Savannah calls on Baltimore

Ship's radioactive contaminants to be removed

May 13, 2008|By Laura McCandlish | Laura McCandlish,Sun reporter

The Savannah, the world's first nuclear-powered commercial vessel, will be docked at Canton Marine Terminals in Baltimore for at least the next year as crews scrub the ship of remaining radioactive materials.

The sleek 596-foot cargo and passenger vessel arrived at Vane Brothers Co.'s berth Thursday, after the company won a $588,380 annual contract from the U.S. Maritime Administration to secure the vessel for up to three years.

Constructed in the 1950s under President Dwight D. Eisenhower's Atoms for Peace program, the now decommissioned ship still emits low-grade radiation though the fuel source was removed more than 30 years ago.

FOR THE RECORD - An article in yesterday's Business section misidentified the company berthing the Baltimore-based hospital ship USNS Comfort. Consol Energy's CNX Marine Terminals owns the pier where the ship is berthed.
The Sun regrets the error.

The $46.9 million ship included a $28.3 million nuclear reactor and fuel source when it was built, said Elizabeth Hughes, vice president of Fairfield-based Vane Brothers.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission expects the vessel's remaining radioactive materials to be removed by 2018. The radiation currently released is comparable to a dental X-ray, Maritime Administration spokeswoman Shannon Russell said.

"The ship is extremely safe," Russell said, adding that the emissions are "no greater than any background radiation any person would receive by standing outside in your yard."

After 14 years in Hampton Roads, Va., the 13,599-ton ship was transported from Norfolk up the Chesapeake Bay, with assistance from Moran Towing Corp. tugboats.

Yet it's hardly the Savannah's first trip to Baltimore. The ship came to Baltimore for dry-dock structural repairs at Sparrows Point in 1994 and in Fairfield in 1975.

While still in service, the Savannah regularly called at Port Covington in the late 1960s, said Erhard Koehler, who oversees the ship for the Maritime Administration.

A hybrid, sleek-lined vessel that could carry 60 passengers while transporting about 14,000 tons of cargo, the Savannah is the fourth Maritime Administration ship now docked in Baltimore. It rests next to the Navy's USNS Comfort hospital ship, which Vane Brothers also berths in Canton, Hughes said.

"It's a dead ship - it's a museum piece," she said "We're the landlord."

Russell said the federal government envisions that the Savannah could eventually be converted into a museum but no investors have yet come forward to finance the project.

The Maritime Administration has invited former crew members who worked on the Savannah to visit the vessel May 22 and 23.

laura.mccandlish@baltsun.com

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