NS Savannah - Construction, Training, and Testing
Savannah was designed by George G. Sharp, Inc., of New York. She was constructed by the New York Shipbuilding Corporation in Camden, New Jersey, opposite Philadelphia. The primary contractor for the design and construction of the nuclear power plant was the Babcock & Wilcox Company. The De Laval Steam Turbine Company was the subcontractor for the engineroom turbines and gears. The original operating agent for the ship was States Marine Lines, Inc., one of America's largest steamship companies.
With the wave of an "atomic wand" the keel was laid by Patricia Nixon, wife of the vice President, on Maritime Day, May 22, 1958. When the wand, with its small amount of radioactive material, activated the clicking noise of a Geiger counter, a crane operator was cued to swing the first keel section into place. This unusual "atomic wand" illusion had previously been used at the ground breaking ceremony of an earlier Atoms for Peace site, the Shippingport nuclear power plant. Throughout the next year 1,000 men continued assembly work under a giant covered shipway at the 273-acre "New York Ship" facility.
The hull was constructed utilizing conventional methods. The reactor and the containment vessel, however, required special procedures. A full-scale mock-up of the reactor plant, surrounded by an outlined skeleton representing the containment vessel, was constructed at the Camden yard while the ship was under construction. This not only minimized unforeseen problems during installation and hookup of the reactor system components, but served to train the crew in reactor maintenance. A control panel identical to the one on Savannah, was also provided.
While the ship was under construction, civilian deck and engineering personnel underwent special training for their new duties on the first commercial nuclear vessel. Engineers from other countries were included in the early training classes to promote the international advantages of the peaceful atom.
In September of 1958, the first group of students (13 licensed marine engineers) began 31 weeks of lecture-room instruction at Lynchburg College, Virginia. This instruction included review courses in mathematics, physics and chemistry, and the fundamentals of nuclear technology. The second group (ten engineers) started their training seven months later. Since the latter trainees were college graduates, their classroom phase was shortened to 24 weeks. For both groups, the theory phase of their training was followed by 30 weeks of field training under the Atomic Energy Commission at various nuclear facilities, including the Large Ship Prototype AIW reactor at the National Reactor Testing Station in Idaho, the Vallecitos Boiling Water Reactor, and the SM-l Argonne low-power reactor. Each engineer also underwent training on a simulator of Savannah's control panel, which was constructed by the Westinghouse Corporation. They were required to perform at least four start-ups and shut-downs before reporting to one of the Navy's nuclear submarines to gain watchkeeping experience at sea. Each engineer was later sent to Camden for training in Savannah herself. After the summer of 1962, engineer-trainees received their instruction at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point, NY.
The first class of deck officers (six licensed masters) began their special training in May 1959. They received 13 weeks of academic lectures followed by field training under the Atomic Energy Commission at land-based reactors and in nuclear submarines. Their training included less emphasis on technical subjects and more on reactor management, emergency procedures, personnel control, health physics, and damage control.
On July 21, 1959, fourteen months after the keel laying ceremony, Mrs. Dwight D. Eisenhower christened the world's first nuclear merchant ship. During the next two and a half years the ship underwent final construction, installation of the reactor, systems testing, nuclear fuel insertion, power tests, and sea trials before delivery of the vessel was made to the operating company.35 On January 31, 1962, Capt. Gaston DeGroote assumed command of the ship and, under temporary oil-fired auxiliary steam power, sailed Savannah to Yorktown, Virginia, for additional testing and modifications during sea trials. The reactor was tested at quayside and at sea at less than full power, until the first week of April, when it was brought to full power. She was then run at speeds in excess of 22 knots. On May 1, 1962, Savannah was accepted by the Maritime Administration and delivered by them to the operator, States Marine Lines, Inc.
The ship's demonstration phase began three months later, on August 20, when she set sail to her home port of Savannah, Georgia.36 Initially overmanned for safety reasons, the ship's crew was soon cut to 124--27 in the Deck Department, 35 in the Engine Department, 49 Stewards, and 13 in various support functions (including one senior nuclear advisor and three health physics monitors).
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