RETURN TO THE HOMEPAGE                                                                                                                                                                                                           Nuclear Ship SAVANNAH 1959

The nuclear ship Savannah was built in 1959 by the New York Shipbuilding Corporation, Camden, New Jersey, USA for the U.S. Maritime Administration. She was a product of President Eisenhower's famous "Atoms for Peace" initiative and was designed as a  passenger cargo combi liner. She served as a roving goodwill ship as well as demonstrating the application of nuclear propulsion to commercial shipping. She was indeed the world's first nuclear powered merchant ship.

"Atoms for Peace" initiative (1953 - 1955):

President Dwight D. Eisenhower's "Atoms for Peace" speech at the United Nations on the 8th December 1953 was received throughout the world with hope and anticipation. His famous speech was as follows:

Click this link below to listen to the "Atoms for Peace" speech:

"Madam President and Members of the General Assembly; when Secretary General Hammarskjold's invitation to address the General Assembly reached me in Bermuda, I was just beginning a series of conferences with the Prime Ministers and Foreign Ministers of the United Kingdom and France. Our subject was some of the problems that beset our world. During the remainder of the Bermuda Conference, I had constantly in mind that ahead of me lay a great honour. That honour is mine today as I stand here, privileged to address the General Assembly of the United Nations.

At the same time that I appreciate the distinction of addressing you, I have a sense of exhilaration as I look upon this Assembly. Never before in history has so much hope for so many people been gathered together in a single organization. Your deliberations and decisions during these sombre years have already realized part of those hopes.

But the great tests and the great accomplishments still lie ahead. And in the confident expectation of those accomplishments, I would use the office which, for the time being, I hold, to assure you that the Government of the United States will remain steadfast in its support of this body. This we shall do in the conviction that you will provide a great share of the wisdom, of the courage and of the faith which can bring to this world lasting peace for all nations, and happiness and well-being for all men.

Clearly, it would not be fitting for me to take this occasion to present to you a unilateral American report on Bermuda. Nevertheless, I assure you that in our deliberations on that lovely island we sought to invoke those same great concepts of universal peace and human dignity which are so clearly etched in your Charter. Neither would it be a measure of this great opportunity to recite, however hopefully, pious platitudes. I therefore decided that this occasion warranted my saying to you some of the things that have been on the minds and hearts of my legislative and executive associates, and on mine, for a great many months: thoughts I had originally planned to say primarily to the American people.

I know that the American people share my deep belief that if a danger exists in the world, it is a danger shared by all; and equally, that if hope exists in the mind of one nation, that hope should be shared by all. Finally, if there is to be advanced any proposal designed to ease even by the smallest measure the tensions of today's world, what more appropriate audience could there be than the members of the General Assembly of the United Nations.

I feel impelled to speak today in a language that in a sense is new, one which I, who have spent so much of my life in the military profession, would have preferred never to use. That new language is the language of atomic warfare.

The atomic age has moved forward at such a pace that every citizen of the world should have some comprehension, at least in comparative terms, of the extent of this development, of the utmost significance to every one of us. Clearly, if the peoples of the world are to conduct an intelligent search for peace, they must be armed with the significant facts of today's existence.

My recital of atomic danger and power is necessarily stated in United States terms, for these are the only incontrovertible facts that I know, I need hardly point out to this Assembly, however, that this subject is global, not merely national in character.

On 16 July 1945, the United States set off the world's biggest atomic explosion. Since that date in 1945, the United States of America has conducted forty-two test explosions. Atomic bombs are more than twenty-five times as powerful as the weapons with which the atomic age dawned, while hydrogen weapons are in the ranges of millions of tons of TNT equivalent.

Today, the United States stockpile of atomic weapons, which, of course, increases daily, exceeds by many times the total equivalent of the total of all bombs and all shells that came from every plane and every gun in every theatre of war in all the years of the Second World War. A single air group whether afloat or land based, can now deliver to any reachable target a destructive cargo exceeding in power all the bombs that fell on Britain in all the Second World War.

In size and variety, the development of atomic weapons has been no less remarkable. The development has been such that atomic weapons have virtually achieved conventional status within our armed services. In the United States, the Army, the Navy, the Air Force and the Marine Corps are all capable of putting this weapon to military use.

But the dread secret and the fearful engines of atomic might are not ours alone.

