Horrified over nuclear reactor status!

By Chris Carlisle

My first time spent at sea was aboard the USS Virginia (CGN-38), which was a nuclear-powered guided missile cruiser launched in December 1974. This ship was the eighth within the United States Navy and was considered a lead ship thus being named for the Commonwealth of Virginia.

During my time aboard this ship, I was tasked to gather information for the night report. To carry out this work, I had to call using the main com, (aboard ship intercom system also known as the ‘bitch box’ by sailors because it always seemed to be nagging them with information.)

I wanted to get in touch with DC Central, Engineering Department. This department is responsible for the ship’s overall safety and system operability. I needed to acquire some information, specifically about the ship’s reactor status.

When the guy on the other end reported that the reactors were critical, I dropped my pen and clipboard, and started for the door out of the CIC (Combat Information Center).

The CIC watch supervisor had to stop me and was laughing. However, I failed to see the humor in a situation that would likely result in our deaths!

He had to explain that when they report the reactors as critical, it actually means normal.

I still chuckle over that after all these years.

USS Virginia (CGN-38) 2014-02-06_0749


the USS Virginia (CGN-38) began its life as a Destroyer Leader, nuclear guided missile, DLGN-38 and was reclassified as a nuclear-powered, guided-missile cruiser redesignated CGN-38 on June 30, 1975. It was commissioned on September 11, 1976, with Capt. George W. Davis, Jr., in command.


For the first six months, this ship traveled along the eastern seaboard and into the West Indies a number of times to conduct various post-commissioning tests, as well as shakedown training to ensure its safety of operation. A year later, the ship was commissioned as an operational unit of the Atlantic Fleet.

Nuclear officers and enlisted are trained through the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program and are considered an ‘elite group’ of Navy personnel who are capable of designing, building, operating, maintaining and managing nuclear-powered ships (and submarines).

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One response to “Horrified over nuclear reactor status!

  1. Steve Mansfield

    I recall in 1986, the first time we had brought the reactors on the Virginia back up after a lengthy complex overhaul, during which we had a huge turnover in the ship’s company, the Engineers scared the pants off a bunch of “Top Siders”. When the Engineers past the word “Reactors Critical” over the 1-MC (think ships PA system) they accidently included the Top Side spaces. Because of the large turnover during the overhaul a very large percentage of the non-engineers had no idea this was a good thing. Those of us who had been around before the yards kept having to reassure our shipmates, “I promise, a critical reactor is a good thing” lol. Ahhh good times lol

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