The snow-white superstructures of this liner will never touch the soot of chimneys. Compact power plants of incredible power, previously unattainable speed, efficiency and unlimited cruising range.
This was the ideal ship in the middle of the XNUMXth century. It seemed a little more, and nuclear power plants unrecognizably change their appearance fleet - human civilization with hope and glee met the approaching Era of Atom, preparing to soon take advantage of all the “free” energy of the radioactive decay of matter.
In 1955, under the “Peaceful Atom” program, President Eisenhower announced plans to build a nuclear power plant (YASU), a concept demonstrator of promising technologies, whose appearance will answer the question of whether to use YASU in the interests of the merchant fleet.
The reactor on board promised many seductive advantages: the nuclear-powered ship required refueling once every few years, the ship could remain in the ocean for a long time without the need to enter the port - the autonomy of the nuclear-powered ship was limited only by the crew’s endurance and food supplies on board. YASU provided a high economic speed, and the absence of fuel tanks and compactness of the power plant (at least, it seemed to shipbuilders) would provide additional space for crew accommodation and payload.
At the same time, researchers were aware that the use of a nuclear power plant would cause many difficulties with its subsequent operation - measures to ensure radiation safety and the associated difficulties in visiting many foreign ports. Not to mention that the construction of such an exotic vessel initially "will cost you a pretty penny."
Do not forget that we are talking about the mid-1950s - less than a year has passed before the radio broadcast historical the message “Underway on nuclear power” sent from the Nautilus submarine in January 1955. Experts in the field of shipbuilding had the most vague ideas about nuclear reactors, their features, strengths and weaknesses. What about reliability? How much is their life cycle? Will the promised advantages of the nuclear power plant be able to outweigh the disadvantages associated with the construction and operation of a civilian nuclear ship?
All questions should have been answered by NS Savannah - 180-meter snow-white beauty, launched in 1959 year.
Experimental cargo-passenger nuclear-powered icebreaker with a total displacement of 22 thousand tons. Crew - 124 person. 60 passenger seats. The only nuclear reactor with a thermal capacity of 74 MW provided the economic speed of 20 nodes (very, very solid, even by modern standards). One reactor charge was enough for 300 000 nautical miles (half a million kilometers).
The name of the vessel was not chosen by chance - “Savannah” - this was the name worn by the steam-and-steam packet, the first of the ships to cross the Atlantic in 1819 year.
"Savannah" was created as the "dove of peace." The super-ship, which combined the most modern achievements of science and technology, was supposed to acquaint the Old World with the technologies of the “peaceful atom” and demonstrate the safety of ships with YASU (the Yankees worked for the future - in the future this will facilitate entry into foreign ports of atomic aircraft carriers, cruisers and submarines).
In an effort to emphasize the special status of the nuclear-powered icebreaker, the designers gave it the appearance of a luxurious yacht - an elongated hull, fast-moving lines, snow-white streamlined superstructures with observation platforms and verandas. Even the cargo booms and lifting mechanisms had an attractive appearance - not at all like the rusting masts of ordinary bulk carriers.
Considerable importance was given to the interior: initially, onboard the nuclear-powered vessel, 30 cabins were equipped with luxury class, with air-conditioning and individual bathrooms, a restaurant for 75 seats, richly decorated with paintings and sculptures, a lounge-cinema hall, a swimming pool and a library. In addition, there was a radiation control laboratory on board, and the galley was decorated with the latest “miracle of technology” - a water-cooled microwave oven, a gift from Ratheyon.
For all the glittering splendor was paid "hard cash".
47 million dollars, of which 28,3 million was spent on YASU and nuclear fuel.
At first it seemed that the result was worth all the investments. Savannah had excellent seaworthiness and record speeds among all other cargo ships of those years. She did not need regular refueling, and the appearance of the nuclear-powered ship made a strong impression on anyone who managed to see (or at least from afar) this luxurious
Alas, any shipowner had only one glance to understand: “Savannah” is unprofitable. In the holds and on the cargo decks of the nuclear-powered vessel, only 8500 tons of cargo were placed. Yes, any vessel of similar dimensions had a three-fold greater capacity!
But even this is not all - too fast lines and the elongated bow of the vessel made loading operations much more difficult. Manual labor was required, all this led to delays in delivery and downtime at the ports of destination.
Fuel efficiency thanks to an atomic reactor?
Oh, this is a great topic requiring a detailed answer.
As it turned out in practice, YASU together with the reactor core, coolant circuits and hundreds of tons of biological protection turned out to be much larger than the engine room of a conventional bulk carrier (this is despite the fact that the engineers did not dare to completely abandon the conventional GEMs - a couple remained on board the Savannah emergency diesel generators with fuel).