In the first place, the secret is possessed by our friends and allies, the United Kingdom and Canada, whose scientific genius made a tremendous contribution to our original discoveries and the designs of atomic bombs.

The secret is also known by the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union has informed us that, over recent years, it has devoted extensive resources to atomic weapons. During this period the Soviet Union has exploded a series of atomic devices, including at least one involving thermo-nuclear reactions.

If at one time the United States possessed what might have been called a monopoly of atomic power, that monopoly ceased to exist several years ago. Therefore, although our earlier start has permitted us to accumulate what is today a great quantitative advantage, the atomic realities of today comprehend two facts of even greater significance. First, the knowledge now possessed by several nations will eventually be shared by others, possibly all others.

Second, even a vast superiority in numbers of weapons, and a consequent capability of devastating retaliation, is no preventive, of itself, against the fearful material damage and toll of human lives that would be inflicted by surprise aggression.

The free world, at least dimly aware of these facts, has naturally embarked on a large programme of warning and defence systems. That programme will be accelerated and extended. But let no one think that the expenditure of vast sums for weapons and systems of defence can guarantee absolute safety for the cities and citizens of any nation. The awful arithmetic of the atomic bomb does not permit of any such easy solution. Even against the most powerful defence, an aggressor in possession of the effective minimum number of atomic bombs for a surprise attack could probably place a sufficient number of his bombs on the chosen targets to cause hideous damage.

Should such an atomic attack be launched against the United States, our reactions would be swift and resolute. But for me to say that the defence capabilities of the United States are such that they could inflict terrible losses upon an aggressor, for me to say that the retaliation capabilities of the United States are so great that such an aggressor's land would be laid waste, all this, while fact, is not the true expression of the purpose and the hopes of the United States.

To pause there would be to confirm the hopeless finality of a belief that two atomic colossi are doomed malevolently to eye each other indefinitely across a trembling world. To stop there would be to accept helplessly the probability of civilization destroyed, the annihilation of the irreplaceable heritage of mankind handed down to us from generation to generation, and the condemnation of mankind to begin all over again the age-old struggle upward from savagery towards decency, and right, and justice. Surely no sane member of the human race could discover victory in such desolation. Could anyone wish his name to be coupled by history with such human degradation and destruction? Occasional pages of history do record the faces of the "great destroyers", but the whole book of history reveals mankind's never-ending quest for peace and mankind's God-given capacity to build.

It is with the book of history, and not with isolated pages, that the United States will ever wish to be identified. My country wants to be constructive, not destructive. It wants agreements, not wars, among nations. It wants itself to live in freedom and in the confidence that the peoples of every other nation enjoy equally the right of choosing their own way of life.

So my country's purpose is to help us to move out of the dark chamber of horrors into the light, to find a way by which the minds of men, the hopes of men, the souls of men everywhere, can move forward towards peace and happiness and well-being.

In this quest, I know that we must not lack patience. I know that in a world divided, such as ours today, salvation cannot be attained by one dramatic act. I know that many steps will have to be taken over many months before the world can look at itself one day and truly realize that a new climate of mutually peaceful confidence is abroad in the world. But I know, above all else, that we must start to take these steps - now.

The United States and its allies, the United Kingdom and France, have over the past months tried to take some of these steps. Let no one say that we shun the conference table. On the record has long stood the request of the United States, the United Kingdom and France to negotiate with the Soviet Union the problems of a divided Germany. On that record has long stood the request of the same three nations to negotiate an Austrian peace treaty. On the same record still stands the request of the United Nations to negotiate the problems of Korea.

Most recently we have received from the Soviet Union what is in effect an expression of willingness to hold a four-Power meeting. Along with our allies, the United Kingdom and France, we were pleased to see that this note did not contain the unacceptable pre-conditions previously put forward. As you already know from our joint Bermuda communique, the United States, the United Kingdom and France have agreed promptly to meet with the Soviet Union.

The Government of the United States approaches this conference with hopeful sincerity. We will bend every effort of our minds to the single purpose of emerging from that conference with tangible results towards peace, the only true way of lessening international tension.

We never have, and never will, propose or suggest that the Soviet Union surrender what rightly belongs to it. We will never say that the peoples of the USSR are an enemy with whom we have no desire ever to deal or mingle in friendly and fruitful relationship.

