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Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Nuclear-powered Savannah leaving Virginia waters after 14 years

While many in the US think of civilian nuclear powered ships as a bygone experiment, Russia continues to use nuclear powered icebreakers in the artic. Fuel prices may someday make civilian nuclear vessels a reality.


By Scott Harper
The Virginian-Pilot
© May 7, 2008
The Savannah, a historic landmark and the world's first nuclear-powered cargo and passenger ship, is leaving Virginia waters after 14 years.

Its government caretaker, the U.S. Maritime Administration, announced a contract Tuesday worth at least $588,380 to relocate the famous dinosaur from Norfolk to Canton Marine Terminals in Baltimore.

The sleek, white, 596-foot-long vessel is expected to leave local waters this morning about 8 and should be passing over the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel about 10 a.m. on its way up the Chesapeake Bay.

Once towed to Baltimore, the Savannah will be docked "in safe store" on the Patapsco River until Congress appropriates money to finish scrubbing its nuclear innards, said Susan Clark, a spokeswoman for the Maritime Administration.

All nuclear fuel was removed 30 years ago, but tainted equipment and components remain on board, surrounded by 24-inch-thick concrete. The ship still emits low- rade radiation, but at levels comparable to a dental X-ray, according to the Maritime Administration.

The Savannah was launched in 1959 as part of the Atoms for Peace program championed by then-President Eisenhower. The vessel, with its modern yachtlike design and clean-energy propulsion, was touted as a model for future shipping and made international headlines during maiden trips.

It wound up in Virginia in 1994, abandoned and obsolete, and anchored in the James River Reserve Fleet, also known as the "ghost fleet," off Fort Eustis in Newport News.

It underwent about $1 million worth of maintenance at Colonna's Shipyard in Norfolk in 2006. Then last year, BAE Norfolk Ship Repair facility won a $4.1 million contract to dry-dock the ship, undergo inspections and be repaired.

Four companies, including one unnamed business in Norfolk, bid on the latest contract that was awarded Tuesday.

Canton Marine Terminals in Baltimore, a subsidiary of The Vane Brothers Co., will safeguard the Savannah for about three years, under contracts worth at least $588,380 per year.

A Canton spokesman declined to comment on the deal Tuesday.

The U.S. government would "be delighted" to see the Savannah converted into a museum or tourist attraction, but no serious bidders have come forth recently, said Shannon Russell, a Maritime Administration spokeswoman.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission requires the Savannah to be decommissioned of its nuclear past by 2025, Russell said.

Such scrubbing had been a priority after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, she said, when fears were raised that radicals might blow up the Savannah.

But subsequent tests showed "lower radiation levels than we expected," Russell said, and budget priorities shifted.

Scott Harper, (757) 446-2340, scott.harper@pilotonline.com


Anonymous said...

I believe one day the world will go to nuclear cargo ships.. But right now there isn't much rush to do it. Oil for commercial ships is only about 1% of US oil use.

The big one is driving which can be put on nuclear through the electric grid and batteries. A 40 mile range plug-in hybrid car, would reduce the average driver's oil use by about 80%.


Alexandra Prokopenko said...

Here comes current statistics of world nuclear powered ships http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/inf34.html
Russians are on their way to lauch a new version of such vessels into civil use, will come back when I find more information.

rsm said...

There have also been some articles discussing a possible increase in nuclear powered cruisers by the US Navy. These discussions are being driven by expectations that at least some of the oil price increases will remain and make nuclear surface ships more attractive.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for that link Alexandra, I enjoy looking at statistics like that. 150 ships in the world powered by nuclear:). The Russians are leading the way for civilian use of nuclear ships, including those barges they have been working on.

I would like to see nuclear cruise ships, but I think people are irrationaly afraid of them.

rsm, that would make sense. The Navy and its contractors must be quite efficient at building nuclear propulsion too. Another issue is resupplying oil powered ships with oil.


Spencer "Lee" said...

I saw her many times when she was berthed at the Army Cooper River reservation in the 70s.
Beautiful vessal. Something you would have to see to really love.
I hope they put a newer reactor in and return her to service.

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