The World’s First Nuclear Merchant Ship – NS Savannah

John Konrad
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July 13, 2010

The Nuclear Ship Savannah

The United States’ first and only nuclear-powered merchant vessel was designed in hopes of finding peaceful uses for nuclear energy as part of President Eisenhower’s Atoms for Peace program in the 1950s.

The ship was launched on 21 July 1959 at a cost of $46.9 million, which included a $28.3 million nuclear reactor and fuel core. At 596-feet-long she was the pride of the fleet with sleek lines like that of an oceangoing yacht. During her short 5 years of service (1965-1970) she saved over 29 million gallons of fuel oil, but her high maintenance overhead led to her downfall.

In 1981, the Savannah was brought back to her cold war glory by re-activating her as a museum ship offering Americans a glimpse into the atomic age. Visitors could walk the ship’s decks and even tour the reactor from an observation window as well as look into staterooms and passenger areas.  In 1994 her charter was terminated. The Maritime Administration, who is responsible for overseeing the Savannah, had the ship moved to Baltimore where she remains under a 3-year, $588,380 U.S. Maritime Administration contract with the Vane Brothers’ shipyard at the Baltimore’s Canton Marine Terminal.

The U.S. 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 theSAVANNAH‘s operating license terminated no later than December 2031.”

Photos via HNSA:

Interesting Facts

  • She earned nearly $12,000,000 in revenue.
  • She sailed over 450,000 miles in her five years of merchant service (1965 to 1970).
  • She required a crew of more than 100 mariners.
  • The Army considered using her as a power plant for use during national emergencies.
  • She is being reconditioned primarily due to post 9/11 security concerns.

NS Savannah Documentary – Once Upon A Nuclear Ship

Nixon’s Moscow Mission; Nuclear Ship Comissioned 1959/7/23

N/S Savannah Underway

N/S Savannah with tugs

N/S Savannah underway

A Look At Her Reactors

N/S Savannah cut-out view of reactors
Maintaining Savannah's Nuclear Reactors

Photos Of Her Today

N/S Savannah 2006

Other Nuclear Merchant Ships

N/S Otto Hahn
Germany’s N/S Otto Hahn

Russian Nuclear Drillship Sevmorput
Russia’s 1988 Nuclear Cargo ship and now drillship N/S Sevorput

Nuclear Icebreakers

Russian Nuclear Icebreaker
Russia has built a number of modern nuclear icebreakers including the Yamal.


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