On the contrary, we hope that this coming conference may initiate a relationship with the Soviet Union which will eventually bring about a freer mingling of the peoples of the East and of the West - the one sure, human way of developing the understanding required for confident and peaceful relations.

Instead of the discontent which is now settling upon Eastern Germany, occupied Austria and the countries of Eastern Europe, we seek a harmonious family of free European nations, with none a threat to the other, and least of all a threat to the peoples of the USSR. Beyond the turmoil and strife and misery of Asis, we seek peaceful opportunity for these peoples to develop their natural resources and to elevate their lot.

These are not idle words or shallow visions. Behind them lies a story of nations lately come to independence, not as a result of war, but through free grant or peaceful negotiation. There is a record already written of assistance gladly given by nations of the West to needy peoples and to those suffering the temporary effects of famine, drought and natural disaster. These are deeds of peace. They speak more loudly than promises or protestations of peaceful intent.

But I do not wish to rest either upon the reiteration of past proposals or the restatement of past deeds. The gravity of the time is such that every new avenue of peace, no matter how dimly discernible, should be explored.

There is at least one new avenue of peace which has not been well explored - an avenue now laid out by the General Assembly of the United Nations.
In its resolution of 28 November 1953 (resolution 715 (VIII)) this General Assembly suggested: "that the Disarmament Commission study the desirability of establishing a sub-committee consisting of representatives of the Powers principally involved, which should seek in private an acceptable solution and report...on such a solution to the General Assembly and to the Security Council not later than 1 September 1954.

The United States, heeding the suggestion of the General Assembly of the United Nations, is instantly prepared to meet privately with such other countries as may be "principally involved", to seek "an acceptable solution" to the atomic armaments race which overshadows not only the peace, but the very life, of the world.

We shall carry into these private or diplomatic talks a new conception. The United States would seek more than the mere reduction or elimination of atomic materials for military purposes. It is not enough to take this weapon out of the hands of the soldiers. It must be put into the hands of those who will know how to strip its military casing and adapt it to the arts of peace.

The United States knows that if the fearful trend of atomic military build-up can be reversed, this greatest of destructive forces can be developed into a great boon, for the benefit of all mankind. The United States knows that peaceful power from atomic energy is no dream of the future. The capability, already proved, is here today. Who can doubt that, if the entire body of the world's scientists and engineers had adequate amounts of fissionable material with which to test and develop their ideas, this capability would rapidly be transformed into universal, efficient and economic usage?

To hasten the day when fear of the atom will begin to disappear from the minds the people and the governments of the East and West, there are certain steps that can be taken now.

I therefore make the following proposal.

The governments principally involved, to the extent permitted by elementary prudence, should begin now and continue to make joint contributions from their stockpiles of normal uranium and fissionable materials to an international atomic energy agency. We would expect that such an agency would be set up under the aegis of the United Nations. The ratios of contributions, the procedures and other details would properly be within the scope of the "private conversations" I referred to earlier.

The United States is prepared to undertake these explorations in good faith. Any partner of the United States acting in the same good faith will find the United States a not unreasonable or ungenerous associate.

Undoubtedly, initial and early contributions to this plan would be small in quantity. However, the proposal has the great virtue that it can be undertaken without the irritations and mutual suspicions incident to any attempt to set up a completely acceptable system of world-wide inspection and control.

The atomic energy agency could be made responsible for the impounding, storage and protection of the contributed fissionable and other materials. The ingenuity of our scientists will provide special safe conditions under which such a bank of fissionable material can be made essentially immune to surprise seizure.

The more important responsibility of this atomic energy agency would be to devise methods whereby this fissionable material would be allocated to serve the peaceful pursuits of mankind. Experts would be mobilized to apply atomic energy to the needs of agriculture, medicine and other peaceful activities. A special purpose would be to provide abundant electrical energy in the power-starved areas of the world.

Thus the contributing Powers would be dedicating some of their strength to serve the needs rather than the fears of mankind.

The United States would be more than willing - it would be proud to take up with others "principally involved" the development of plans whereby such peaceful use of atomic energy would be expedited.

Of those "principally involved" the Soviet Union must, of course, be one.

