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N.S. SAVANNAH (Nuclear Merchant Ship)

Newport News, Virginia
County of York.
National Register Number: 82001518
Resource type: Structure.
Property type: Maritime: Vessel. The threat level was Satisfactory in
Congressional District: VA-3 Certified Local Government: NO

Statement of Significance (as of designation - July 17, 1991):
Designed and constructed in the late 1950s as the first nuclear merchant ship, this combination cargo/passenger vessel was developed as part of President Dwight Eisenhower's Atoms for Peace initiative. Even though the market for such vessels never materialized, the design, construction, and operation of a new type of pressurized water reactor, utilizing low-enriched uranium, represented a major technological success. NS SAVANNAH was also a success in accomplishing her unique public relations role as a floating exhibit on the peaceful use of nuclear energy. She sailed 1/2 million miles around the world, and was visited by 1.5 million people. This exposure, unprecedented for a nuclear facility, is credited with easing anxieties over nuclear energy.

The ship is now in the James River reserve fleet.. Because of the presence of radioactivity in the reactor containment area, which will persist for 25-30 years, no alternative reuse is possible. The Maritime Administration has spent $1 million to repair the hull, and conducts underwater inspections once a year and interior inspections four times a year. Once every 10 years the vessel is drydocked for a more thorough inspection. It would cost $30-50 million to remove and properly dispose of the reactor, and the Maritime Association feels that since the reactor is not leaking, this cost cannot be justified. The ship's living quarters are deteriorated, but otherwise her hull is sound.

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