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

Asking Powerful Public Scientists Hard Questions

On Wednesday, April 9, 2014, The Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs and the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists hosted a symposium titled Speaking Knowledge to Power in Princeton University’s Robertson Hall. The speakers included John Holdren, Allison Macfarlane, Frank von Hippel and Christopher Chyba.

Three out of the four (Holdren, von Hippel, and Macfarlane) have long been influential skeptics about the use of nuclear energy, even though they are well-educated scientists with solid reputations in their particular fields of study. Two of the four currently wield considerable power from their politically appointed positions, with Macfarlane serving as the Chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and Holdren serving as the Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

Von Hippel is proud of his chosen role of being an outsider. He described his conscious realization that he is more effective at influencing policy from his academic perch than from being in a responsible position inside the government.

As a independent citizen armed with personal knowledge about the value and capabilities of nuclear energy in addressing some of the most pressing challenges facing human society, I thought it would be a good idea to make the trip to Princeton so I could ask the powerful public scientists some hard questions.
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