I would be prepared to submit to the Congress of the United States, and with every expectation of approval, any such plan that would, first, encourage world-wide investigation into the most effective peacetime uses of fissionable material, and with the certainty that the investigators had all the material needed for the conducting of all experiments that were appropriate; second, begin to diminish the potential destructive power of the world's atomic stockpiles; third, allow all peoples of all nations to see that, in this enlightened age, the great Powers of the earth, both of the East and of the West, are interested in human aspirations first rather than in building up the armaments of war; fourth, open up a new channel for peaceful discussion and initiative at least a new approach to the many difficult problems that must be solved in both private and public conversations if the world is to shake off the inertia imposed by fear and is to make positive progress towards peace.

Against the dark background of the atomic bomb, the United States does not wish merely to present strength, but also the desire and the hope for peace. The coming months will be fraught with fateful decisions. In this Assembly, in the capitals and military headquarters of the world, in the hearts of men everywhere, be they governed or governors, may they be the decisions which will lead this world out of fear and into peace.

To the making of these fateful decisions, the United States pledges before you, and therefore before the world, its determination to help solve the fearful atomic dilemma - to devote its entire heart and mind to finding the way by which the miraculous inventiveness of man shall not be dedicated to his death, but consecrated to his life.

I again thank representatives for the great honour they have done me in inviting me to appear before them and in listening to me so graciously."

Speech by President Dwight D. Eisenhower to the United Nations General Assembly, New York, 8th December 1953

Even before becoming President, America's only General / President of the 20th century fully understood the risks in the escalation of nuclear arsenals. While no doubt prepared to use these nuclear weapons if necessary, President Eisenhower also supported several policy initiatives designed to keep the "atomic genie" under control.

In the first year of his Presidency, Eisenhower introduced "Operation Candor". He believed that a more open presentation of the increasingly catastrophic implications of nuclear conflict would yield a more sober attitude towards the importance of improved global relations.

As part of his "atoms for peace" speech, Eisenhower included various forms of international cooperation. One of the main ones was a call for the donation of "fissile" material from nuclear nations. This pool of material was to be administered by an international atomic energy agency under the auspices of the United Nations. They would make it available to non-nuclear nations for research, power generation and medical purposes. As originally conceived this programme could conceivable result in nuclear disarmament, whereby the world's nuclear capabilities would ultimately be diverted from national military stockpiles to an international energy pool. Some described this programme as "a Marshall Plan for atomic energy".

Eisenhower also sought to reduce the monopoly of government sponsored development and ownership of this new technology in the USA. The demonstrated adaptation of nuclear power for commercial purposes, it was hoped, would convince private industry to commit its own resources to further development. In addition to demonstration land-based nuclear power generating plans, the Eisenhower Administration approved the development of an experimental nuclear powered merchant ship.

This was conceived by President Eisenhower as a nuclear powered "peace ship" or roving goodwill ship to build worldwide support for the non-military benefits of nuclear power. This concept eventually became a combination passenger / cargo ocean liner to serve as a roving goodwill ship as well as to demonstrate the application of nuclear propulsion to commercial shipping. Also the original plan to copy the US Navy's USS Nautilus nuclear reactor was replaced by a plan to design a new reactor design, untarnished by any direct association with military technology and designed to meet commercial requirements.

As a result the key goals of the nuclear merchant ship project were as follows:

1. To demonstrate to the world the employment of nuclear power in an instrument of peace for the benefit of mankind.
2. To bring the power of the atom into the market places of the world in peaceful trade and commerce.
3. To enlighten the public to the fact that nuclear-powered ships are entirely dependable and safe.
4. To stimulate early solutions to such problems as international liability and indemnification, and, win for nuclear ships, acceptance in the world's ports.
5. To give the U.S. Maritime Administration and the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission the opportunity for prudently assessing the possible contributions of atomic power to the progress of the American Merchant Marine in providing shipping services on routes essential for maintaining the flow of the foreign commerce of the United States.

Therefore this ship was never intended to be commercially viable and was purely designed as a demonstration and goodwill ship. However the combination of the public relations mission with that of a cargo vessel compromised the commercial viability of her design. However in the end the ship was successful in accomplishing her intended goals.

Design and Construction (1955 - 1962):

On the 25th April 1955 (less than seven months after launching the world's first nuclear vessel, the submarine USS Nautilus), President Eisenhower announced his plans to build a nuclear powered merchant ship. The development of Nuclear Ship SAVANNAH was authorised by Congress in July 1956 and put under the joint direction of the U.S. Maritime Administration (MARAD) and the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission.

