The Reactor Compartment and Engine Room contain the ship's nuclear propulsion plant and support equipment. The components of the nuclear power plant include a high-strength steel reactor vessel, heat exchangers (steam generators), and associated piping, pumps, and valves. The nuclear propulsion plant uses a pressurized water reactor design which has two basic systems - a primary system and a secondary system. The primary system circulates ordinary water and consists of the reactor, piping loops, pumps and steam generators. Fissioning of nuclear fuel contained within the reactor generates heat. Since the fisioning process also produces radiation, shields are placed around the reactor so that the crew is protected. The heat produced in the reactor is transferred to the water under high pressure so it does not boil. This water is pumped through the steam generators and back into the reactor for re-heating. In the steam generators, the heat from the water in the primary system is transferred to the secondary system to create steam. The secondary system is isolated from the primary system so that the water in the two systems does not intermix. In the secondary system, the steam flows from the steam generators to drive the turbine generators, which supply the ship with electricity, and to the main propulsion turbines, which drive the propeller. After passing through the turbines, the steam is condensed into water which is fed back to the steam generators by the feed pumps. Thus, both the primary and secondary systems are closed systems where water is recirculated and renewed. Since there is no step in the generation of this power which requires the presence of air or oxygen, this allows the ship to operate completely independent from the earth’s atmosphere for extended periods of time.

Naval reactors undergo repeated power changes for ship maneuvering, unlike civilian counterparts which operate at steady state. Nuclear safety, radiation, shock, quieting, and operating performance requirements in addition to operation in close proximity to the crew dictate exceptionally high standards for component manufacturing and quality assurance. The Naval Reactors' program has shown the world that nuclear power can be handled safely, with no adverse effects on the public or the environment. While others have stumbled with this challenging technology, the Naval Reactors' program stands out-in the private sector as well as in the public sector-for vision, discipline, and technical excellence.