Nuclear reactors save a lot of diesel fuel on huge ships like aircraft carriers, but there’s a catch. Mid-way through the ship’s 50-year life, the nuclear reactor needs to be refueled. The resulting “Refueling and Complex OverHaul” (RCOH) is a long, complex, potentially hazardous, and very expensive process, which also includes widespread upgrades throughout the ship. Anyone who has ever done home renovations knows that the opportunity to make upgrades can be nearly irresistible in these situations. In truth, this stage in the carrier’s life is an excellent time for that kind of work.
The USS Abraham Lincoln [CVN 72] was built by Northrop Grumman’s Newport News sector. Commissioned on Nov 11/1989 and homeported in Everett, WA, CVN 72 is expected to remain in service until 2039. As it approaches its mid-life stage, however, its mid-life upgrade and reactor refueling likewise approaches. Its counterpart USS Carl Vinson [CVN 70] completed its RCOH at the end of 2009, and USS Theodore Roosevelt’s [CVN 71] is underway. CVN 72 will become the 6th American carrier to undergo this procedure.