Nuclear vs Non Nuclear Aircraft Carrier

In this article we will give you info about the Nuclear vs Non Nuclear Aircraft Carrier in the World. the nuclear-powered uss gerald r ford and the diesel-powered hms queen elizabeth are the world’s most recent and modern aircraft carriers one might think that because there are nuclear powered four-class carriers will have virtually unlimited ranges whereas hms queen elizabeth carriers have a range of only 10 000 nautical miles before needing to refuel even if you disregard the food supplies required for both type of vessels the uss joel r ford will need to be refueled from time to time with fuel for the aircraft that it transports


so let’s compare the benefits and drawbacks of nuclear-powered and diesel-powered aircraft carriers to see which one offers the best value for money because it’s all about the money in the end

Value for Money

the four-class nuclear carriers are powered by two a1b nuclear reactors which produce 25 percent more power than the nimitz-class carriers a4w nuclear reactors each a1b reactor is estimated to produce 125 megawatt of electricity which is enough to power 25 000 homes

increased electricity production in comparison to old reactors allows for the use of electromagnetic aircraft launch systems which accelerate aircraft more smoothly

Queen Elizabeth

queen elizabeth on the other hand are powered by two 36 megawatt gas turbine alternators located beneath each island which is one of the main reasons for the twin island design due to the engine exhaust shafts the ship also has four 10 megawatt diesel engines in the middle the ship’s power plant generates 112 megawatt of electricity in total half of which is used to power multiple electrical motors that spin the propeller shafts it may surprise you to learn that conventional diesel-powered power plants are more efficient than nuclear power plants when diesel is burned 40 of the fuel is converted into useful energy whereas in a nuclear power plant 33 of the fuel is converted into useful energy this is due to the fact that conventional power plants can generate steam at a higher temperature providing more force to the turbines whereas efficiency is not as important in nuclear power plants due to nuclear fuel being much more energy-dense


Type of aircraft carrier

if each type of aircraft carrier was powered by 200 000 horsepower for one week a conventional carrier would require over 5 million liters of diesel fuel whereas a nuclear carrier would require only 4 kilograms of enriched uranium


so while nuclear propulsion is less efficient on paper it still provides significantly more power in total due to the higher energy density of nuclear fuel, in fact four-class carriers have roughly seven times the available power as hms queen elizabeth class carriers but to be fair the ford class carrier is roughly 67 percent larger this energy supply is required for new high power weapon systems such as rail guns as well as next generation powerful radars

let us now discuss the

  • Range
  • Fuel tanks
  • and Bills

hms queen elizabeth weighs 65 000 tons and has a capacity of 1 million gallons of f76 marine diesel for the ship and 750 000 gallons of f-44 also known as jp5 jet fuel for the aircraft on board, to put this in context the total amount of fuel on a queen elizabeth carrier is the equivalent of 120 fuel trucks

in 2020 the average cost of both types of fuel was around three dollar per gallon implying that it would cost three million us dollars to fuel the carrier and 2.2 million us dollars to fill the planes


a full tank of fuel allows the carrier to travel up to 10000 nautical miles, nuclear reactors on carriers must be refueled only every 20 or 25 years or so for example after 23 years of service the uss theodore roosevelt underwent refueling and a complex overhaul, it did however take four years to complete and cost 2.6 billion dollars

as previously stated nuclear fuel has a much higher power density which means it requires less space to store a given amount of energy this means that the nuclear-powered ford and nimitz-class ships have significantly more free storage capacity allowing them to store more jet fuel weapons and other supplies


in fact nuclear carriers carry twice as much jet fuel as their counterparts on average, the bottom line is that the nuclear carriers make a lot of sense if you are covering a large geographical area especially something like the pacific ocean

Another Advantage

another advantage of nuclear propulsion is that it generates plenty of steam for catapults used on Nimitz-class carriers the newer four-class carriers on the other hand rely on electromagnetic aircraft launch systems which do not require steam but consume a significant amount of electricity

while the queen Elizabeth class carriers do not currently have catapults they may be retrofitted with electromagnetic catapults in the future if they have enough spare electricity generation the construction time is the next factor to consider


some argue that building a nuclear carrier takes much longer than building a conventional one for example it took 13 years to build the french nuclear-powered charles de gaulle aircraft carrier but only 8 years to build hms queen elizabeth

however the conventional powered russian carrier kuznetsov took 13 years to complete while the nuclear-powered carrier uss gerald r ford took only eight years

having a massive nuclear industry talent and expertise certainly plays a role in how quickly a carrier of any type can be built so based on the build times of the aircraft carriers it’s difficult to say which one can be built faster aircraft carriers are costly


hms queen elizabeth cost 4.1 billion dollars while the uss gerald r ford cost 13 billion dollars nuclear powered carriers on the other hand not only have a higher initial cost but their operation and maintenance costs are also much higher than diesel-powered carriers the fuel bill and replenishment at c costs for queen elizabeth class carriers will add up over time but they will still be much lower than if the ships were nuclear powered a nuclear reactor is difficult to install on a ship traditional land reactors rely on gravity to drop control rods into reactors to shut them down which is impossible on a moving vessel that can move up and down in waves the solution is to insert rods into the reactor core using a mechanical system which raises the cost


to provide fresh water for reactor cooling a desalination plant specifically designed for the reactor must be built and maintained which adds to the cost.


another factor to consider is nuclear safety due to changes in nuclear safety standards french president charles de ghoul was forced to add extra safeguards all around the reactor because detectable radiation leakage exceeded the revised standards the u.s navy can make the case that nuclear power is safe

for example the u.s navy operates 103 nuclear reactors on 81 ships and there have been no accidents or radioactive releases in more than half a century when a country decides to build an aircraft carrier two factors come into play politics and prestige the pentagon decided in 2019 to reduce the aircraft fleet from 11 to 10 and retire the uss truman sooner rather than later a move that would save more than 30 billion us dollars over 25 years as the cost of refueling the carrier was estimated to be 3.4 billion us dollars and an additional billion dollars would be saved each year by not operating the carrier and its air wing


congress was outraged by such a proposal and president T soon ordered the u.s navy to keep the uss truman american super carriers are one of a kind symbols of military might that project dominance in international waters they are not going away no matter what the cost in fact the u.s navy is currently replacing all 10 nimitz-class carriers so far two four-class carriers have been completed and one is under construction and seven more are planned to return to the original question

Which type of Carrier provides the best value for Money?

well it depends conventional power makes sense in the case of queen elizabeth class carriers because the royal navy has a limited budget and both carriers are mostly deployed in the northern atlantic making travel range less of an issue in terms of the us navy nuclear makes much sense because its carriers cover much greater distances particularly in the pacific region and it is also about prestige with 11 nuclear carriers in its fleet the uss asserts its dominance in international waters it is difficult to say which technology is cheaper in the long run for two reasons


comparing nuclear powered carriers to conventionally powered carriers is not an apples to apples comparison because the ships are of different sizes for example ford class carriers are 67 larger than queen elizabeth class carriers there are no conventionally powered carriers with a displacement of a hundred thousand tons so estimating the lifetime cost of such a ship is difficult



while no nuclear powered aircraft carrier has been fully disposed of one thing is certain it would be expensive what are your thoughts on which type of carrier offers the best value for money and does it even matter do share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Top 10 Military Trucks in the World
f16 vs rafale comparison

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *