Question for Navy Nukes

Submarine Support, how can I help you?

Yeah, when I try to start my submarine, I just get a clicking sound and the “check reactor” light comes on.

How to startup a nuclear reactor

Unfortunately it doesn’t specify the actual time needed to perform the startup.

Make reactors calculations, eh. The control systems aren’t integrated enough to just remember the fuel state (based on how long it’s been since the reactor was last run, xenon poisoning levels, fuel life state, etc) and let you whack the start button.

This is true, but two points:

  1. Proper protocols and procedures are one of the layers of safety.
  2. There is a lot of room between Not Spewing Radiation and Ready To Go

Improperly operating a well designed nuclear reactor is much more likely to result in a useless reactor than a major safety issue. Read up on Three Mile Island. It took a lot of incompetence to destroy the reactor, but no one got hurt and there was almost no environment damage.

But the reactor is only one part of making a sub go. Forgetting to shut the proper hatches or trying to operate hydraulics without removing lock outs are just as likely to turn you into a float on the water, and even more likely to turn you into a fish playground.

If you want to operate a sub, I recommend buying/leasing one of those tour subs that cruise around the bays in Hawai’i. If you want to go across the ocean without using fossil fuels, get a sail boat.

Sorry sir, but our records indicate that you are currently not on support. Would you like me to transfer you to customer services so you can renew your Nuclear Submarine support?

How much do you trust your computer? Remember that there is a huge lag time between the time a technology (such as type of processor) is available for commercial use and when it is considered reliable enough for something like nuclear power. The Navy nuclear program was founded and overseen by an admiral with a serious trust issue when it came to computers and digital technology. And, while that legacy lasted longer than it should have, IMHO, would you really want to risk a billion dollar piece of equipment and the military ability of the country? Even if/when the system can do the calculations, you can bet that outside of emergencies, at least two someones are doing independent checks.

This gives some general info about startup time (not very specific).

I wonder how much they might have automated this stuff in recent years…

I remember that the plants I worked in took close to a dozen guys to get everything running, and they were all busy doing stuff.
Sure, you might be able to have guys hopping between watch stations, like having the turbogenerator watch stander hop over to main engines, but there is just too much stuff that has to be done in the right sequence by trained individuals.

In addition to specialized watch standers, the whole process has to be orchestrated by the watch officer and watch supervisor–the main engines guy doesn’t really know what’s going on with the fellow at the electrical bus panel, and so on, so you need a conductor running the show.

And so much of this was “need to know the systems deeply and memorize lots of systems and checklists” kind of stuff. If you were trying to get thing up and running in a jiffy, you would be running all over the place looking in nooks and crannies trying to find, say, valve MS-105 or BF-12, and unless you know what you were doing you wouldn’t be able to open the valve right (e.g. for big steam valves you need to open a bypass valve first).

It takes several months for a newcomer to become qualified on a nuclear power plant–no way a rogue team would get it up and running.

Also, at a certain point, the computer reliability got to the point (uh, probably several decades ago actually) that having a computer handling operations would have been a better idea than a roomful of a dozen guys all communicating information by voice. Naturally, this also requires really solid design on the part of the creators of the computer system, but it’s possible to make something that is rock solid and obeys the checklists better than the operators do. (and much faster)

Again, I don’t know what fancy computer stuff they have these days, but remember that these are military vessels, expected to function in wartime while taking damage.

There’s a reason why we used sound-powered phones to communicate, and there was all kinds of redundancy in the systems such as cross connects and special 440v jumpers.

I imagine that at the point where seawater is pouring in through some holes, with pumps trying to keep up with the leaks, and you have big patches holding pipes together and fat extension cords patching together high voltage systems where regular power has been lost, computer controls might not be the best choice.

Sir, may I suggest push starting your submarine?

Actually the classified part is the sub is an automatic. This means the three swimmers have to get the sub up to about 30 MPH before you drop it in low range to get the reactor spinning fast enough to run.

Oh shit, did I use my out loud voice for that? :smack:
Everybody, forget what I just said.

The kid on Galaxy Quest picked things up pretty quickly.

I conducted many, many reactor startups as an Engineering Officer of the Watch (EOOW) aboard a nuclear submarine.

Like all nuclear-trained submarine officers, following graduation from college (in my case, with a B.S. in Chemical Engineering) and being commissioned as an officer, I went through six months of classroom training at the Navy’s Nuclear Power School, followed by six months of practical training on a land-based operational prototype nuclear reactor. This was followed by three months of Submarine School (the Submarine Officer’s Basic Course). I then reported to my submarine and had to learn every system on board my submarine in order to get qualified as an EOOW (and Officer of the Deck, etc.).

So with that as background, let me say that starting up a submarine reactor is no simple task. It would take hours just to describe all the steps, and weeks and/or months to fully explain everything. However, I’m not going to do any of that, because as others have already noted, this is all classified information.

Aw c’mon, we won’t tell*!* The Capt leaves the sub’s keys under a rock by the dock, doesn’t he?!? :smiley:

I asked my son who is a Navy Nuke - he said that no, they don’t do that anymore. Now they use these. As for deciding who gets to actually START the sub? Rock, Paper, Scissors usually. They found that flipping a coin would get jokesters coming out of the woodwork with coins that were the same on both sides. Using the RPS method, they could weed out the clowns. Those were the guys that then got sent to aircraft carriers.