USS Enterprise sailing off to history’s scrap heap
USS Enterprise file photo
November 1st, 2012
06:00 AM ET

USS Enterprise sailing off to history’s scrap heap

By Larry Shaughnessy

The USS Enterprise is the nation's oldest active duty warship, the first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier and a history-making symbol of America's naval might for half a century.

But it's now headed for the scrap heap.

Virtually all the weapons and ammunition has been off loaded. By the end of the week, it'll make its final return to its home port of Norfolk, Virginia. On Dec. 1, "The Big E" will be become officially inactive.

But one doesn't just take an aircraft carrier with eight nuclear reactors in its hold and park it somewhere. The Navy will spend three years and tens of millions of dollars removing the ship's radioactive fuel and reactors before cutting it into scrap.

Also: On the front lines of history: USS Enterprise on its last deployment

Mike Maus, a spokesperson for Naval Air Force Atlantic, said the process starts just up the James River.

"Following the inactivation period, it will be towed over to Newport News - to Huntington Ingalls Newport News Shipbuilding - where it will be defueled. They'll remove all the fuel from it."

The fuel will be shipped to Idaho for temporary storage, Maus said. "Sometime at a later date, it will be disposed of."

While in Newport News, some of the Enterprise's equipment will be removed then the next phase begins.

Watch: Sen. John McCain talks about serving on the Enterprise during the Cuban Missile Crisis

The carrier, minus planes, ammunition and a propulsion system, heads to Puget Sound, the long way.

"It will be towed around (Cape) Horn to Puget Sound, Washington," Maus said.

The Enterprise, like America's other nuclear carriers, is too big to fit through the Panama Canal, so it must round the southern-most point of South America to get to Washington State.

"It'll be a very lengthy tow," he said.

Once it reaches the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, the long and difficult task of removing the eight reactors from the Enterprise's hold begins.

"In order to remove the reactors, it takes a lot of cutting and hacking on the ship to do that," Maus said. "They do cut through the flight deck and they may very well be cutting through the hull of the ship itself."

Once the reactors are removed, CVN-65 will be formally decommissioned.

According to a Navy Environmental Impact Statement, the reactors will be put on barges, floated up the Columbia River to the site of the former Hanford nuclear production complex where they will be buried in a huge trench near reactors from smaller decommissioned naval warships.

Hanford nuclear site trench (US Navy Photo)

But unlike the USS Intrepid in New York City or the USS Midway in San Diego, the Enterprise is not destined to become a floating museum.

Removing the reactors essentially destroys the ship.

"Once the reactors are removed, to put the ship back in any shape to where it still resembles a ship the cost would be over the moon," said Maus.

So the ship, all 90,000 tons of it will be cut up and the metal sold for scrap.

But that doesn't mean the name Enterprise will fade from U.S. Navy history. There have been seven other warships to bear that name and there is already a petition to name a yet-to-be-built carrier the ninth USS Enterprise.

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Filed under: Navy • USS Enterprise
soundoff (41 Responses)
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    April 12, 2013 at 5:20 pm | Reply
  6. Fred Gedko

    I served on the BIG "E" dering the vietnam war and was very proud to do so! I would rather see her sunk then you would know that she will always be out there still doing good!

    December 1, 2012 at 1:17 pm | Reply
  7. John wilber

    From the stats i seen on the time of building the new carriers and activating them it be 13 plus years till a carrier gets named the big E Carrier 78 is Ford out in 2015 79 is the New JFK be out in 2020 and carrier 80 unnamed yet and has yet to be started on is to be built and active in 2025 this might be Enterprise or some other warship might get the named there are a few other old names not yet given ships like Yorktown and Ranger and Saratogoa

    December 1, 2012 at 2:48 am | Reply
  8. Robert

    You know it just seems that some things should be considered national treasures, and to me a ship that has served this country for half a century should be considered as such. If decommishioning her and removing her reactors means the enterprise is mostly destroyed any way, why couldn't they save at least the tower section, and use it to anchor a museum in honor of the great ship?

    November 23, 2012 at 11:35 am | Reply
  9. Vato


    November 22, 2012 at 7:40 pm | Reply
    • Amber Bomstein

      I 100% agree. USS ENTERPRISE CVN-65 IS A FLOATING MUSEUM!!!!👍⚓️🇺🇸

      July 29, 2015 at 5:47 am | Reply
  10. Steve Smith

    Good By Big E. You served with honor and will be remembered.

    November 21, 2012 at 7:33 pm | Reply
  11. Maurice Brown

    Our Air squadron VAW-112 was commissioned on the Big E of the coast of North Vietnam on April 20, 1967. "God it seems like yesterday", and I am taking a final tour on November 29, 2012 with an old Squadron friend Bob Wilson.

    November 19, 2012 at 3:46 pm | Reply
  12. Ddawg

    I salute the "Big Eazzy"!!! You served me well1998-2001.

    November 7, 2012 at 10:25 am | Reply
  13. Jeff Wheeler

    It's a shame the Navy plans to scrap this ship. Do we not have any allies who would be willing to operate it?

    Experts often complain that America's allies do not spend enough on their militaries and lack the ability to defend themselves and mount international relief efforts without logistical support from the United States. I'm not surprised EU nations aren't spending money constructing aircraft carriers, but is the Big E really so old that it is not economical for such nations to man and maintain it? Surely a carrier in the hands of our allies is better than one in the scrap heap.