The Nuclear Ship SAVANNAH was named after the S.S. Savannah, the first steamship to make a transatlantic voyage in 1819. This 110ft long paddle steamer contained a one-cylinder, 90 horsepower engine as well as three full-rigged masts of sail. Burdened with as much fuel as she could stow, she carried virtually no cargo. Yet, during much of her four week voyage from New York to Liverpool, she was under sail to conserve fuel. despite the S.S. Savannah's accomplishment, she was not soon followed by other ocean going steamships. In fact she operated as a sailing ship for her final years and her engine was removed. It was hoped that this new Savannah would honour the first Savannah, both with revolutionary propulsion systems, and be more appreciated than her predecessor had been. Sadly in this regard the Nuclear Ship SAVANNAH would have much in common with her predecessor.

The design for the Savannah's nuclear plant placed safety and reliability above efficiency and economics. A primary goal was to design and operate a nuclear maritime vessel which was safe to the crew, the passengers and the public. Duplication of components and backup systems was used to enhance the ship's safety. She was built to the requirements of the applicable codes of the U.S. Coast Guard, the American Bureau of Shipping, the U.S. Maritime Administration, the U.S. Public Health Service, the AIEE Marine Code, and the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission.

The Savannah was designed by George G. Sharp Inc. of New York. She was constructed by the New York Shipbuilding Corporation in Camden, New Jersey. The primary contractor for the design and construction of the nuclear power plant was Babcock & Wilcox. The De Laval Steam Turbine Company was the subcontractor for the engine room turbines and gears. The original operating agent for the ship was States Marine Lines Inc.

With the wave of an "atomic wand" the keel was laid by Patricia Nixon, wife of Vice President Richard Nixon, on Maritime Day 22nd May 1958. When the wand, with its small amount of radioactive material, activated the clicking noise of a Geiger counter, a crane operator was cued to swing the first keel section into place.

The hull was constructed using conventional methods. The reactor and the containment vessel, however, required special procedures. A full scale mock up of the reactor plant, surrounded by an outlined skeleton, representing the containment vessel, was constructed at the Camden shipyard while the ship was under construction. This minimised unforseen problems and helped train the crew. A control panel identical to the one of the ship was also provided.

While the ship was under construction, civilian deck and engineering personnel began special training for their new duties on the world's first commercial nuclear vessel. Engineers from other countries were also included in early training sessions to promote the international advantages of the peaceful atom.

On the 21st July 1959, Mrs Dwight D. Eisenhower christened the world's first nuclear merchant ship. During the next two and a half years the ship underwent final fitting out and installation of the reactor, systems testing, nuclear fuel insertion, power tests and sea trials before delivery of the ship was made to the operating company. On the 31st January 1962, Captain Gaston DeGroote assumed command of the ship and, under temporary oil fired auxiliary steam power, sailed the Savannah to Yorktown, Virginia, USA for additional testing and modifications during sea trials. The reactor was tested at the quayside and at sea at less than full power, until the first week of April, when it was brought up to full power. She was then run at speeds in excess of 22 knots. On the 1st May 1962, the Savannah was accepted by the U.S. Maritime Administration (MARAD) and delivered by them to the operator, States Marine Lines Inc.

Video of the launch of the Nuclear Ship Savannah on the 21 July 1959

Operational Career at Sea (1962 - 1971):

The ship's operational demonstration phase began three months later, when on the 20th August, she set sail for her home port of Savannah, Georgia, USA. Initially she was substantially overmanned for safety reasons, but later the crew was cut to 124 - 27 in the Deck Department, 35 in the Engine Department, 49 Stewards, and 13 in various support functions (including one senior nuclear advisor and three health physics monitors).

By the time Savannah had completed her sea trials, the US Navy had added more than a dozen nuclear submarines to join the USS Nautilus. They also had the guided missile cruiser USS Long Beach (the U.S. Navy's first nuclear powered surface ship) and the first nuclear powered aircraft carrier, the USS Enterprise. Meanwhile the Soviet Union also had nuclear submarines and a nuclear icebreaker.

On the first leg of her voyage, the ship and crew suffered embarrassment after a faulty pressure indicator initiated a reactor "scam". Unfortunately this caused the media to mistakenly report that the ship had suffered a major nuclear failure!

The operators were delighted that the power plant exceeded the projected 20,000 shaft horsepower by more than 10%. As a result instead of a speed of 20 knots she cruised along steadily at 24 knots.

