The A1B reactor is an aircraft carrier nuclear reactor that is in development by the United States Navy. It will be used in the USS Gerald R. Ford-class aircraft carriers to provide electrical and motor energy, and is set to be commissioned in 2016. This nuclear reactor is optimized to provide substantial amounts of power towards one of the most massive ships in United States naval history.
The A1B reactor was developed for a specific purpose. The USS Gerald R. Ford, a class of carriers in development, would be the new class of carriers in the US Navy and they required a new type of reactor to replace the ones used on its predecessor, the Nimitz-class aircraft carriers. The A1B nuclear reactor provides modernized technology that is both more advanced and adaptable then previous reactor technology. It will make advances in both naval travel and nuclear power development.
The naming of reactors is based on the type, generation, and manufacturer. The type of reactor is an aircraft carrier. The 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 lead to the naming of the reactor.
- A = Aircraft Carrier
- 1 = maker's first-generation core design
- B = Bechtel, the company that manufactures the reactor
Prior to the development of the A1B reactor, there have been decades of nuclear powered naval vessels in the United States Navy. Most recently, the A4W reactors have been the main source of power for the predecessor to the USS Gerald R. Ford-class carriers, the Nimitz-class. These A4W reactors power the propulsion and electricity to the Nimitz carriers. The reactor has been criticized recently for contributing to the Nimitz class's biggest problem, electrical power generation capability. Those reactors do not provide the optimal level of energy to power all the electrical components of the ship. The A1B reactor works to solve that problem for the next generation of massive carriers.
Aircraft carriers contain nuclear reactors that provide all the electrical and motor energy to the ship by taking the processes of splitting enriched uranium in order to produce heat and convert water to steam in order to do work on turbines. This process is the same as land based nuclear reactors. The new carrier reactors tote quite different parameters than previous aircraft carrier reactors. With increased efficiency and reduced weight making it more optimal for newly designed ships. The ships will allow for more systems on the ship to be fully electrically powered, also allowing for more manpower to be free. By reducing the maintenance required, more manpower can be diverted elsewhere on the ship. Two of the A1B reactors will power the ship, each providing enhanced capabilities.
The A1B reactor sets itself apart by producing three times the energy in each reactor than its predecessor could produce. Being able to produce 300 megawatts (MW) of electricity each, this extra energy will allow the ship to maintain high speeds and to fulfill its high power consumption. The A1B uses "50% fewer valves, piping, pumps, condensers, and generators."
Size and Interface
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. This makes it easier to maintain.
The interface and screens of the components of the reactor have become much easier to understand and interact with in order to reduce confusion. This in combination with the reduced size allows maintenance to be limited and not as frequently required, increasing efficiency and productivity as it is easier to control, fix, and maintain. Additionally, the new technology provides the flexibility that allows the system to be upgraded easily and adapt quickly.
There is a split view on nuclear power in the United States. According to a Gallup poll in 2016, 44% of Americans favor nuclear energy, and 54% oppose nuclear power. This is the first time since the poll began that a majority of Americans are opposed to nuclear energy, a sharp turn from the previous year. However, overall there has been "6,200 reactor-years of accident-free experience" in the US Navy's nuclear powered ships. And according to a statement of Admiral F. L. Bowman, the US Navy Director of the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program, made in 2003 before the House Committee on Science, nuclear powered vessels in the US Navy have sailed over "128 million miles since 1953". Since that time, those numbers have continued to improve, as from a report by the Department of Energy along with the Department of the Navy presents. It has increased from 6,200 to 6,500 reactor-years and from 128 million to "over 151 million miles safely steamed on nuclear power." This consistency contributes to the argument of the safety of nuclear power, and how ideal it is considering its power output and as a safe alternative for our environment. The A1B reactor contributes to the legacy by providing a reactor that needs less supervision and maintenance due to the safety of its design, and the history supporting its production and use.
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