Video: Why HMS Queen Elizabeth is Not Nuclear Powered?

Video: Why HMS Queen Elizabeth is Not Nuclear Powered?

Last updated on September 22nd, 2021 at 06:35 pm

HMS Queen Elizabeth, so far the largest warship ever built to the Royal Navy, stretching wider than the Houses of Parliament and standing taller than Nelson’s Column of United Kingdom. She is so immense that the different sections of the ship have been constructed in different shipyards all over Great Britain and transported by barge to Scotland.

Even being such a phenomenal construction, ever wondered why HMS Queen Elizabeth lacks Nuclear energy as the main source of power, while its main competitors like US Navy Nimitz class ships are fully-fledged with Nuclear Power?

Here are the reasons why!

Speed Advantage Outweighed By Other Factors

Once you hear of nuclear energy as the source of power, what comes to your mind? The unlimited power and the range enough for years, right?

HMS Queen Elizabeth designers concluded not to install the nuclear reactors as her main source of power even though it gives a boost of about 5 knots to the current 25 knots top speed, which generates more wind over the deck, helping to take off aircraft because this technique is less effective to HMS Queen Elizabeth’s ski-ramp launched VSTOL aircraft.

Also, numerous countries will not permit a nuclear-powered vessel to enter their territorial waters or canals. Access to such territories and ports outweighs the 5-knot speed advantage a nuclear reactor offers.

Need for Refueling Not Eliminated By Nuclear Power

Although nuclear energy makes the ship free from re-fueling for a long period, it doesn’t eliminate the dependency on refueling tankers, as the ship’s air group consumes thousands of gallons of aviation fuel when it comes to active duty. Also, aircraft carriers only carry a month’s worth of aviation fuel, including the US and French nuclear beasts, so they need to be refueled monthly anyway. Taking on diesel at the same time from a tanker is feasible.

Less Manpower Required

Being a fifth-generation aircraft carrier, Queen Elizabeth’s two Rolls-Royce Marine Trent MT30 gas turbine engine and four Wärtsilä 38 Marine diesel engine gives an added advantage of a quick start and a quick shutdown of power efficiently with the availability of less manpower which is completely impossible in Nuclear powered aircraft carriers like US Navy’s Nimitz class ships.

No Catapults on Queen Elizabeth

The aircraft carriers essentially uses steam-powered catapults to launch aircraft and when it comes to nuclear-powered warships it gets assisted with plenty of heat that is generated within the boilers. But the surprise is, HMS Queen Elizabeth is currently not equipped with any catapults. Catapults are only needed when launching aircraft that are non-STOL and need a significant speed to get airborne. Aircraft with STOL or VTOL capability don’t need the extra boost. An aircraft with STOL capability (which would include VTOL) like the F35B can operate unassisted from a short runway or carrier deck, perhaps with a ski-jump to assist the takeoff.

Though the Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS) might be fitted on the Queen Elizabeth carriers in a future overhaul.

Cost Factor

In a pressing BREXIT, Britain was not expected to bear such an expense over a battleship, where expected production cost of $4.4 billion overran almost to a double — $7.9 billion.

Land-based reactors usually produce about 1600 MW of electrical power, but marine reactors produce only a few hundred MegaWatts. These reactors have to be very small yet powerful for their size to fit in the limited space of a ship. This small size means more expensive materials have to be used that are more resistant to radiation, and the neutron interaction with fissionable material before it escapes into the shielding should be much less. So, highly-enriched weapons-grade Uranium is often used which increases the power density and extends the reactor’s lifetime, but it is more expensive and it has a greater security risk. You also can’t rely on gravity to drop the control rods into the reactor core to shut down like a land-based one because of the pitching and rolling motion of the ship at sea, so the mechanical system must work flawlessly. This and the extra things like the desalination of seawater to make fresh water for the cooling system, all add cost and make it expensive to build a nuclear-powered ship.

Limitation of Nuclear Certified Ports in the UK

The size of Queen Elizabeth carriers also limits where they can dock. If the Queen Elizabeth carriers were nuclear powered, their maintenance would have been possible only at the nuclear-certified ports. In the United Kingdom, there are only two such certified ports, Devonport and Faslane.

Lack of Resources to handle Nuclear Power Technology

Maintenance and decommissioning at the end of their working lives also require to bring a substantial number of nuclear specialists from the US or France at a considerable expense, as they don’t have enough of them in the UK.

In the US, there is a specialized area at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton, Washington for the disposal of their nuclear assets and there are large areas in remote locations where the remainders of the reactors can be buried. The UK, on the other hand, is yet to complete the decommissioning of a single nuclear submarine.

Also Watch: Why Queen Elizabeth Carriers Have Twin Islands?

Although Britain could build nuclear carriers, all its experience is in submarines, not on surface ships. The only shipyard set up for an assembly of nuclear-powered ships is the Rosyth one which is currently booked up with the decommissioning of old nuclear submarines and building new ones.

Consequences of the Battle Damage

Even when it comes to battle tactics, the consequences of the battle damage occurring to a nuclear-powered surface ship with the collateral radiation damage is far greater than a nuclear submarine as it usually stays partially or completely submerged in water. Battle damaged aircraft carriers almost act as a floating Chernobyl, where it continues to spread radiation to the rest of the accompanying task force. The United States Navy evades this question by mentioning their numerous defense sensors and defense weapon systems, but it is quite doubtful in an age of accurate long-range ballistic anti-ship missiles and very advanced submarines.

So, what’s your take on the HMS Queen Elizabeth not being nuclear-powered? While you think about it, here is an interesting video explaining the reasons HMS Queen Elizabeth is not nuclear-powered!


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