Behind the tightly battened door - reactor compartment
Moreover, the management of the nuclear-powered ship required twice the crew — all this made the operating costs even more expensive and reduced the amount of usable space on board the nuclear-powered ship. Also, it is worth noting the difference in the cost of maintaining high-level nuclear specialists, compared with engine mechanics and mechanics on a conventional dry cargo ship.
For maintenance of the vessel required special infrastructure and regular checks for radioactivity and the normal operation of the reactor.
Finally, the cost of 32-x fuel elements of uranium dioxide (the total weight of U-235 and U238 is seven tons), taking into account the work on their replacement and subsequent disposal, was not cheaper than refueling the vessel with ordinary fuel oil.
Later it will be calculated that the annual operating costs of the Savannah exceeded those of a similar cargo ship of the Mariner type by 2 million dollars. The ruinous amount, especially in the prices of half a century ago.
Laz to hell. Reactor "Savannah"
However, these are still trifles - the real problems awaited the Savannah upon arrival in Australia. Nuclear-powered ship simply was not allowed into Australian territorial waters. Similar stories occurred off the coast of Japan and New Zealand.
Each call to a foreign port was preceded by a long bureaucratic red tape - it was required to provide full information about the vessel and the time of call at the port, in an amount sufficient for the port authorities to take the necessary security measures. Separate pier with a special regime of admission. Security. Radiation Monitoring Groups. In case of a possible accident, several tugboats were standing around the clock “under steam”, ready at any moment to bring a radioactive pile of metal out of the port water area.
What happened was what the creators of Savannah most feared. The bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, coupled with the shocking results of investigative journalism on the effects of radiation exposure, did their job - the authorities of most countries were illusoryly afraid of a ship from YSU and extremely reluctantly allowed the Savannah into their territorial waters. In some cases, the visit was accompanied by serious protests from the local population. The “greens” were outraged - information appeared to the media that Savanna annually dumps thousands of gallons of process water from the reactor cooling system overboard 115 — despite all the justification for nuclear experts that the water is non-radioactive and not in contact with the active zone.
Of course, any commercial use of an atomic-powered vessel in such conditions turned out to be impossible.
Over the 10 years of its active career (1962-1972), “Savannah” passed 450 thousand miles (720 thousand km), visited 45 foreign ports. Onboard the nuclear-powered vessel, over a million foreign guests visited 1,4.
Yasu control station
Figuratively speaking, “Savannah” repeated the path of its famous ancestor - the sailing steamer “Savannah”, the first of the steamers that crossed the Atlantic, also ended up on the dustbin of history - the record ship turned out to be unprofitable in the whirl of gray everyday life.
As for the modern nuclear-powered icebreaker, despite its disastrous debut in the role of a cargo-passenger ship, Savannah much relieved the vanity of the American nation and, in general, was able to change the perception of ships from YSU as deadly and unreliable equipment samples.
After being transferred to the reserve, the Savannah with its jammed 9 reactor spent its years parked in the port of the same city in the state of Georgia, the city government proposed plans to convert the vessel to a floating hotel. However, fate decreed otherwise - in 1981, Savannah was put on display at the Patriot Point maritime museum. However, even here failure awaited her - despite the opportunity to stroll through the luxurious saloons and look through the window into the real reactor compartment, visitors did not appreciate the legendary nuclear-powered vessel, focusing all its attention on the Yorktown aircraft carrier moored nearby.
At the moment, the updated and tinted Savannah is quietly rusting in the port of Baltimore, and its further fate remains unclear. Despite the status of a “historical object”, there are more and more proposals to send a nuclear-powered icebreaker for scrap.
However, in addition to the Savannah, there were three more merchant ships with a nuclear power plant in the world - the Otto Gan, the Mutsu and the Northern Sea Route.
Interested in American developments in the field of nuclear technology, the German government in 1960 announced its own project of an experimental vessel with YSU, the Otto Hahn ore carrier (Otto Gan).
In general, the Germans attacked the same rake as their American counterparts. By the time Otto Gan was put into operation (1968 year), the scandalous euphoria around civilian nuclear-powered icebreakers was nearing its decline - in developed countries, massive construction of nuclear power plants and nuclear-powered warships (submarines) began, the public took the Atom era for granted. But this did not save the nuclear ship "Otto Gan" from the image of a poorly used and unprofitable ship.
Unlike the American PR project, the “German” was designed as a real ore carrier for work on the transatlantic lines. 17 thousand tonnes of displacement, one reactor thermal power 38MW. The speed of 17 knots. Crew - 60 people (+ 35 people scientific staff).
Over the years of its active service, Otto Gan 10 passed thousands of miles (650 million km), visited the 1,2 port in 33 countries, delivered ore and raw materials for chemical production to Germany from Africa and South America.
Considerable difficulties in the career of the ore carrier caused the Suez leadership to ban this shortest route from the Mediterranean to the Indian Ocean - weary of endless bureaucratic restrictions, the need for licensing to enter each new port, and the expensive operation of the nuclear-powered icebreaker, the Germans took a desperate step.
