Nuclear or Conventional Power for Surface Combatant Ships?

PSAD-77-74: Published: Mar 21, 1977. Publicly Released: Mar 21, 1977.

Additional Materials:


Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800

There has been a continuing debate over the relative merits of conventional and nuclear power for U.S. warships.

Most military experts agree that submarines and large aircraft carriers should have nuclear propulsion. Presently the controversy centers over the desirability of nuclear power for cruisers, frigates, and destroyers that accompany the carriers. Nuclear ships are more capable but cost more, and their relative cost-effectiveness cannot be measured because Navy analysts cannot quantify many benefits of nuclear power. In addition, available data on construction and operating costs do not lend themselves to precise comparisons. The Department of Defense estimates that construction of only nuclear-powered ships could result in about 25 to 35 fewer cruisers, frigates, or destroyers than if the same amount of money were to be spent on comparable conventionally powered ships. The advantages of nuclear-powered ships appear to be highly dependent on the perceived nature of future conflicts.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Matter: Congress, in reviewing Navy shipbuilding plans for surface combatant ships, should be cognizant that: (1) buying only conventional ships will maximize naval firepower; (2) buying only nuclear ships will provide mobility and greater freedom from logistics support; and (3) buying a mix is a third option providing, to varying degrees, the advantages and disadvantages of the all-nuclear and all-conventional options.


Explore the full database of GAO's Open Recommendations »

Oct 5, 2017

Sep 20, 2017

Sep 7, 2017

Aug 28, 2017

Aug 3, 2017

Jul 27, 2017

Jul 26, 2017

Jul 20, 2017

May 31, 2017

Looking for more? Browse all our products here