ADM Skip Bowman
addresses the audience at the Washington
Navy Yard during his retirement ceremony
on 5 November, 2004.
Photo caption follows

The Naval Reactors Organization and its People

At the very top of what I’m most proud of in leaving the Navy would have to be the Naval Reactors organization and its people. After all, our preeminent responsibility is to see that our reactors are designed and operated safely, and our oversight, training, qualification, and configuration control for each of our many plants show an unbroken record of success.

I am very pleased with what the organization has accomplished. During the more than eight years in which I had the privilege of sitting in the chair, Naval Reactors truly stuck to its heritage and core values and demonstrated that those enduring values were the right ones to guard and protect. A key measure of that success during my time here was our oversight of over 900 reactor-years of safe operation. When I came into the job, we had 126 naval reactors. Now, we have 103, coincidentally the same as the number of commercial reactors found in the whole United States. We’ve operated those
reactors in an entirely safe and forward-looking manner – without insult to the environment – and shown that nuclear power; properly applied, properly maintained, and properly monitored; can be extremely safe and ought to be a part of this country’s energy future. During its entire lifetime, the U.S. commercial nuclear-power industry has generated a total of only 2,900 reactor-years, so 900 is not an insignificant number. And if you go back 50 years, the Naval Reactors program has amassed 5,600 reactor-years of safe operation, about double what commercial industry has seen.

Photo caption follows
ADM Skip Bowman (right) tours the Aircraft Intermediate Maintenance Department (AIMD) spaces aboard USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76) with CDR William Bransom, AIMD Officer.
“At the very top of what I’m most proud of in leaving the Navy would have to be the Nuclear Reactors organization and its people.

If ADM Rickover walked in today, he’d recognize Naval Reactors as the same place he left in 1982. He’d see that our fundamental business is done just as it was in his day and that we still have in place exactly the same core values he left us. Most important is a sense of absolute and total responsibility for our end product, not only for the short term, but over the long haul, because these reactor plants are around for fifty years or so. So you can’t solve technical issues with an engineering response that’s good for only a week, and if ADM Rickover could attend one of our brain-storming sessions where people are passionately arguing their point of view, he’d feel right at home. He might be surprised to find that many of the administrative and personnel management processes that grew up in his organization have changed. During the heyday of building five, six submarines a year, and a surface nuclear-powered ship every other year or so – particularly nuclear-powered aircraft carriers as quickly as we could turn them out – there wasn’t time for the very small Naval Reactors staff to worry about their own professional development, and it was work, work, work, late into the night to ensure all of the required engineering was done properly.

By the time the Cold War was over and we had made our way through the ‘90s – I got here in 1996 – we weren’t building six submarines a year, and in fact, we were pushing hard to get Virginia authorized at one a year. Although the build rate had changed dramatically, the importance of maintaining tight controls didn’t change, and the demographics of the organization became an issue. Were we going to wake up six years from now and find that the old guard had tuned gray and gone away and that we hadn’t watched closely enough the professional development of the youngsters who need to be stepping in as section heads? We looked at the retention pattern at Naval Reactors, and it wasn’t good. So we dramatically changed the opportunities for professional development and worked at making young engineers feel more and more a part of this organization – to create a niche where they could feel comfortable supporting their own desires, aspirations, and families. ADM Rickover would be surprised to find this emphasis on whole-body health, including not only mental and professional development, but also the physical aspects. I’m a believer in people taking care of their bodies and nutrition, plus eating and exercising properly, so I opened up opportunities for people to get out and do those kinds of things. Two of my young engineers have a mother who happens to be a registered dietician with a Ph.D. in nutrition, and she’s volunteered to come here to help our people in those areas. In Rickover’s era, that would be considered a waste of time – it wasn’t hard-core engineering. To me, it’s as important as hard-core engineering if we have the time to do it.

Outreach to State and Local Officials

During my tenure, we’ve increased our liaison with a whole raft of state and local agencies and people responsible within their jurisdiction for emergency planning, radiological control, radioactive waste, and that kind of stuff. During the Cold War, it seemed appropriate – because of security concerns – to minimize our interface with these civilian and local officials, but it appeared to me that the time was right to come out of the closet and reach out to them – to explain better who we were and what we were trying to accomplish. I thought, gee – what a strange thing – to have a wonderful story to tell, but when we were asked a question, we invariably ducked it because of outmoded security concerns. Now, we have very solid relationships with all those states we do business in – Connecticut, Virginia, New York, Georgia, Idaho, Washington, Hawaii – and because we’re a lot more transparent now about how we watch over things, a lot of the myth and fear is gone. We’ve conducted emergency drills with various scenarios in 12 states – something that didn’t used to be done. They’ve paid major dividends in terms of public perception, especially in localities where we have a presence. We’ve taken key civilians on board our aircraft carriers in port and at sea, and we’ve shown them how carefully we operate our plants and train our Sailors.

Photos caption follows As Director, Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program ADM Bowman was responsible for the 103 nuclear reactors in the Navy inventory as well as recruiting the best and brightest minds in the country to carry on the legacy of the program.


Recently retired ADM Frank L. “Skip” Bowman, former Director, Naval Nuclear Propulsion, served 38 years in the U.S. Navy. ADM Bowman was commissioned upon graduation from Duke University in 1966 and went on to complete a dual master’s degree program in nuclear engineering and naval architecture/marine engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1973. Some of ADM Bowman’s commands included USS City of Corpus Christi (SSN-705) and USS Holland (AS-32), and he went on to serve on the Joint Staff – with J-3 and J-5 – and as the Chief of Naval Personnel.
In November, just prior to his retirement from the Navy, ADM Bowman sat down for a wide-ranging, 90-minute interview with UNDERSEA WARFARE Magazine. The following article is excerpted from that discussion and treats several topics the Admiral particularly emphasized.

Cover of Undersea Warfare Magazine Winter 2005