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Photo of the Surface Ship Support Barge (SSSB). Photo courtesy APTIM

Photo of the Surface Ship Support Barge (SSSB). Photo courtesy APTIM

End of an Era: Navy’s Historic Nuclear Support Barge Decommissioned After 50 Years

Mike Schuler
Total Views: 43948
November 13, 2023

In a significant milestone, the decommissioning of the Navy’s radiologically impacted Surface Ship Support Barge (SSSB) has been completed at the Alabama Shipyard, near Mobile, Alabama. The SSSB played a vital role in supporting the maintenance operations of nuclear-powered aircraft carriers and cruisers of the U.S. Navy for over 50 years.

The SSSB was a converted dockside refueling barge that served as the primary platform for refueling, defueling, and associated maintenance of reactor components from U.S. Navy nuclear-powered surface ships at Newport News Shipbuilding from 1964 to 2016. It underwent dismantlement and disposal starting in 2020, including the demolition of the former spent fuel water pool. The dismantlement site was officially turned back over to Alabama Shipyard on September 30th, signifying the completion of the project.

“This historic platform was an integral part of the Navy’s nuclear-powered ship maintenance efforts for decades,” said RDML Casey Moton, Program Executive Officer for Aircraft Carriers. “The Navy-industry team leading the dismantlement has honored that legacy, displaying the same innovative spirit that has been driving the safe modernization and revolutionary construction of the nation’s aircraft carriers over the last 60 years.”

The dismantlement and disposal of the SSSB were carried out by APTIM Federal Services, LLC, under a three-year, $129 million contract awarded by NAVSEA in June 2020. The hazardous remediation experts from APTIM worked meticulously to remove and secure hazardous materials, ensuring the safety of workers, the public, and the environment throughout the process. The dismantled components were carefully packaged and transported to a regulated facility in Andrews, Texas, for proper disposal.

The SSSB has a remarkable history, starting as the mid-section of the WWII-era Navy T2-class tanker ship SS Cantigny built in 1945 by the Alabama Drydock and Shipbuilding Company, now the Alabama Shipyard. In 1964, it was converted into a nuclear support facility known as the Prototype Waterborne Expended Fuel Container (PWEFC). The platform underwent significant upgrades and repairs over the years, extending its service life and earning the name Surface Ship Support Barge (SSSB).

During its 52 years of service at Newport News Shipbuilding, the SSSB supported refueling operations for various nuclear-powered cruisers and aircraft carriers, including the USS Nimitz, USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, USS Carl Vinson, USS Theodore Roosevelt, and USS Abraham Lincoln. Its decommissioning marks the Navy’s progress in incorporating technological advancements in executing complex overhauls and mid-life refueling of aircraft carriers.

“The Navy now has the capacity to manage and package spent fuel modules into robust shipping containers as required in real time, without the need for an intermediate facility like the SSSB spent fuel water pool,” said Capt. Mark Johnson, manager of the PEO CVN In-Service Aircraft Carrier Program Office. “This advancement streamlines refueling activities and expedites readiness across the maintenance enterprise, ultimately delivering warships back to fleet operators.”

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