As the first of her kind, Savannah broke new ground in establishing various types of operating procedures. New rules governing the operation and docking of commercial nuclear vessels at domestic US and foreign ports emphasised safety from potential nuclear hazards. In each port she visited, arrangements were made to have stand-by tugs to move the ship out to sea in the event of a nuclear accident. Of concern to foreign authorities was the potential liability associated with nuclear ship operation. While no private insurance was provided for Savannah, the US Government bolstered the ship's acceptability to foreign authorities by extending the provisions of the Price-Anderson Act. This Act provided a $500 million indemnification to cover claims filed against AEC-licensed facilities by victims of nuclear accidents.

Savannah's accomplishments in securing permission to enter foreign ports had implications beyond future prospects for a nuclear maritime fleet. Breaking ground with a ship with peaceful purposes, which was engineered under rigorous safety guidelines, undoubtedly paved the way for the worldwide acceptance of America's growing nuclear U.S. Navy fleet as well including its large fleet of nuclear aircraft carriers.

After cruising through the Panama Canal and port visits along the U.S. West Coast and Hawaii, Savannah became a popular exhibit at the 1962 Seattle World Fair during a three week visit. In early 1963 she returned to her special facilities at Galveston for a 30,000 mile check up, which included general system upgrading and miscellaneous repair work. In addition she underwent her annual U.S. Coast Guard and American Bureau of Shipping certifications.

While this work was underway, a labour dispute erupted and this caused the engineers to shut down the reactor in protest. As a result the U.S. Maritime Administration was forced to cancel its contract with States Marine Lines and instead selected American Export Lines as the new ship operator. Unfortunately this resulted in a need to train new crew and this interrupted the Savannah's schedule for nearly a year.

In spring 1964 the Savannah was underway again with a tour of the U.S. Gulf Coast and East Coast ports. She then began her maiden transatlantic voyage later that summer sailing from New York to Bremerhaven in 10 days. She toured Bremerhaven, Hamburg, Dublin and Southampton and 150,000 people visited the ship.

Before these port visits overseas, representatives from the US Department of Commerce and the ship's operating company travelled to meet with officials at each port to help satisfy the authorities about the ship's operations.

After travelling 90,000 miles and hosting 1.4 million visitors, Savannah's passenger / cargo demonstration phase was completed in 1965. She had visited 28 domestic and 18 foreign ports in 13 countries. She had carried 848 passengers and 4,800 tons of cargo. In preparation for Savannah's commercial demonstration phase as a cargo ship, her passenger spaces were sealed up and 1,800 tons of solid ballast were removed. American Export Lines set up a subsidiary company, First Atomic Ship Transport Inc., which was licensed to operate the ship for three years as a cargo vessel.

In September 1965, Savannah departed New York on her first commercial cargo voyage with a capacity load of 10,000 tons of general cargo. During 1967 her cargo activity generated $2,600,000 in revenue. While performing as a cargo vessel, Savannah also continued her goodwill ambassador role in visits to ports in Europe, Africa and the Far East.

After travelling 350,000 miles (the equivalent of nearly 14 times around the world), Savannah returned to Galveston in late 1968 for maintenance and her first refueling. Although a complete reactor core was ready for installation, it was not needed. Only four of the original 32 fuel bundles needed replacing. The remaining bundles were rearranged to compensate for variations in fissioning activity depending on their original proximity to the core's centre.

Then the US Defence Department decided that oil fired freighters were more cost effective than nuclear ships. Also financial constraints caused by the Vietnam War forced the nuclear merchant programme to be cut back. The ship operators continued to describe her as "the most reliable ship we have operating", the U.S. Maritime Administration decided that little more could be gained from the project and proposed the ship's retirement.

By late 1970, Savannah had travelled more than 450,000 miles to 32 domestic ports, and 45 foreign ports in 26 countries. The 163 pounds of uranium she consumed was estimated to have provided the equivalent power of nearly 29 million gallons of fuel oil. Included in Savannah's accomplishments was the production of nearly $12 million in revenue during her first five years of cargo operation (1965 to 1970).

