Nuclear-powered submarines do not last forever. They are assumed to have a useful life of approximately 30 years, but the end of the Cold War brought sharp cutbacks in funding and orders to reduce the number of attack submarines by nearly half, from 98 to 50. That has resulted in the decommissioning of many ships well before the end of their useful life.

As of April 2000, 56 fast attacks remain in service, including 2 Sturgeon-class, 1 Franklin-class boomer converted for special operations, and 2 new Seawolf-class boats; all the rest are Los Angeles-class attack submarines. They are based at Groton, Connecticut; Norfolk, Virginia; San Diego, California; and Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. All 18 Ohio-class boomers remain in service, 8 based at Bangor, Washington, 10 at King's Bay, Georgia.

Scrapping Submarines
In 1994 at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, Washington, two nuclear-powered submarines are cut up; much of the material is recycled. Courtesy U.S. Naval Institute

In the Pit
Submarine reactor compartments rest neatly in a pit at the U.S. Department of Energy's Hanford, Washington, facility. All reactors are defueled before shipment. Except for a few items sent to museums, they are all that remain intact of submarines that have been recycled. Department of Energy photo

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