Nuclear Sub Fire At Portsmouth Naval Shipyard

USS Miami nuclear sub has caught fire in dry dock at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard and there are questions on whether it can be salvaged. The propulsion system itself was spared from the intense blaze but some forward compartments were damaged.

Among the damage is the living quarters, command and control, and torpedo room, officials said Thursday.

The Navy was unable to complete a formal assessment Thursday but the damage was severe enough to raise questions about whether costly repairs would make sense for the 22-year-old Los Angeles-class attack submarine.

“The duration of the fire suggests extensive damage that could render the vessel useless. These submarines were designed decades ago. So they’re no longer state of the art,” said Loren Thompson, defense analyst at the Arlington, Va.-based Lexington Institute. “If this vessel returns to service, I will be amazed.”

Working in the submarine’s favor is the fact that workers had removed some equipment and gutted part of the vessel during the retrofit, said U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree of Maine after meeting with the shipyard commander.

Rear Adm. Richard Breckenridge, commander of Submarine Group Two in Groton, Conn., where the USS Miami is based, told reporters on Thursday that it was premature to say whether the submarine could be salvaged.

If it’s scrapped, it would mean the loss of a ship that cost about $900 million at the time to build. The U.S. Navy’s newest attack submarines, the Virginia-class, are even more expensive at about $2.6 billion apiece.

The fire broke out Wednesday evening while the Miami was on a 20-month stay at the shipyard for an overhaul, and it took firefighters from more than a dozen departments until Thursday morning to douse the fire, described as intense and smoky.

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