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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, December 14, 2008

Pearl Harbor ends era of submarine reactor projects

By William Cole
Advertiser Columnist

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

The USS Minneapolis-Saint Paul (SSN 708) project team and ship's force got together in Dry Dock 1 at Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard on Aug. 27. The towing bridle is on the bow.


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Nearly a half-century of nuclear submarine reactor refueling and defueling work at Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard is drawing to a close.

Shipyard workers removed the reactor and finished other work on the inactivation of the Los Angeles-class attack submarine Minneapolis-Saint Paul on Nov. 18, 3 1/2 weeks early and slightly under budget.

"This proves that the shipyard can do everything when we do it together as a team," said project Superintendent Freeman Correa Jr. "Regardless if you're No. 1 or No. 4, we can still execute within costs and schedule. We can still accomplish on time."

The job is another positive stat for shipyard commander Capt. Gregory R. Thomas, who was brought on in June 2007 to improve efficiency in relation to other Navy yards at what is the state's largest industrial employer.

The Minneapolis-St. Paul was the last defueling, and the USS Olympia is the last refueling, or nuclear reactor core replacement, that Pearl Harbor will do on Los Angeles-class subs, officials said. Work on the Olympia is still going on.

As Pearl Harbor prepares for the arrival of the new Virginia-class attack submarines, and the maintenance that will be needed on those subs, reactor refueling and defueling has ended.

The USS Hawai'i is the first of at least three Virginia-class submarines destined for Pearl Harbor. The state's namesake sub is expected here around June.

The shipyard said the first refueling was done at Pearl Harbor in 1962 on the USS Skate, the first sub to surface at the North Pole.

According to the yard, the first 688-class (Los Angeles-class) defueling was done in 1997 on the USS Birmingham. Other defuelings included the Indianapolis, Boston and the Minneapolis-Saint Paul.

Reactor refuelings were done on the Buffalo starting in 2001, as well as the Bremerton and now, Olympia.

The Minneapolis-Saint Paul work took about 12 1/2 months.

The submarine was commissioned in 1984 and completed 12 overseas deployments. She was inactivated from service in June 2007 at Naval Station Norfolk and sailed to Pearl Harbor.

The sub's ensign was lowered for the last time and it was decommissioned on Aug. 28. Its reactor fuel was removed, and fluid systems were drained. Reactor compartments are transported to Hanford, Wash. for burial.

The sub, now technically called the "Ex-Minneapolis-Saint Paul," is in long-term storage at the sub base and will be towed to Puget Sound Naval Shipyard for disposal and recycling.



The double docking of the cruiser Port Royal and frigate Crommelin Oct. 15 in Dry Dock 4 at Pearl Harbor saved the Navy about $100,000 and enabled needed repairs to Crommelin that otherwise would have had to be deferred until next year, according to the shipyard.

Business Operations Officer Larry Wilson said it costs about $300,000 to dry dock a surface ship and $500,000 to dry dock two of them at the same time.

That translates to about $100,000 less than docking the ships separately. Both ships are based here.

"You can't do two for the price of one because it takes longer when you do two, but you realize some savings," Wilson said.

Two-ship dockings in Pearl Harbor's shipyard have been rare. In 2000, the salvage ship Salvor and destroyer Russell shared Dry Dock 4. Before that, the submarines Pintado and Indianapolis were double-docked side by side in 1995.

Although the dry dock is 1,074 feet long, the ships were aligned off-center to each other and the dry dock. Port Royal's bow overlapped Crommelin's stern by about 80 feet.

Earlier this year, Crommelin was deployed to the Southern Command area of responsibility. While carrying out counter-narcotics operations, its crew seized 1.2 metric tons of cocaine with a street value of $71 million, the shipyard said.

As Crommelin was sailing off the Panamanian coast, a vent in a ballast tank clogged, resulting in overpressurization and damage to the tank.

Temporary repairs allowed its to complete its mission, pass through the Panama Canal and return to Pearl Harbor in June. Port Royal had been scheduled for work in mid-October.

Reach William Cole at wcole@honoluluadvertiser.com.