So in the end the Savannah was deactiviated and withdrawn from service in late 1971. This process involved removal of her nuclear fuel and partial decommissioning of her nuclear reactor. Sadly the Savannah did not give rise to a vast generation of nuclear merchant ships. Also Savannah's design as a conventional passenger / cargo ship was soon elipsed by the container ship revolution that soon came to dominate shipping. Also the lack of a fleet of truly commercial nuclear ships in the USA was influenced no doubt by the lack of federal subsidy. Also concern about nuclear power continued and operating costs were high. So while the Savannah did not give rise to a fleet of commercial nuclear merchant ships, she did successfully accomplish her intended goals and demonstrated to the world the peaceful potential of atomic energy.

Nuclear Ship Savannah - Trailer to "Once Upon a Nuclear Ship" TV Documentary

Preservation (1971 - 1994):

After the Savannah was withdrawn from service and deactivated, she was presented to Savannah, Georgia in early 1972 so that she could form part of a planned Eisenhower Peace Memorial. However sadly this memorial never materialized. Several years later, Congress passed public law 96-331, which authorised the Secretary of Commerce to transfer the ship (under bare boat charter) to the Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum in South Carolina. Therefore since late 1981 the Savannah served as a floating historic ship and museum in Charleston Habour as part of the Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum collection. On the 14th November 1982 the ship was listed on the National Register of Historic Places and in 1983 she was dedicated as an International Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. In 1991 her status was upgraded from just listing on the National Register of Historic Places to full designation as a National Historic Landmark.

Long Term Retention Storage (1994 - Present):

In 1993 the U.S. Maritime Administration (MARAD) who remained responsible for the ship's maintenance decided to dry dock the ship for maintance after her condition had deteriorated. At that point the Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum decided to exercise their right to terminate their charter agreement and after the dry docking in Baltimore in 1994 the ship was laid up in the James River Reserve Fleet near Newport News, Virginia, USA for long term retention. She has remained there ever since in the care of her owners the U.S. Maritime Administration (MARAD).

In early 2002 the U.S. Maritime Administration decided to proceed with full decommissioning of the ship’s remaining nuclear components, and termination of its Nuclear Regulatory Commission-issued facility license.  After a series of planning studies and radiological scoping surveys were completed, the Savannah was removed from the reserve fleet in August 2006 to begin physical preparations for the future decommissioning activities.This refit and refurbishment work was carried out at BAE Systems Norfolk Ship Repair, Norfolk, Virginia, USA in late 2007.

This maintenance availability was the first out-of-water examination for the Savannah since 1994.  The Savannah’s hull is protected by an active cathodic protection system, and is inspected annually by divers.  It has also been ultrasonically gauged from inside the ship.  MARAD's planning interval for drydocking the Savannah ranges from 10 to 15 years.

The refit work included a full exterior repair and this will help maintain the ship's structural integrity into the future. Savannah's Nuclear Regulatory Commission license defines the ship’s exterior perimeter as the licensed site boundary, so the hull must be maintained by MARAD at least until the NRC license is terminated.  NRC regulations require the Savannah’s license to be terminated no later than January 2031.

Once this dry docking and refit work has been completed by BAE Systems Norfolk Ship Repair, the Savannah will have been made fully clean and weather tight and in sound structural condition. This wil enable the work to fully decommission her nuclear reactor to start. This will involve
the decontamination, dismantling, remediation and disposal of the remaining nuclear systems, equipment and components that formed the ship's nuclear power plant. 

The Savannah is presently located in the Port of Baltimore, Maryland, under a long-term layberth contract with Canton Marine Terminals. The Savannah Technical Staff of the Office of Ship Disposal manages the activities onboard the ship, with strong emphasis on licensed facility operations and pre-decommissioning planning. The Maritime Administration intends to maintain the Savannah in protective storage for some years into the future; however, under current law and regulation the decommissioning process must be completed and the Savannah’s operating license terminated no later than December 2031.

After that it is likely that the U.S. Maritime Administration (MARAD) will offer the ship for preservation as she is a registered National Historic Landmark. Thus she will live on for present and future generations as a lasting symbol of President Eisenhower's "Atoms for Peace" initiative and as a platform for debating the merits of nuclear energy.

Useful Documents:

National Historical Landmark Nomination Document

NS Savannah 50th Anniversary, 21 July 2009


Nuclear Ship Savannah and the NS Savannah Associates Inc.

MARAD Nuclear Ship Savannah Decommissioning Programme

(c) The AJN Transport Britain Collection 2008                                                                                                                                                                                 A Edward Elliott