Initial Cleanup Completed on NS Savannah

Tuesday, February 06, 2007
A historic nuclear-powered ship that probably attracted more barnacles than tourists while serving as a floating museum off Mount Pleasant has completed the first leg of its rehabilitation. But the next phase of work won't take place in the Lowcountry, as federal officials had once considered. The NS Savannah, the world's first nuclear-powered cargo and passenger vessel, is being restored, possibly for its second stint as a floating museum, according to its owner, MarAd. Colonna's Shipyard in Norfolk, Va., recently completed an initial $995,000 cleanup and renovation of the 596-foot ship, which was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1991, when it was still part of the naval museum at state-owned Patriots Point in Mount Pleasant. Before it was towed to Colonna's last August, the vessel had been anchored for a dozen years near Newport News, Va., with other government rust buckets as part of the James River Reserve Fleet, a watery graveyard that's also known as the Ghost Fleet.

Now the Savannah has been towed back to Newport News, where it will go into drydock for an exterior paint job and the removal of its nuclear components. The contractors and project costs have not been announced. The Charleston region was one of the four sites MarAd considered last year for the final decommissioning of the vessel's nuclear reactor. The others were Baltimore, the Norfolk-Newport News area and Wilmington, N.C. MarAd has said all of the ship's nuclear fuel was removed more than 30 years ago and that the remaining parts show only low levels of radiation. The ship was a pet project of President Dwight Eisenhower and his Atoms for Peace plan in the 1950s. It was supposed to haul freight but ended up as a government showpiece for nuclear propulsion. It was retired in 1971. This latest restoration is part of MarAd's plan to prepare the ship for a new mission, possibly as a floating museum.

The Savannah didn't fare well in its first go-round as a tourist attraction. In the mid- to late 1970s the once-sleek white ship was tied up for several years at a remote Army pier in North Charleston. At the same time, the Patriots Point Development Authority and politicians scrambled to put the funds together to make the Savannah part of the lineup at Patriots Point. The deal finally got done in 1981, but in 1994 local tugboats moved the ship to prepare it to join the Ghost Fleet. Source: Charleston Post Courier

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