Nuclear or Conventional Power for Surface Combatant Ships?

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

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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.

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