    November 3, 2012 at 2:19 pm | Reply
    • Quinn

      Please trust me when I say that it needs to be scrapped. That thing is a rust bucket.

      November 4, 2012 at 10:16 am | Reply
      • Ambe


        April 16, 2015 at 10:07 am |
  14. Coltdefender45

    I served aboard as a DS3 on The USS America CV66, 1980 – 1983. It was sad to watch that great ship sink beneath the waves as a test platform for future carriers. I remember the America, Nimitz and Enterprise being docked at Pier 12 at different times. What an incredible site. Great memories!
    I bet they could make more money making the "BIG E" a museum. I'd stand in line in a heart beat.

    November 3, 2012 at 10:49 am | Reply


    November 3, 2012 at 9:05 am | Reply
  16. Alister Jones

    Come on, at least save the iconic & unique 'Island'!?!

    November 3, 2012 at 5:39 am | Reply
  17. JZG

    This ship is a piece of history, it should be made into a museum and not cut up for scrap.

    November 2, 2012 at 10:38 am | Reply
  18. Peter Turel

    I also served on her and did the 84 and 86 deployments. She is a wonderful and proud ship, and carried the name Enterprise with great dignity. It was a great honor to serve on her. I wish I could go to the deactivation, but I can't get time off work. I will always remember you Big E. Fair Winds and Following Seas on your final journey.

    November 2, 2012 at 10:30 am | Reply
  19. spomacguy

    Scrap heap of history? Scrap heap?

    CNN, are you kidding me?

    I would say I can't believe an American company would actually use this terminology for such an historic ship, but then I remembered this is CNN and that's just par for the course. The copy writer must have been hired by Ted Turner himself.

    Why not say what you really think and call it the dung heap?

    Any real news organization would can or demote a writer who did this for their blatant anti-military bias.

    November 1, 2012 at 6:43 pm | Reply
  20. Theodore Dixon

    Sorry to see an of an era come to close.
    Was the Big'e" for its shake down in June
    of '74"
    "Semper Fi"
    Avn. Metalsmith

    November 1, 2012 at 5:17 pm | Reply
  21. Joe from CT, not Lieberman

    It is always an honor to serve on a DECOM crew of one of our proud ships. Yeah, we didn't get the glory of being "plank owners", but those guys did respect us for putting our old girl to bed. Bremmerton did a great job on the old sub I was on, and you could see in the eyes of a lot of the "yard birds" that they would miss boats like ours.
    I salute the crew of Big "E". Fair winds and following seas to you on her final journey.

    November 1, 2012 at 2:00 pm | Reply
  22. Pinkflam

    Maybe a smarter approach would be to sail her under her own power to Washington and then do the complete decommissioning there. Oh, I forgot, political expediency wins over common sense every time.

    November 1, 2012 at 8:37 am | Reply
    • Cheese Wonton

      All the complex overhauls and refuelings of nuclear powered aircraft carriers happen at Newport News Shipyard. The shipyard at Bremerton is not be equipped to de-fuel her. The fuel has to be stored in a special facility.

      November 1, 2012 at 11:34 am | Reply
  23. TJ

    @Jim: I agree a reeef is a better end for this ship, but an old ship like Enterprise has a lot of HAZMAT onboard. the cost to remove it all; asbestos, lead paint, polyvinyl chlorides, etc is likely too prohibitive in today's tough fiscal climate.

    November 1, 2012 at 8:21 am | Reply
  24. StanCalif

    Another former Big E sailor here to say Goodbye to a magnificent ship! Only those who served aboard know the awesome power of this ship. Today she looks very different from her original design which was very unique. The Big E was primarily a labratory for creating the newer carriers. I have no experience aboard the new carriers today. but I doubt any of them could out perform the Big E! All performance data has always been "secret". This was a ship on steroids!

    November 1, 2012 at 8:16 am | Reply
  25. jim

    Wow, scrapped, how about an artificial reef??? Years of spectacular diving and habitat formation...I respectfully submit this would be a much more fitting last posting for such a storied vessel rather than the scrapyard!

    November 1, 2012 at 7:23 am | Reply
    • Cheese Wonton

      Nuclear reactors do not make for a very good reef. By the time the reactors are removed, the ship will already be cut almost in half and it won't be possible to float here out of the drydock. No, removing the reactors from her is the end of the Enterprise unless someone comes along with literally billions of dollars to put her back together as a museum ship. Don't hold your breath on that one.

      November 1, 2012 at 11:37 am | Reply
      • jim

        Likely you are right, but what a glorious divev it would be...likely will just remain a fond dream...

        November 1, 2012 at 2:22 pm |
    • Amber Bomstein


      July 29, 2015 at 6:14 am | Reply

    I am so proud to have served on the BIG 'E' 74-78 and always will remeber my shipmates. PO3 MENDOZA V-4 DIV.

    November 1, 2012 at 7:07 am | Reply
    • Theodore Dixon

      Say Mendoza:
      "Semper Fi" here, may have been possible we on the ship at the time, I was attached to Marine composite squadron
      VMCJ-3 Mag-11 then... currently attending college in Portland Oregon. It's been such along time since then ...been
      down many roads. Good luck and many fond memories, may you live long and proper.

      November 1, 2012 at 5:46 pm | Reply
      • Adam Burrows


        I'm pretty sure my Dad was with you on the Enterprise in June of '74. He was and RF pilot in VMCJ-3 at that time. His name was 1LT Paul A. Burrows. Wasn't that when the (then) new F-14's were on board as well?


        January 22, 2013 at 7:17 pm |

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