The Nimitz-class carrier USS Nimitz began construction on June 22, 1968 at the shipbuilding company in Newport News, VA. The USS Nimitz was christened on May 13, 1972 and began trials over the next several years.1
The reason why the Navy developed the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier stems directly from the development of nuclear power and the Manhattan Project. During the Cold War the U.S. and the Soviet Union raced to develop nuclear technologies, mostly weapons and reactors. Early on the benefits of using such a power source were evident. Traditional carriers have to use more space to hold fuel, not just to power the ship but also to fly the aircraft they carry. Nuclear-powered carriers have more space for aircraft fuel and bulk cargo. In addition, because of the need to refuel, traditional carriers are slower than nuclear-powered carriers at reaching a destination.2
Due to the capability to carry more fuel and cargo the Nimitz-class could participate in a wider variety of operations. It can carry more ammo and can operate longer in open water than traditional carriers. However, the ships do have two flaws. Firstly, due to a design mistake some of the carriers tend to list to the starboard side that is not generally correctable.3 4
1 “Aircraft Carriers – CVN,” Department of the Navy, http://www.navy.mil/navydata/fact_display.asp?cid=4200&tid=200&ct=4. (accessed March 27, 2013).
2 A trip from a base on the West Coast to the Persian Gulf would take both ships 18 days, but the traditionally fuelled ship would arrive six hours later than the nuclear-powered ship. U.S. General Accounting Office, Navy Aircraft Carriers: Cost-Effectiveness of Conventionally and Nuclear-Powered Carriers (Washington, D.C.: U.S. General Accounting Office, 1998), 6. http://www.fas.org/man/gao/nsiad98001/ns98001.pdf. (accessed March 27, 2013).
3 Dianna Wolfson, “A Solution to the Inherent List on Nimitz Class Aircraft Carriers” (Master’s thesis, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2004), 3. http://www.dtic.mil/cgi-bin/GetTRDoc?AD=ADA425773&Location=U2&doc=GetTRDoc.pdf. (accessed March 27, 2013).
4 Navy website states that each ship of the Nimitz-class is roughly $8.5 billion per year. “Aircraft Carriers – CVN”