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Construction & Sea Trials

The N/S Savannah was designed by George G. Sharp, Inc., of New York. 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. She was constructed by the New York Shipbuilding Corporation in Camden, New Jersey, opposite Philadelphia.

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 Atomic Power Station near Pittsburgh, PA.

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 for use as a training simulator.

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. On January 31, 1962, Capt. Gaston DeGroote assumed command of the ship and, under temporary oil-fired auxiliary steam power, sailed the Savannah to Yorktown, VA for additional testing and modifications during sea trials.

The reactor was tested at quayside and at sea at less than full power. During the first week of April it was brought to full power and 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. On August 20th, the ship's demonstration phase began when she set sail to her home port of Savannah, GA. Initially overmanned for safety reasons, the ship's crew was soon cut to 124, 27 in the deck department, 35 in the engineer departments, 49 stewards, and 13 others in various support functions (including one senior nuclear advisor and three health physics monitors).

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