The laboratory, founded in 1949 and consisting of approximately 207 acres , is operated for the Department of Energy (DOE) by Bechtel Bettis, Incorporated, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Bechtel Corporation. Bechtel won the contract to run the laboratory in 1999; prior to that the plant was operated by Westinghouse Electric Corporation.
The laboratory's work is part of the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program, which is a joint U.S Navy-DOE program responsible for the research, design, construction, operation and maintenance of U.S. nuclear-powered warships.
The laboratory developed Oak Ridge National Laboratory's original design of the pressurized water reactor (PWR) for operational naval use. It built the nuclear propulsion plants for the first U.S. nuclear submarines and surface ships including the USS Nautilus (SSN-571), the USS George Washington (SSBN-598), the USS Long Beach (CGN-9), and the USS Enterprise (CVN-65) .
The laboratory has two computers listed on the 26th TOP500 List (November 2005) of supercomputers in the world. Ranked 97 is a 1,090 processor Opteron system and ranked 405 is a 536 processor Itanium 2 system.
The laboratory is also home to the U.S. Navy's Bettis Reactor Engineering School. The school provides a post-graduate degree program in Nuclear Engineering with a focus on nuclear reactor design, construction, and operations.
The laboratory had been chosen to develop the Prometheus nuclear power source for the JIMO (Jupiter Icy Moon Orbiter) project, however, funding for this program was cancelled in the fall of 2005.