The approximate lifecycle of a nuclear powered aircraft carrier is 50 years, and after nearly 25 years of continuous service, an aircraft carrier undergoes a three year maintenance period to refuel its nuclear reactors, upgrade and modernize combat and communication systems and overhaul the ship’s hull, mechanical and electrical systems. This is called its Refueling and Complex Overhaul (RCOH). In a nuclear-powered ship, the nuclear fuel is essentially a solid inside a reactor core which is inside the ship’s nuclear reactor. Refueling involves removing and replacing the expended core with a new core with fresh nuclear fuel. Because the core is so radioactive, this procedure requires elaborate radiological handling precautions.
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