NS Savannah was the first nuclear-powered merchant ship. Built in the late 1950s at a cost of $46.9 million, including a $28.3 million nuclear reactor and fuel core, funded by United States government agencies, Savannah was a demonstration project for the potential use of nuclear energy. Launched on July 21, 1959, and named after SS Savannah, the first steamship to cross the Atlantic ocean, she was in service between 1962 and 1972 as one of only four nuclear-powered cargo ships ever built. Savannah was deactivated in 1971 and after several moves has been moored at Pier 13 of the Canton Marine Terminal in Baltimore, Maryland, since 2008.
Savannah measures 596.5 feet (181.8 m) in length and 78 feet (24 m) in beam, with a loaded draft of 29.5 feet (9.0 m), and a loaded displacement of 21,800 tons. Savannah was built with seven cargo holds, a reactor compartment and a machinery compartment, making nine water-tight compartments. There are three full decks. The reactor compartment is located near the center of the ship, with the superstructure just aft of the reactor top to allow the reactor to be refuelled. Holds 1 through 4 are forward of the superstructure, with cargo handling gear between 1 and 2 and between 3 and 4. Cargo hold 5 is served by side ports, as it is located beneath the swimming pool. Holds 6 and 7 are aft of the superstructure.
The topmost deck of the superstructure comprises the pilothouse, radio room, chart room, a battery room and an emergency diesel generator. The next lower deck comprises the officers’ accommodations, with an officers’ lounge at the tapering rear portion of the superstructure. Below this level is the promenade deck comprising, from forward aft, the elliptical main lounge, the main stair and elevator, and the Veranda Lounge. The bar was provided with enclosed walkways outboard, and a glass wall overlooking the swimming pool and promenade deck aft. A dance floor was provided in the center of the lounge, surrounded by tables with illuminated glass tops. The back bar features a glass and metal sculptural interpretation of the periodic table of the elements.
“A” Deck is the first full deck level, with cargo handling facilities fore and aft. Deck surfaces have been retrofitted with cargo container anchors. The interior of “A” Deck contains the main lobby and purser’s office, the infirmary, barber, beautician and steward’s facilities, as well as the health physics laboratory intended to monitor the effects of the nuclear reactor. All thirty passenger cabins are located on “A” Deck, each with a private bath and accommodations for one to three passengers.
“B” Deck contains the ship’s kitchen and the dining room. The 75-seat dining room features a curved wall sculpture entitled “Fission” by Pierre Bourdelle. At the opposite end of the dining room a metal model of the SS Savannah is set in a glass panel. The overhead light fixtures are screened with brass bands representing stylized atoms. The kitchen features an early water-cooled Raytheon Radarange microwave oven. “B” Deck also includes crew quarters and the crew mess and lounge.
“C” Deck comprises more crew quarters, the laundry and a butcher’s shop. A glassed-in central gallery provides a view of the main engine room. A pressure door provides access to the upper levels of the reactor compartment.
“D” Deck houses the machinery spaces, cargo holds and the nuclear reactor.