In 1979, the “nuclear heart” was deactivated and removed, and instead “Otto Gan” received a conventional diesel power plant, with which it goes today under the flag of Liberia.
The sly Japanese did not let the Savannah into their ports, but they made certain conclusions - in the 1968, a nuclear-powered cargo ship was laid at the shipyard in Tokyo
From the very beginning, the life path of this vessel was overshadowed by a large number of malfunctions - suspecting that something was wrong, the Japanese public forbade carrying out tests at the pier. The first launch of the reactor was decided to be carried out in the open ocean - Mutsu was towed 800 km off the coast of Japan.
As subsequent events showed, the public was right - the first launch of the reactor turned into a radiation accident: the protection of the reactor did not cope with its task.
Upon returning to the port of the city of Ominato, the crew of the Mutsu was waiting for a new test: the local fisherman blocked the way with his junk — remove the nuclear icebreaker wherever you want, I do not care. But he will not go to the port!
The brave Japanese held the defense of 50 days - finally, an agreement was reached on a short call to the port of Ominato with the subsequent transfer of the nuclear-powered vessel to the military base in Sasebo.
Atomic icebreaker "Mutsu"
Oceanographic ship "Mirai", our days
The tragicomedy of the Japanese atomic-powered "Mutsu" continued for nearly 20 years. By 1990, it was announced the completion of all necessary improvements and adjustments in the construction of the nuclear-powered icebreaker, Mutsu made several test runs at sea, alas, the fate of the project was predetermined - in 1995, the reactor was deactivated and removed, instead of Mutsu received the usual GEM. All troubles in an instant came to an end.
For a quarter of a century of endless scandals, accidents and repairs, the Mutsu merchant nuclear project passed 51 thousand miles and devastated the Japanese treasury by 120 billion yen (1,2 billion dollars).
Currently, the former atomic-powered vessel is successfully used as an oceanographic vessel “Mirai”.
This plot is completely different from all previous stories. The Soviet Union is the only one who was able to find the right niche for civil nuclear-powered ships and get a solid profit from these projects.
In their calculations, Soviet engineers proceeded from obvious facts. What are two exceptional benefits of nuclear power plants?
1. Colossal concentration of energy.
2. The possibility of its release without oxygen
The second property automatically gives YASU a “green light” to the submarine fleet.
As for the high concentration of energy and the possibility of long-term operation of the reactor without refueling and recharging, the answer was suggested by the geography itself. Arctic!
It is in the polar latitudes that the advantages of nuclear power plants are best realized: the specifics of the operation of the icebreaking fleet are coupled with a constant maximum power regime. Icebreakers for a long time working in isolation from the ports, - leaving the highway to replenish fuel reserves is fraught with significant losses. There are no bureaucratic prohibitions and restrictions - break the ice and lead the caravan to the East: to Dixon, Igarka, Tiksi or to the Bering Sea.
The world's first civilian nuclear-powered icebreaker, the icebreaker Lenin (1957 year), showed a lot of advantages over its non-nuclear “colleagues”. In June 1971, he became the first surface ship in history who managed to pass north of Novaya Zemlya.
And new nuclear giants already came to his aid - four main icebreakers of the “Arctic” type. Even the strongest ice could not stop these monsters - in 1977, the “Arctic” reached the North Pole.
But that was only the beginning - on July 30, the nuclear-powered icebreaker "2013 Years of Victory" reached the Pole for the hundredth time!
Nuclear-powered icebreakers turned the Northern Sea Route into a well-developed transport artery, providing year-round navigation in the western sector of the Arctic. The necessity of forced hibernation was eliminated, the speed and safety of pilotage was increased.
There were nine in total. Nine heroes of polar latitudes - let me list them by name:
“Lenin”, “Arctic”, “Siberia”, “Russia”, “Soviet Union”, “50 Years of Victory”, “Yamal”, as well as two low-draft nuclear icebreakers to work in the mouths of Siberian rivers - “Taimyr” and "Vaigach."
Our country also had the tenth civil nuclear-powered icebreaker, the nuclear-powered icebreaker carrier of the Sevmorput icebreaking type. The fourth in the marine history of the merchant ship with YASU. A powerful machine with a displacement of 60 thousand tons, capable of independently moving in ice 1,5 meter thick. The length of the gigantic ship is 260 meters, the speed of travel in open water is 20 knots. Cargo capacity: 74 non-propelled liqueur barges or 1300 standard 20-foot containers.
Alas, fate was merciless to this wonderful ship: with a decrease in the flow of cargo in the Arctic, it was unprofitable. A few years ago, information about a possible conversion of the Northern Sea Route into a drilling ship slipped, but everything turned out to be much sadder - in 2012, the unique nuclear lighter carrier was removed from the register of ships and sent for scrapping.