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The A1B reactor plant was developed for the new Gerald R. Ford-class aircraft carriers to replace the ones used on their predecessors, the Nimitz-class aircraft carriers. The A1B nuclear reactor plant provides modernized technology that is both more advanced and adaptable than previous reactor technology.
The naming of reactors is based on the type, generation, and manufacturer. The type of reactor is for use in an aircraft carrier. Bechtel Corporation designed the new reactors. They have provided nuclear energy assistance to the United States government for land based nuclear plants, as they have "performed engineering and/or construction services on more than 80 percent of nuclear plants in the United States." This is the first reactor that they have produced for naval operations for the United States. These circumstances led to the naming of the reactor.
The A4W reactors have been the main source of power for the predecessor to the Gerald R. Ford-class carriers, the Nimitz-class. These A4W reactors provide propulsion and electricity to the Nimitz-class carriers. The reactor plant has been criticized recently for the Nimitz-class's biggest problem, electrical power generation capability. Those reactor plants are limited in electric power generation necessary to power modern electrical components. The A1B reactor plant provides increased electrical generation capability, including large unused capacity for future needs.
Aircraft carriers contain nuclear reactors that provide all the electrical and motor energy of the ship by splitting enriched uranium in order to produce heat and convert water to steam to power steam turbines. This process is largely the same as land based nuclear reactors, although smaller naval reactors have several design differences. The increased electrical generation capacity will allow for elimination of service steam on the ship, reducing staffing requirements for maintenance. Two A1B reactor plants will power the ship. Electrical aircraft catapult power will also free the ship's air wing from reactor plant constraints.
The A1B reactor plant total power is classified, but the electrical power generation is 3 times that of the current A4W plants on Nimitz-class carriers. It is estimated that the total thermal power output of the A1B will be a 25% increase on that provided by the A4W, i.e. around 700 MW. Improved efficiency in the total plant is expected to provide improved output to both propulsion and electrical systems.
Besides improvements to power processes, the A1B reactor has other noticeable advantages. Compared to the Nimitz-class carriers' A4W, the A1B is smaller and weighs less. Operator interfaces are expected to be improved as well.