EnergySolutions and RSCS team up to decommission NS Savannah

March 31, 2022, 9:30AMRadwaste Solutions
NS Savannah at Pier 13 in Baltimore, Md., in 2012.

Utah-based EnergySolutions is joining Radiation Safety and Control Services (RSCS) in the decommissioning of NS Savannah, the world’s first nuclear-powered merchant ship, currently berthed at the Port of Baltimore in Maryland. EnergySolutions announced on March 29 that a joint venture of the two companies, Nuclear Ship Support Services, is conducting the final phases of decommissioning the ship’s reactor, which was defueled in 1975 but remains in place.

The ship, one of only four nuclear-powered cargo ships ever built, was in service between 1962 and 1972. It will be preserved for future use as a museum following decommissioning. According to EnergySolutions, remediation work is expected to be completed in mid-2023, and NS Savannah’s license from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is expected to be terminated by 2025.

The ship: Designated a Nuclear Historic Landmark by ANS and a Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark by ASME, NS Savannah was commissioned in July 1956 under President Eisenhower’s Atoms for Peace program. The ship was constructed under a joint agreement between the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Maritime Administration and the Atomic Energy Agency.

Named after SS Savannah, the first steamship to cross the Atlantic Ocean, the ship weighs 9,570 tons with an overall length of 595 feet. It was powered by an 80-MW reactor and was operated by a 60-person crew.

The decommissioning: RSCS began working with the U.S. DOT Maritime Division on Phase 1 decommissioning preparations in 2007 and completed this phase in early 2021. Decommissioning work during Phases 2 and 3, conducted by Nuclear Ship Support Services, includes removing the control rod drive system, pressurizer, reactor pressure vessel, neutron shield tank, steam generators, primary system piping, reactor vessel, and all primary system components.

All reactor materials and components are considered low-level radioactive waste and will be disposed of at EnergySolutions’ Clive disposal facility in Utah’s West Desert.

They said it: “This ship is designed with a one-of-a-kind reactor and associated support systems,” said Jay Tarzia, executive director of RSCS. “The goal of the project is to safely and surgically decommission the ship, maintaining maximum ship integrity to preserve this national historic landmark.”

Ken Robuck, president and CEO of EnergySolutions, added, “We are confident as a team we will safely decommission the Savannah, applying lessons learned from our experience at commercial reactor decommissioning projects while at the same time preserving this national treasure.”

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