EnergySolutions and RSCS to decommission NS Savannah

30 March 2022

EnergySolutions and Radiation Safety & Control Services (RSCS) will form a joint venture to decommission the world's first nuclear-powered merchant ship, the NS Savannah. The work will involve removing the ship's reactor system so that the vessel can be used as a museum.

NS Savannah (Image: San Francisco Maritime National Park Association)

The 22,000 tonne NS Savannah - a registered US National Historic Landmark - was commissioned July 1959 to promote the peaceful use of nuclear energy as part of President Dwight Eisenhower's Atoms for Peace programme. It had a 74 MWt reactor delivering 16.4 MW to the propeller, but the reactor was uprated to 80 MWt in 1964. The reactor used 4.2% and 4.6% enriched uranium. The ship was removed from service eight years later having completed its mission and the reactor was defueled. The ship was considered a technical success, but not economically viable. Today, all that remains of the nuclear power plant aboard the ship are its systems, structures, and components. The NS Savannah is currently docked in Baltimore, Maryland.

RSCS started working with the US Department of Transportation's Maritime Administration (MARAD) in 2007 on Phase I decommissioning preparations and completed this phase in early-2021. The RSCS-EnergySolutions joint venture - named Nuclear Ship Support Services, LLC - is now conducting Phase II and Phase III decommissioning where remediation is expected to be completed in mid-2023 and license termination expected to be completed by 2025.

Decommissioning activities include safely removing the control rod drive system, pressuriser, reactor pressure vessel, neutron shield tank, steam generators, primary system piping, reactor vessel and all primary system components. All of this material is considered low-level waste and will be safely transported and disposed of at EnergySolutions' facility near Clive, Utah.

"This ship is designed with a one-of-a-kind reactor and associated support systems," said RSCS Executive Director Jay Tarzia. "The goal of the project is to safely and surgically decommission the ship, maintaining maximum ship integrity to preserve this national historic landmark."

"This is a unique opportunity for EnergySolutions to apply our decommissioning experience to the decommissioning efforts of the NS Savannah and we value our partnership with RSCS on this important project," said EnergySolutions President and CEO Ken Robuck.

"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."

The US Department of Transportation, through MARAD, continues to hold a licence issued by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to possess and dismantle a non-operational nuclear reactor and power plant aboard the NS Savannah. As the agency implements the decommissioning, the facility will remain under the NRC regulatory regimen to maintain a healthy and safe environment for workers and the community. The removal of the ship's remaining systems, structures, and components will allow for the NRC's termination of MARAD's licence without restrictions.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News