Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
NS Savannah, named for SS Savannah, the first steam-powered vessel to cross the Atlantic Ocean, was the first nuclear-powered cargo-passenger ship, one of only four nuclear-powered cargo ships ever built.
In 1955, President of the United States Dwight Eisenhower proposed building a nuclear powered merchant ship. The next year, Congress authorized NS Savannah as a joint project of the Atomic Energy Commission, the Maritime Administration, and the Department of Commerce. She was designed by George G. Sharp, Incorporated, of New York City. Her keel was laid down by the New York Shipbuilding Corporation at Camden, New Jersey. Her nuclear reactor was manufactured by Babcock & Wilcox. She was launched on 23 March 1962 sponsored by First Lady of the United States Mamie Eisenhower as a showcase for President Eisenhower's "Atoms of Peace" initiative.
Savannah was a demonstration of the technical feasibility of nuclear propulsion for merchant ships and was not expected to be commercially competitive. She was designed to be visually impressive, looking more like a luxury yacht than a bulk cargo vessel, and equipped with 30 air-conditioned staterooms, each with an individual bath, a dining facility that could seat 100 passengers, a lounge that could double as a movie theater, a veranda, a swimming pool and a library. By many measures, the ship was a success. She performed well at sea, her safety record was impressive, her fuel economy was unsurpassed, and her gleaming white paint was never smudged by exhaust smoke. Even her cargo handling equipment was designed to look good. From 1965 to 1971, Savannah operated in the revenue cargo service.
However, Savannah's cargo space was limited to 8,500 tons of freight in 652,000 cubic feet (18,000 m³). Many of her competitors could accommodate several times as much cargo. Her streamlined hull made loading the forward holds laborious, which became a significant disadvantage as ports became more and more automated. Her crew was a third larger than comparable oil-fired ships. Her operating budget included the maintenance of a separate shore organization for negotiating her port visits and a personalized shipyard facility for completing any needed repairs. The on-board crew received special training after completing all training requirements for conventional maritime licenses.
No ship with these disadvantages could hope to be commercially successful. Her passenger space was wasted while her cargo capacity was insufficient. As a result of her design handicaps, Savannah cost approximately US$2 million more per year in operating subsidies than a similarly sized Mariner-class ship with an oil-fired steam plant. The Maritime Administration decommissioned her in 1972 to save costs, a decision that made sense when fuel oil cost US$20 per ton. In 1974, however, when fuel oil cost $80 per ton, Savannah's operating costs would have been no greater than a conventional cargo ship. (Maintenance and eventual disposal are other issues, of course.)
- Displacement: 22,000 tons
- Length: 596 ft (180 m) overall
- Beam: 78 ft (23.8 m)
- Complement: 124 crew, 60 passengers
- Cruising Speed: 21 knots (40 km/h)
- Top Speed: 24 knots (47 km/h)
- Power: 74 MW, 20,300 hp to a single propeller
- Load carrying capacity: 14,040 tons
- Watertight compartments: 14
- Loading spaces: 6
- Reactor Manufacturer: Babcock & Wilcox
- Builders: New York Shipbuilding, Camden, NJ
- See also: List of Civilian Nuclear Ships
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