Trip report from visit to NS Savannah

About three weeks ago, I wrote an article about commercial nuclear ship propulsion. That post introduced Benjamin Haas, a student at SUNY Maritime, who has been leading a design team that is developing the conceptual design for a nuclear powered shipping system.

SUNY Nuclear Ship Design Team

SUNY Nuclear Ship Design Team

Ben’s team is not just focused on the ship itself, but on all of the supporting infrastructure that will be required to operate a fleet of commercial ships taking full advantage of the technical capabilities offered by atomic fission in comparison to the current alternatives of diesel engines or combustion gas turbines.

Recently, I received an email from Benjamin that he agreed to let me share with you. He will participate in the comment thread, so if you have any questions about his recent trip or about the progress that he and his team are making with their nuclear ship designs, this would be a good chance to ask.


From: Benjamin Haas
To: Rod Adams
Subject: NS Savannah Visit with Photos

SUNY Senior Designers Outside NS Savannah Under Atomic Logo

SUNY Senior Naval Architecture Class Outside NS Savannah Under Atomic Logo

On Thursday April 3, the senior Naval Architecture class from SUNY Maritime toured the NS Savannah’s Containment Vessel and Engine Room. We donned dosimeters, signed the paper work, saw the steam generators, control drive mechanism, the piping, all the while being lectured on nuclear power and PWR’s by a former senior reactor operator for Calvert Cliffs (a graduate of SUNY Maritime): Clifford Marks.

He showed us the Savannah’s emergency diesel generator and talked to us about decay heat and melt downs. He taught us basic reactor physics and PWR operation. When in the control room, he physically showed us how the controls would have been operated to run the Savannah and how the NRC trained him. It was quite a feeling following the flow of a nuclear reactor with my eyes. My goodness, those PWR operators are SHARP!!

Benjamin Haas in NS Savannah Control Room

Benjamin Haas in NS Savannah Control Room

We were lectured on the history of the Savannah, Atoms for Peace, the NRC, and decommissioning by Erhard Koehler, the Savannah’s NRC licensee and MARAD program coordinator, also a graduate of our college. He covered “myths and legends” of the design, such as passenger-cargo ships not necessarily being a design disadvantage at the time (although certainly contributing after the airliners came about), and how MARAD actually wanted a bigger, faster vessel, but only got a limited amount of funds appropriated.

Giving a presentation on the Savannah about a nuclear shipping startup and national policy is very tantalizing… Probably in a few years when I have a white paper like Leslie Dewan’s group at Trans Atomic Power.

We had lunch on the vessel, pizza, in the salon. A large container ship passed by. The Alumni (two of our professors and the two Savannah workers) sat together talking while the cadets were in their own groups.

Inside NS Savannah's Reactor Compartment

Inside NS Savannah’s Reactor Compartment

We saw demonstrations of Geiger counters using fiesta ware, uranium glass, and an old radium dial clock. It was just like all the videos I have watched. The Radiation Safety Officer was happy I knew it was a “pancake probe”. During the briefing, he used the term “pain” to describe paper work. People did not know what that meant and the thought entered my mind of radiation workers having blood drawn to measure internal exposure, although I think they take fecal samples? It was a funny moment nevertheless.

NS Savannah Boiler

NS Savannah Boiler

I am planning to write an article about the visit. We did not have the chance to debrief on our impressions since we drove straight back to NY. Some of the students I talked to were so very impressed and grateful for the visit. My design team had been looking forward to this trip since I told them I would get us a visit last year. My impressions is that most everybody was tired from a full day of learning.

We literally experienced up close a nuclear reactor and nuclear-powered ship, whose license and upkeep are still relevant.

I have attached some pictures from the trip. You finally get to see a picture of me and my design team.

Sincerely,
Benjamin Haas

SUNY Maritime Student Advocates Commercial Nuclear Ship Propulsion

Stimulated by early atomic optimism, naval successes and Eisenhower’s Atoms for Peace initiative, four nations built ocean going ships with nuclear propulsion plants. The US built the NS Savannah, Germany built the Otto Hahn, Japan built the Mutsu, and Russia built a series of nuclear powered icebreakers. For reasons that are beyond the scope of […]

Read more »

Antarctic misadventure failed to plan for resilience

I’ve been pondering the misadventures of the Akademik Shokalskiy for several days, thinking about the difference in result between an excursion planned on the cheap by people who depend on things going smoothy and a voyage planned by people who included contingencies and had access to more capable technology. In the summer of 1994, the […]

Read more »

Icebreaker saved by fossil fuels. Nuclear might have been better

Just before Christmas 2013, a diesel-powered, ice-capable Russian research vessel named MV Akademik Shokalskiy, which was carrying scientists studying climate change, got stuck in the Antarctic ice. The scientists on the ship were not in any immediate risk or suffering any hardship conditions; they had plenty of fuel and supplies. The scientists have been evacuated […]

Read more »

Grand Opening of the Apprentice School at Newport News Shipbuilding

Yesterday, on an unusually warm December day, I attended the grand opening of the new Apprentice School building in downtown Newport News, Virginia. It was an event that made me proud to be an American, proud to be a Virginian and proud to be a veteran of the US Navy. I was a member of […]

Read more »

Root cause of Naval Reactors policy of strict secrecy about nuclear propulsion plant design

As a Navy nuke, I was carefully taught to believe that everything we learned about atomic energy had to be strictly protected from release to anyone who was not “cleared”, especially anyone who was not a US citizen. I started to question that policy after I completed my tour as the Engineer Officer on the […]

Read more »

Naval Reactors should be empowered to show the way – again

President Obama should task John Richardson with a mission similar to the one that President Dwight Eisenhower gave Hyman G. Rickover. Richardson is the current leader of Naval Reactors (NR), the organization that Rickover built. If directed, NR could begin a new assignment to show others how to manufacture complete nuclear fission power systems starting […]

Read more »

Why did gullible reporters promote a student paper about nuclear facility security?

There was a flurry of attention in the press last week when a political science professor held a press conference to tell the world that one of his students had written a paper concluding that all of the nuclear power plants in the United States were vulnerable to a terrorist attack. For unpublished reasons, a […]

Read more »

What happened to the NS Savannah?

OnceUponANuclearShip

One of the more frequent inquiries I have received during my years operating Atomic Insights is “What happened to the NS (nuclear ship) Savannah?”. I just learned about a recently completed documentary film by Thomas Michael Conner, a former member of the ship’s crew, that is designed to answer that question in detail using sea […]

Read more »

Does “highly” enriched uranium make it easier to build more compact reactors?

It is easier to design and build compact nuclear reactors with uranium that has a higher fraction of U-235. The higher the U-235 content, the easier it is to overcome the effects of impurities in the coolant and cladding and the easier it is to overcome the inevitable effects of fission products that absorb neutrons. […]

Read more »

Atomic Show #137 – Michael Kurzeja – President – North American Young Generations in Nuclear

Michael Kurzeja is the President of North American Young Generation in Nuclear – NA-YGN. He is a dynamic leader, an excellent emissary and an excited professional who loves what he does. He also respects and enjoys the people he works with and is developing some long term professional friendships during the long hours that he […]

Read more »

The Atomic Show #053 – Commercial Nuclear Ships

Shane and I discuss commercial nuclear ship history and future opportunities Commercial nuclear powered ships were tried in the 1960s and 1970s with little follow on units. The United States built the NS Savannah, Germany built the Otto Hahn, and Japan built the Mutsu. None of these remain in operation today and all demonstrated various […]

Read more »