The snow-white superstructures of this liner will never be touched by the soot of the chimneys. Compact power plants of incredible power, previously unattainable speed, economy and unlimited cruising range.
This is how the ideal ship was imagined in the middle of the 20th century. It seemed just a little bit, and nuclear power plants will unrecognizably change the appearance of the fleet - human civilization greeted the coming Age of Atom with hope and glee, preparing to soon take advantage of all the advantages of the "free" energy of radioactive decay of matter.
In 1955, within the framework of the Peaceful Atom program, President Eisenhower announced plans to create a nuclear powered vessel (NPS) - a concept demonstrator of promising technologies, whose appearance would answer the question of the expediency of using NPS in the interests of the merchant fleet.
The reactor on board promised many tempting advantages: the nuclear-powered ship needed 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 endurance of the crew and the food supplies on board. The YSU provided a high economic speed, and the absence of fuel tanks and the compactness of the power plant (at least so it seemed to the shipbuilding engineers) would provide additional space for accommodating the crew and payload.
At the same time, the 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 ship will initially cost a pretty penny.
Do not forget that we are talking about the mid-1950s - less than a year later, the historic message "Underway on nuclear power", sent from the Nautilus submarine in January 1955, sounded on the air. Specialists in the field of shipbuilding had the most vague ideas about nuclear reactors, their features, strengths and weaknesses. How are things going with reliability? How much is their life cycle? Will the promised advantages of a nuclear power plant be able to outweigh the disadvantages associated with the construction and operation of a civilian nuclear powered ship?
All questions were to be answered by NS Savannah - 180-meter snow-white beauty, launched in 1959.
An experimental cargo-passenger nuclear-powered vessel with a total displacement of 22 thousand tons. Crew - 124 people. 60 passenger seats. The only nuclear reactor with a thermal power of 74 MW provided an economic speed of 20 knots (very, very solid, even by modern standards). A single charge of the reactor 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 of the sailing-steam packet boat, the first of the steamers to cross the Atlantic in 1819.
"Savannah" was created as a "dove of peace". The super-ship, combining 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 nuclear power plantsaircraft carriers, cruisers and submarines).
In an effort to emphasize the special status of the nuclear-powered ship, the designers gave it the look of a luxury yacht - an elongated hull, swift contours, snow-white streamlined superstructures with observation platforms and verandas. Even the cargo booms and lifting mechanisms had an attractive appearance - not in the least like the protruding rusty masts of ordinary bulk carriers.
Much attention was paid to interiors: initially, 30 luxury cabins with air conditioning and individual bathrooms, a 75-seat restaurant richly decorated with paintings and sculptures, a cinema hall, a swimming pool and a library were equipped on board the nuclear-powered ship. In addition, there was a radiation monitoring laboratory on board, and the galley was decorated with the latest "miracle of technology" - a water-cooled microwave oven, a gift from Ratheyon.
All the sparkling splendor was paid for with "hard coins".
$ 47 million, of which $ 28, 3 million was spent on NPS and nuclear fuel.
At first it seemed that the result was worth all the investment. "Savannah" possessed excellent seaworthiness and a record speed 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 this magnificent work of art up close (or at least from afar).
Alas, one glance was enough for any shipowner to understand that the Savannah is unprofitable. In the holds and on the cargo decks of the nuclear-powered ship, only 8,500 tons of cargo were placed. Yes, any vessel of the same size had three times the carrying capacity!
But that's not all - too rapid contours and an elongated bow of the vessel significantly complicated loading operations. It required manual labor and resulted in delays in delivery and delays at destination ports.
Fuel efficiency thanks to a nuclear reactor?
Oh, this is a great topic that requires a detailed answer.
As it turned out in practice, the nuclear power plant, together with the reactor core, coolant circuits and hundreds of tons of biological shielding, turned out to be much larger than the engine room of a conventional dry cargo ship (this despite the fact that the engineers did not dare to completely abandon the conventional power plant - steam remained on board the Savannah emergency diesel generators with fuel supply).
Behind the tightly sealed door - the reactor compartment
Moreover, to operate the nuclear-powered vessel, it required twice the crew - all this further increased the cost of operation and reduced the amount of usable space on board the nuclear vessel. Also, it is worth noting the difference in the costs of maintaining highly qualified nuclear specialists, compared to minders and mechanics on a conventional dry cargo ship.
Maintenance of the vessel required special infrastructure and regular checks for radioactivity and normal operation of the reactor.
