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A nuclear-powered vessel is propelled by a controlled nuclear reaction which generates tremendous heat. This heat turns water into steam for running turbine engines (machines that convert the kinetic energy of moving fluids to mechanical power). The U.S.S. Nautilus was the first submarine to be propelled by nuclear power, making her first sea run on January 17, 1955. (U.S.S. stands for "United States Ship" or "United States Steamer.") It has been called the first true submarine since it can remain underwater for an indefinite period of time. The Nautilus, which is 324 feet (99 meters) long, can travel up to 2,500 miles (4,023 kilometers) and at a speed of 20 knots when submerged (one knot equals one nautical mile per hour, which equals approximately 1.15 miles per hour on land). It has a diving depth of 700 feet (213 meters).
The first nuclear warship was the 14,000-ton cruiser U.S.S. Long Beach, launched on July 14, 1959. The U.S.S. Enterprise was the first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier. Launched on September 24, 1960, the Enterprise was 1,101.5 feet (336 meters) long and designed to carry 100 aircraft.
The first nuclear-powered merchant ship (ship used to transport goods for trade or commerce) was the Savannah, a 20,000-ton vessel, launched in 1962. The United States built it largely as an experiment and it was never operated commercially. In 1969, Germany built the Otto Hahn, a nuclear-powered ore carrier. The most successful use of nuclear propulsion in nonnaval ships has been as icebreakers (ships that can force their way through ice-covered waters). The first nuclear-powered icebreaker was the Soviet Union's Lenin, commissioned in 1959.
Sources: Horton, Edward. The Illustrated History of the Submarine, pp. 150-60; Kemp, Peter. Encyclopedia of Ships and Sailing, p. 99; Robertson, Patrick. The Book of Firsts, pp. 13, 171, 243, 244.
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