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Nuclear Polar Security Cutter

For decades, the United States has only used nuclear power on its aircraft and submarines. The ability to do long voyages without refuelling is attractive in the infrastructure-poor Arctic, especially given the immense power demands of ploughing a ship through ice. Nuclear-powered ice breakers can reduce the total number of icebreaker that are neededsince the nuclear powered icebreakers will be able to make high-speed trips to different polar regions to respond to sudden situations without losing time for refueling.

In 1960, the Congress passed legislation authorizing a nuclear powered icebreaker. But nothing came of this plan due to opposition in the White House. Russia has a fleet of eight nuclear powered icebreakers, and is moving forward with plans to build a new generation of nuclear-powered icebreakers that are twice as powerful as the current generation. Russia is slated to expand its icebreaking fleet, with the launch of three new nuclearpowered icebreakers over the early 2020s as part of Project 22220. If realized, the new icebreakers would be a key part of plans to maintain year-round operations and ship 80 million tons of cargo through the North Sea Route by 2024.

In July 2018, the China National Nuclear Corporation solicited bids for construction of the nations first nuclear-powered icebreaker.176 According to details provided in March 2019 to the press by the China General Nuclear Power Group, a state-owned nuclear power company, the nuclear icebreaker will be comparable to the Arktika-class icebreakers.

The White House "Memorandum on Safeguarding U.S. National Interests in the Arctic and Antarctic Regions" issued June 9, 2020 stated "The Secretary of Homeland Security, acting through the Commandant of the Coast Guard, in coordination with the Secretary of Defense, acting through the Secretary of the Navy, and the Secretary of Energy, as appropriate, shall conduct a study of the comparative operational and fiscal benefits and risks of a polar security icebreaking fleet mix that consists of at least three heavy polar-class security cutters (PSC)...

"An assessment of expanded operational capabilities, with estimated associated costs, for both heavy and medium PSCs not yet contracted for, specifically including the maximum use of any such PSC with respect to its ability to support national security objectives through the use of the following: unmanned aviation, surface, and undersea systems; space systems; sensors and other systems to achieve and maintain maritime domain awareness; command and control systems; secure communications and data transfer systems; and intelligence-collection systems. This assessment shall also evaluate defensive armament adequate to defend against threats by near-peer competitors and the potential for nuclear-powered propulsion..."

According to the memo, the fleet will include "use cases in the Arctic that span the full range of national and economic security missions (including the facilitation of resource exploration and exploitation and undersea cable laying and maintenance) that may be executed by a class of medium PSCs, as well as analysis of how these use cases differ with respect to the anticipated use of heavy PSCs for these same activities".

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Page last modified: 01-07-2021 14:52:50 ZULU