Finally, the cost of 32 fuel elements made of uranium dioxide (the total mass of U-235 and U238 is seven tons), taking into account the work on their replacement and subsequent disposal, was no cheaper than refueling the ship with ordinary fuel oil.
Later, it will be calculated that the annual operating costs of the Savannah exceeded the indicators of a dry cargo ship of the Mariner type of a similar carrying capacity by $ 2 million. A ruinous sum, especially in prices half a century ago.
Laz into the underworld. Savannah reactor
However, this is still nothing - real problems awaited the "Savannah" upon arrival in Australia. The nuclear powered ship was simply not allowed into Australian territorial waters. Similar stories took place off the coast of Japan and New Zealand.
Each call at a foreign port was preceded by a lengthy bureaucratic red tape - it was required to provide full information about the vessel and the timing of the call to the port, in an amount sufficient for the port authorities to take the necessary security measures. Separate berth with special access regime. Security. Radiation control groups. In case of a possible accident, several tugboats stood “under steam” around the clock next to the nuclear-powered ship, ready at any moment to take the radioactive pile of metal out of the port water area.
What happened most of all the creators of "Savannah". The bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, coupled with the shocking results of journalistic investigations on the consequences of radiation exposure, did their job - the authorities of most countries were not illusoryly afraid of a vessel with nuclear power plants and were extremely reluctant to let the Savannah into their territorial waters. In a number of cases, the visit was accompanied by serious protests by the local population. The “greens” were outraged - the media leaked information that the Savannah annually drains overboard 115 thousand gallons of industrial water from the reactor cooling system - despite all the excuses of nuclear experts that the water is non-radioactive and does not come into contact with the core.
Of course, any commercial use of the nuclear-powered ship in such conditions turned out to be impossible.
For 10 years of its active career (1962-1972) "Savannah" covered 450 thousand miles (720 thousand km), visited 45 foreign ports. More than 1.4 million foreign guests have visited the nuclear-powered ship.
YSU control post
Figuratively speaking, "Savannah" repeated the path of its famous ancestor - the sailing steamer "Savannah", the first of the steamers to cross the Atlantic, also ended up in the dustbin of history - the record-breaking ship turned out to be unprofitable in the cycle of gray everyday life.
As for the modern nuclear-powered ship, despite its disastrous debut as a cargo-passenger ship, the Savannah amused the American nation's pride a lot and, in general, was able to change the idea of ships with nuclear power systems as deadly and unreliable pieces of equipment.
After transferring to the reserve, "Savannah" with a shutdown reactor spent 9 years in the port of the city of the same name in the state of Georgia, the city government proposed plans to convert the vessel into a floating hotel. However, fate decreed otherwise - in 1981, "Savannah" was put as an exhibit in the maritime museum "Patriot Point". However, even here she was in for a failure - despite the opportunity to stroll through the luxurious salons and look through the window into the real reactor compartment, visitors did not appreciate the legendary nuclear-powered ship, focusing all their attention on the aircraft carrier Yorktown 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", proposals are increasingly heard to send the nuclear-powered ship for scrapping.
However, in addition to the Savannah, there were three more merchant ships with a nuclear power plant in the world - Otto Gan, Mutsu and Sevmorput.
Interested in American developments in the field of nuclear technology, the German government in 1960 announced its own project of an experimental vessel with a nuclear power plant - the Otto Hahn ore carrier ("Otto Hahn").
In general, the Germans stepped on the same rake as their American counterparts. By the time Otto Hahn was put into operation (1968), the scandalous euphoria around civilian nuclear-powered ships was already drawing to a close - in developed countries, the massive construction of nuclear power plants and nuclear-powered warships (submarines) began, the public took the Age of Atom for granted. But this did not save the Otto Hahn nuclear-powered ship from the image of a little useful and unprofitable vessel.
Unlike the American PR project, the "German" was designed as a real ore carrier to work on transatlantic lines. 17 thousand tons of displacement, one reactor with a thermal capacity of 38 MW. The speed is 17 knots. Crew - 60 people (+ 35 scientific personnel).
During 10 years of its active service "Otto Hahn" covered 650 thousand miles (1.2 million km), visited 33 ports in 22 countries, delivered ore and raw materials for chemical production to Germany from Africa and South America.
