The early 1950s were the glory days of the Atomic Age as scientists and the public eagerly sought to apply atomic technology to as many uses as possible. Unlike today when there are enough anti-nuclear groups to populate a mid-size state, atomic energy was embraced as the wave of the future. Among the applications atomic power was devoted to was that of merchant shipping. In 1955, President Dwight D. Eisenhower ordered the construction of what was to become the NS Savannah as part of his “Atoms for Peace” initiative.
The Savannah was conceived as a proof of concept ship that could transport both cargo and passengers and sailed on her maiden voyage on August 20, 1962. It’s Babcock & Wilcox nuclear reactor was more than 50% of the cost of the $49.6 million ship and she could cruise at full power for 2 years before needing to re-fuel. Unfortunately, high operating costs made her unable to compete against oil-burning ships with oil at only a few dollars a barrel. Additionally, the cost of infrastructure required to support the ship couldn’t be spread across multiple vessels and her cargo holds weren’t designed for load efficiency. Thus, on January 10, 1972 the ship was taken out of active service.
Today the ship is moored in Baltimore, Maryland where it is hoped she can become a museum ship after her nuclear reactor is decommissoined. Savannah stands as a memorial to a time when Americans dreamed big and stood as a beacon of freedom in a squall of socialism and devastation wrought by world war.