched uranium to low enriched uranium fuels (two reports by Alain Tournyol du Clos and George Moore are available on FAS.org with links below) and the other group of about a half dozen experts has explored the technical, policy, and legal aspects of possible non-application of safeguards on naval nuclear materials, the case of Brazil’s pending development of nuclear-powered submarines, and the implications of naval nuclear propulsion for the future of nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation. Publications by Laura Rockwood, Matias Spektor, and Thomas Shea are available on FAS.org with links below.

All participants in this project are very grateful for generous financial support from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

Special Reports & Issue Briefs

Members of the phase one task force and phase two study groups authored three special reports and two issue briefs. Both the special reports and issue briefs are free and publicly available for education and information purposes.

“The Nonproliferation and Disarmament Challenges of Naval Nuclear Propulsion”

by Thomas E. Shea (Special Report)

“France’s Choice for Naval Nuclear Propulsion: Why Low-Enriched Uranium Was Chosen”

by Alain Tournyol du Clos (Special Report)

“Life-of-the-Ship Reactors and Accelerated Testing of Naval Propulsion Fuels and Reactors”

by George Moore (Special Report)

“Naval Nuclear Propulsion and IAEA Safeguards”

by Laura Rockwood (Issue Brief)

“Prospects for Safeguarding Brazil’s Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program”

by Matias Spektor (Issue Brief)

Journal Article & Working Papers

Task force members and graduate-level students contributed the following journal article and working papers. Both the journal article and working papers are free and publicly available for education and information purposes.

“All hands on deck: advancing safeguards for naval nuclear materials”

by Andrew W. Reddie and Bethany L. Goldblum, July 2018, Nonproliferation Review

“A Novel Framework for Safeguarding Naval Nuclear Material”

by Naomi Egel, Bethany L. Goldblum, and Erika Suzuki, February 2016, Nonproliferation Review

“Naval Nuclear Propulsion: Assessing Benefits and Risks”

by the Independent Task Force

“Investigation into the Unintended Consequences of Converting the U.S. Nuclear Naval Fleet from Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU) to Low Enriched Uranium (LEU)”

by Alireza Haghighat, Jack Bell, and Nathan Roskoff

Phasing Out Highly Enriched Uranium Fuel in Naval Propulsion: Why It’s Necessary, and How to Achieve It

by Alan J. Kuperman

“The UK Naval Nuclear Propulsion Programme and Highly Enriched Uranium”

by Nick Ritchie