Photograph (C) copyright 2009 Ivan Safyan Abrams. All rights reserved.
N/S Savannah celebrated her 50th anniversary with ceremonies and public tours at her berth, Canton Marine Terminal Pier 13, in Baltimore on Saturday and Sunday, July 18 and 19, 2009. This is the first time that Savannah hosted public tours since 1994. See below...
N/S Savannah was intended to demonstrate that nuclear power could be used for peaceful purposes. She was built in the mid-1950s, though her appearance is thoroughly modern even in 2009. With one reactor located amidships, forward of the bridge and below the main deck, Savannah's range was basically unlimited. She operated as a general cargo ship from 1957 until 1972.
Most ships that were retired in 1972 aren't seen docked in the middle of a busy port, flying signal flags and bearing a new paint job. Savannah's powerplant is the reason she's still around. Unlike a diesel or fossil-fuel steam plant which can be shut down and dismantled, nuclear reactors stay "hot", or radioactive, even when they're not operating. In fact, the reactor remains radioactive even after the nuclear fuel has been removed. Savannah may, or may not (the sources are conflicting), still have "hot" parts, though there seems to be general agreement that the uranium fuel and indeed most, if not all, of the reactor, were removed from the ship some years ago.
That isn't to say the ship is unsafe. Whatever parts might still be radioactive are shielded, and the ship is crewed and radioactivity levels are monitored. It's safe enough that the public is occasionally permitted to tour the ship, through special arrangements or on occasions when an open house is held. We missed such an occasion by only a couple of days.
N/S Savannah was expensive to operate, and in the days of cheap petroleum, was more costly than a comparably-sized ship powered by a fossil-fuel powerplant. Today, when oil is vastly more expensive than in the middle of the 20th century, Savannah would probably be cost-competitive with a fossil-fuel ship. But Savannah isn't going to return to sea.
She's periodically dry-docked, and her new paint is the latest of a number of similar refurbishments over the years. Eventually, Savannah may become a museum, but for now, the US Maritime Administration keeps her docked under a long-term contract at one of Baltimore's piers. She's relatively accessible for photography, though a request for permission to the security guard is suggested.
I had no idea that N/S Savannah was docked in Baltimore. I've known of the ship's existence since I was a child, and was very familiar with the Revell model kit of Savannah that was produced for years. I happened to spot her while Terry and I were looking around the port of Baltimore, and though very surprised--it was as if I were seeing a ghost--her lines were immediately recognizable.
There's a great deal of information about N/S Savannah available online. I think that her story, and her continued existence, are very significant, and it's good to see that the US Maritime Commission is taking good care of her.