The U.S. Department of Transportation announced a $54.4 million contract for the decommissioning of the world’s first nuclear powered merchant ship, the NS Savannah, which was launched in 1959 and never became a commercial success.
The ship, part of President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Atoms for Peace initiative, was, essentially, a demonstration project that became a tourist attraction at the various ports it made berth – including a tour of European ports (Bremerhaven, Hamburg and Dublin) in the summer of 1964. Her lack of success commercially was underscored by her dual purpose as both a cargo and a passenger ship. With a crew of 109 and with sleek, modern lines, she could accommodate 60 passengers and haul 9,600 tons of cargo. Navy officials, meanwhile, were skeptical of the project, not because of its cruise-line features, but because they feared would draw funds from efforts to build nuclear-powered military ships.
According to The Maritime Executive, the NS Savannah was named after the first steam ship to cross the Atlantic, which occurred in 1819.
The ship’s pressurized water reactor was first fueled in November 1960 with 7,000 kilograms of uranium oxide, which could power the ship for three years (or for 300,000 miles of sailing) before refueling. It took until March 1962 to bring the reactor to 80 percent power, when the ship achieved a speed of 20 knots. Bt April, the ship reached 100 percent power achieving a speed in excess of 23 knots.
In 1971, the shops reactor core was removed and she settled in as a tourist attraction in Savannah, Georgia, and then in Charleston, South Carolina. In 1991, the ship was designated as a historic landmark, although she has been berthed in Baltimore in recent years, maintained by a maintenance crew.
The contract to complete decommissioning was awarded to Nuclear Ship Support Services. The contract is viable for four years with a possible extension of one year. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission will oversee the project.
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