Measure would require future surface warships to be nuclear
A change might mean more work for the atomic-capable Newport News shipyard.
WASHINGTON - House and Senate negotiators have agreed on a defense policy bill that would require the Navy to design all future classes of major warships with nuclear power — a decision that potentially opens up more work for Northrop Grumman Newport News.
The Newport News shipyard is one of only two nuclear-capable yards in the country and the only one with a history of building large surface combat ships.
The only nuclear ships in the Navy's fleet today are aircraft carriers and submarines.
But the new policy — if given final approval by Congress, as expected in coming days — would require new classes of surface warships to go nuclear.
The policy would have an immediate effect on the next-generation cruiser, the first of which is set to get under construction in 2011.
A study of design options for the ship is nearing completion in the Pentagon.
The new congressional language would require the cruiser to be nuclear-powered unless the secretary of defense notifies Congress that a nuclear system "is not in the national interest."
Navy officials have long expressed interest in nuclear power because of the endurance that it provides ships at sea by forgoing the need for refueling.
But in testimony to Congress this year, they warned that nuclear cruisers would be costly, perhaps adding $600 million to $800 million to the price of a ship.
Lawmakers acknowledged the cost but said the United States had a national security interest in building toward a nuclear fleet.