The Navy’s admiral in charge of nuclear propulsion said Tuesday there is no military value in switching to using low-enriched uranium in ship reactors on current aircraft carriers and cautioned that doing so is probably not feasible and would increase costs.

The USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70). Photo: U.S. Navy
The USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70). Photo: U.S. Navy

Adm. John Richardson told the House Armed Services Committee during a hearing on nuclear-related defense issues that trying to replace highly enriched uranium with a low concentration would decrease the lifetime of the ship’s reactor, require another refueling of the vessels, which takes years and would cost about $1 billion, and is impractical.

When asked whether there is any military benefit to converting to low-enriched, Richardson said there was not.

“From a pure military standpoint, no,” Richardson said.

Low-enriched uranium, usually considered to be concentration levels below 20 percent, is what is used to power nuclear energy reactors, whereas highly enriched uranium is weapons grade and has concentration levels exceeding 90 percent.

Some have argued that using the weapons grade material for propulsion reactors is dangerous and poses security risks, suggestions the Navy rejects.

Richardson said, however, that the Navy has studied an advanced fuel system that increases loads for low-enriched uranium. He said there is a potential to develop such a system that could meet the requirements with low-enriched, but it is not funded.

Richardson’s remarks largely reflected a study submitted to Congress a year ago.