Considerable difficulties in the career of an ore carrier were caused by the ban of the Suez leadership on the shortest route from the Mediterranean to the Indian Ocean - tired of endless bureaucratic restrictions, the need for licensing to enter each new port, as well as the high cost of operating the nuclear-powered ship, the Germans decided to take a desperate step.
In 1979, the "nuclear heart" was deactivated and removed, in exchange for the "Otto Hahn" received a conventional diesel power plant, with which it is flying today under the flag of Liberia.
The cunning Japanese did not let the "Savannah" into their ports, however, they made certain conclusions - in 1968, the atomic dry cargo ship "Fukushima" "Mutsu" was laid down at a shipyard in Tokyo.
The life of this vessel from the very beginning was overshadowed by a large number of malfunctions - suspecting something was wrong, the Japanese public banned testing at the berth. 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 Ominato, the Mutsu crew faced a new test: a local fisherman blocked the way with his junk - take the nuclear-powered ship wherever you want, I don't care. But he will not enter the port!
The brave Japanese held the defense for 50 days - finally, an agreement was reached on a short call at the port of Ominato, followed by the transfer of the nuclear-powered ship to a military base in Sasebo.
Nuclear-powered vessel "Mutsu"
Oceanographic vessel "Mirai", our days
The tragicomedy of the Japanese nuclear-powered ship "Mutsu" lasted almost 20 years. By 1990, it was announced that all the necessary modifications and adjustments to the design of the nuclear-powered ship had been completed, Mutsu made several test trips to the sea, alas, the fate of the project was a foregone conclusion - in 1995 the reactor was deactivated and removed, replacing Mutsu with a conventional power plant. All troubles came to an end in an instant.
For a quarter of a century of endless scandals, accidents and repairs, the project of the Mutsu nuclear merchant ship traveled 51 thousand miles and devastated the Japanese treasury by 120 billion yen (1.2 billion dollars).
At the moment, the former nuclear-powered ship is successfully used as an oceanographic vessel "Mirai".
This plot is radically different from all previous stories. The Soviet Union is the only one who was able to find the right niche for civilian nuclear-powered ships and get a solid profit from these projects.
In their calculations, Soviet engineers proceeded from obvious facts. What are the two exceptional advantages of nuclear power plants?
1. Colossal concentration of energy.
2. The possibility of its release without the participation of oxygen
The second property automatically gives the YSU a “green light” for 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 prompted 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 work of the icebreaker fleet is associated with a constant regime of maximum power. Icebreakers have been working in isolation from ports for a long time - leaving the route to replenish fuel supplies is fraught with significant losses. There are no bureaucratic prohibitions and restrictions here - break the ice and lead the caravan to the East: to Dikson, Igarka, Tiksi or to the Bering Sea.
The world's first civilian nuclear-powered icebreaker, the Lenin (1957), demonstrated a lot of advantages over its non-nuclear “counterparts”. In June 1971, she became the first surface ship in history to pass north of Novaya Zemlya.
And new atomic giants were already coming to his aid - four main-line icebreakers of the "Arktika" 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, 2013, the nuclear-powered icebreaker 50 Let Pobedy reached the Pole for the hundredth time!
Nuclear icebreakers have turned the Northern Sea Route into a well-developed transport artery, providing year-round navigation in the western sector of the Arctic. The need for forced wintering was eliminated, the speed and safety of escorting ships were increased.
There were nine of them in total. The nine heroes of the polar latitudes - let me list them by name:
"Lenin", "Arctic", "Siberia", "Russia", "Soviet Union", "50 years of Victory", "Yamal", as well as two atomic icebreakers with a shallow draft for work in the mouths of Siberian rivers - "Taimyr" and "Vaygach".
Our country also had the tenth civilian atomic-powered icebreaker-type nuclear-powered lighter carrier Sevmorput. The fourth in the maritime history of a merchant ship with a YSU. A powerful machine with a displacement of 60 thousand tons, capable of independently moving in ice 1.5 meters thick. The length of the gigantic ship is 260 meters, the speed in open water is 20 knots. Cargo capacity: 74 non-self-propelled licher barges or 1,300 standard 20ft containers.
Alas, fate turned out to be ruthless to this wonderful ship: with a decrease in the flow of cargo in the Arctic, it turned out to be unprofitable. Several years ago, there was information about the possible re-equipment of the "Sevmorput" into a drilling vessel, but everything turned out to be much sadder - in 2012, a unique nuclear-powered lighter carrier was excluded from the register of sea vessels and sent for scrap.