ANS - American Nuclear Society

01/11/2023 | News release | Distributed by Public on 01/11/2023 09:44

World’s first nuclear-powered merchant ship to be decommissioned

The U.S. Department of Transportation has drafted a programmatic agreement (PA) on the decommissioning the NS Savannah, the world's first nuclear-powered merchant ship. Christened in 1959 under President Dwight Eisenhower's "Atoms for Peace" initiative, which challenged world leaders to develop peaceful uses of nuclear power, the ship served as a demonstration project for the potential maritime use of nuclear energy.

The Maritime Administration (MARAD), the branch of DOT that operated Savannah, continues to hold a license issued by the NRC to possess and dismantle a non-operational nuclear reactor aboard the vessel. Decommissioning is part of the termination of MARAD's license. The draft PA, which is among MARAD, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP), and the Maryland State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO), outlines MARAD's proposed plan to preserve as much of the ship's historic value as possible during the decommissioning process.

On March 23, 1962, the NS Savannah became the first nuclear merchant ship at sea. MARAD operated Savannah from 1962 to 1970 as one of four nuclear-powered cargo ships ever built. The vessel is equipped with a nuclear power plant comprised of one 80 MWth pressurized water nuclear reactor, two primary coolant loops and steam generators; one pressurizer, and other systems and components.

During its time as an active merchant vessel, Savannah sailed more than 450,000 miles, serving as both a passenger cargo ship and a nuclear power educational ambassador. Savannah was registered as a National Historic Landmark (NHL) in 1991 for "exhibiting exceptional value in illustrating nuclear, maritime, transportation, and political heritages of the United States."

Rather than intended as a profitable enterprise, NS Savannah was an experiment designed to show that the U.S. was committed to Atoms for Peace ideals. Savannah proved without question that a nuclear re actor could power a commercial ship. (Incredibly, the ship's powerful nuclear engine could allow it to sail the earth 14 times at 20 knots without refueling.) Still, MARAD retired the ship after only ten years because its hybrid design as a passenger-cargo vessel was not economically viable. It did not lead to an effort to build a fleet of nuclear-powered vessels, as originally hoped. Savannah remained a one-of-a-kind project.

After a decade of demonstrations and operations, Savannah was defueled and retired from active service in 1971. It was then partially decommissioned and rendered permanently inoperable in 1976, and placed into a condition of mothballed protective storage (long-term protective storage). Since 2008, it has been moored at Pier 13 of the Canton Marine Terminal in Baltimore, Maryland.

Preserving history: The facility will remain under NRC regimen as DOT implements the decommissioning. To minimize harm to Savannah as a NHL, MARAD intends to adopt a set of guiding principles designed to minimally impact surrounding spaces and the historic fabric of the NHL. These principles ensure that future preservation is the top priority.

MARAD also consulted with the American Nuclear Society, the Smithsonian Institution, the Steam Ship Historical Society of America, the N/S Savannah Association, and the National Museum of Nuclear Science and History and invited them to sign the PA as concurring parties.

The decommissioning will involve dismantling, decontaminating, and disposing of the remaining systems, structures, and components comprising the nuclear power plant. Once its license is terminated, MARAD will proceed with the disposition of Savannah.

MARAD will seek public interest to determine the future of the vessel. It is considering several practical, cost-effective options for responsible disposition that can also provide environmental and economic benefits to the U.S. One option is ship donation, where an organization may choose to establish the Savannah as a museum, honoring the history of the ship and preserving it as a source of education and enjoyment for future generations. Another option is artificial reefing, to strengthen marine habitats, enhance recreational fishing and diving, and reduce beach erosion. Finally, recycling the Savannah would allow for the collection of historic artifacts, repurposing of components, and reuse of valuable steel.

MARAD is inviting the public to comment on the draft PA. Please provide any comments to NS Savannah senior technical advisor, Erhard Koehler at [email protected] by January 31, 2023.

To learn more about NS Savannah, visit