Australian news, and some related international items

Life on a nuclear submarine takes its toll

Do you have what it takes to operate a nuclear submarine?

With nuclear reactors on board there is twice the amount of maintenance compared to diesel-powered submarines and a distinctly different knowledge base.

AFR, Matthew Cranston, 15 Mar 23

Deep in the dark, silent waters of the Pacific and the Atlantic oceans, veteran US nuclear submariners Nirav Patel, Joshua Besser and Brent Sadler have endured what no Australian has yet but soon will – months on end under the sea. 

Patel spent four months without surfacing, while Besser and Sadler spent three months. They were in one of the ultra-quiet nuclear submarines operated by the US Navy, which can create its own oxygen and desalinated water, only resurfacing for food.

That ability to spend months under the ocean is one of the biggest advantages of nuclear submarines compared to Australia’s fleet of diesel submarines, which need to resurface frequently to replenish oxygen and battery power.

But living for months under the sea takes its toll. “There is only a finite amount of happiness on board,” Patel says.

“It’s an office without windows, constantly. So if you can stay occupied, you don’t think about it,” he says, noting that daily fire, flooding, weapons and nuclear reactor drills help with focus………………………..

For Joshua Besser, who spent a decade on board nuclear-powered submarines and is now a senior director of nitrogen supply chains at explosives company Dyno Nobel, submarines are for young people.

“It’s definitely a young sailor’s game. The operational tempo is gruelling and deployments are long and arduous,” he says.

………………… A typical operational cycle consists of a six month “work up” where everyone becomes proficient in all watch stations and each department becomes certified in the mission parameters. This is followed by a six months or more deployment to achieve the intended mission. Finally, there is a six-month recovery, repair and maintenance period, he says.

Through all this, chemical amines, used to control the atmosphere, fill the fibres of the submariners’ uniforms worn throughout shifts and while eating their 30-minute meals.

They are only free from them when they take their two-minute showers, their six hours of sleep every two days, or during the extremely rare event of an ocean swim.

“Underway – you can’t tell the smell. When you come home and get off the ship, you can smell the hydraulic fluid, amine and other chemicals impregnated in your clothing and skin.”

Besser says that the level of danger on submarines with nuclear power poses far greater levels of risk than on a conventional submarine. “There are drills on every aspect that could go wrong”, and that creates a much tighter culture with the crew.

…………………. “For nuclear submarines versus diesel conventional subs – there is no comparison regarding sustained speed, electrical power and for advanced sonar systems,” Patel says pointing out yet another difference.

“They truly are hunter/killers.”


March 17, 2023 - Posted by | AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, health, weapons and war

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