Both US and USSR were pursuing the technologies to build a nuclear submarine to overcome the limitations of conventional submarines. Nuclear-powered submarines are one of the most potent symbols of the bygone U.S.-Soviet arms race. The US headed the way and launched the USS Nautilus, the first nuclear submarine. USS Nautilus could circle the world underwater for up to four months without refuelling. Construction of Nautilus was made possible by the successful development of a nuclear propulsion plant by a group of scientists and engineers at the Naval Reactors Branch of the Atomic Energy Commission. In July of 1951, the US Congress authorized construction of the world’s first nuclear powered submarine. The submarine was 320 feet long, and cost about $55 million.
The Soviet Union soon followed the United States in developing nuclear-powered submarines in the 1950s. Stimulated by the US development of the Nautilus nuclear submarine, Soviet work on nuclear propulsion reactors began in the early 1950s at the Institute of Physics and Power Engineering, in Obninsk, under Anatoliy P. Alexandrov, later to become head of the Kurchatov Institute. In 1956, the first Soviet propulsion reactor designed by his team began operational testing. Meanwhile, a design team under Vladimir N. Peregudov worked on the vessel that would house the reactor. After overcoming many obstacles, including steam generation problems, radiation leaks, and other difficulties, the Hotel class, first nuclear submarine based on these combined efforts entered service in the Soviet Navy in 1958.
At the height of the Cold War, approximately five to ten nuclear submarines were being commissioned from each of the four Soviet submarine yards (Sevmash in Severodvinsk, Admiralteyskiye Verfi in St. Petersburg, Krasnoye Sormovo in Nizhniy Novgorod, and Amurskiy Zavod in Komsomolsk-na-Amure). From the late 1950s through the end of 1994, the Soviet Union, and later Russia, built a total of 245 nuclear submarines, more than all other nations combined.
Today, six countries deploy some form of nuclear-powered strategic submarines: the United States, Russia, France, the United Kingdom,India, and China. Several other countries, including Argentina and Brazil, have ongoing projects in different phases to build nuclear-powered submarines.