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Naval Reactors (often abbreviated to NR) is an umbrella term for the U.S. government office that has comprehensive responsibility for safe and reliable operation of the United States Navy's nuclear propulsion program and thus for United States Naval reactors. A single entity, it has authority and reporting responsibilities within both the Department of the Navy (NAVSEA, Chief of Naval Operations) and the United States Department of Energy.[1]

Program responsibilities are delineated in Presidential Executive Order 12344 of February 1, 1982, and prescribed by Public Laws 98-525 of October 19, 1984 (42 USC 7158), and 106-65 of October 5, 1999 (50 USC 2406).[2]


Soon after his U.S. Navy service during World War II, Admiral Hyman G. Rickover became an early advocate of nuclear marine propulsion. Assigned to the Bureau of Ships in September 1947, Rickover received training in nuclear power at Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and worked with the bureau to explore the possibility of nuclear ship propulsion. In February 1949 he received an assignment to the Division of Reactor Development, United States Atomic Energy Commission and then assumed control of the Navy's effort as Director of the Naval Reactors Branch in the Bureau of Ships.

The office was originally a joint activity of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) and the U.S. Navy's Bureau of Ships. When the AEC was abolished, Naval Reactors became a joint effort of the Navy and the Energy Research and Development Administration, which partly replaced the AEC. In 1977, ERDA was combined with the Federal Energy Administration to form the U.S. Department of Energy. On the Navy side of the organization, the Bureau of Ships has given way since the 1950s to the Naval Sea Systems Command, within which NR is Code 08, usually abbreviated NAVSEA 08.

Within seven years of its inception, the organization that developed from this concept would put into operation the nation's first power reactor (the Nautilus prototype). The following four years would see three more nuclear submarines and two reactor plant prototypes operating and another seven ships and two prototypes being built. To date, more reactors have been built and safely operated by the NR program than any other US program.

Hyman G. Rickover parleyed an impressive personal publicity effort and intensive links with the United States Congress into an unprecedented tenure situation as head of Naval Reactors whereby he could not be relieved by conventional military procedures.[3] He was promoted successively, partially as a result of Congressional involvement, until he reached the rank of full Admiral and held the position for over 30 years from 1949 to February 1, 1982. Due to the unique dual DOD/DOE superiors of the position, succeeding Directors of Naval Reactors (NAVSEA 08) were given extended tour lengths (eight years) as well.

The Director of Naval Reactors also serves as a Deputy Administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration.[2]

Directors of Naval Reactors
Start End Director
Feb 1949 Feb 1, 1982 Admiral Hyman G. Rickover
Feb 1, 1982 Oct 22, 1988 Admiral Kinnaird R. McKee
Oct 22, 1988 Sept 27, 1996 Admiral Bruce DeMars
Sept 27, 1996 Nov 5, 2004 Admiral Frank "Skip" Bowman
Nov 5, 2004 Nov 2, 2012 Admiral Kirkland H. Donald
Nov 2, 2012 Present Admiral John M. Richardson

Management and personnel principles

Many books (including those referenced below) and articles have been written about core NR management principles such as attention to detail and adherence to rigidly-defined standards and specifications, as well as the organization's unique (for government) personnel practices. NR staff and alumni (including Admiral Rickover himself) have often been called by Congress, the President and other government agencies to provide expert opinion and management support to other important government programs, most notably the large scale reviews following the destruction of the Space Shuttles Columbia and Challenger. NR alumni have also founded or led numerous corporate and industrial organizations, for example MPR Associates, Inc. [1], founded by three of Admiral Rickover's leading technical managers in NR's early days.


  1. NASA/Navy Benchmarking Exchange (NNBE), Volume II, NASA Office of Safety & Mission Assurance, NAVSEA 08 Naval Reactors, NAVSEA 07Q Submarine Safety & Quality Assurance Division, 2003-07-15, retrieved 2010-11-21.
  2. 2.0 2.1 National Nuclear Security Administration, Powering the Navy - NNSP official website
  3. Rockwell, Theodore (2002). The Rickover Effect. IUniverse, Lincoln, NE. pp. 155. ISBN 0-595-25270-2. 


  • The Rickover Effect: How One Man Made a Difference, Theodore Rockwell, Naval Institute Press (Annapolis, MD), 1992
  • Nuclear Navy: 1946-1962, Francis Duncan and Richard G. Hewlett, Naval Institute Press (Annapolis, MD), 1974
  • Rickover and the Nuclear Navy: The Discipline of Technology, Francis Duncan, Naval Institute Press (Annapolis, MD), 1990
  • Naval Reactors History Database

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