The only nuclear-powered merchant ship, which is a U.S. National Historic Landmark, is set for decommissioning. The Concord Monitor reported that a New Hampshire (US) company is now responsible for disposing of the radioactive material aboard the Nuclear Ship Savannah, which was launched in 1959 and taken out of service in 1971. The article notes:
The Savannah’s nuclear power plant, a pressurized-water reactor that created steam to drive the engines, was removed decades ago, but residual radioactivity lingers in pipes and other equipment within the reactor containment area. A joint venture called Nuclear Ship Support Services, consisting of Radiation Safety and Control Services along with Energy Solutions of Charlotte, N.C., will determine what needs to be removed and disposed of in licensed landfills or radioactive waste sites.
The permanent closure of a nuclear power plant – whether on land or sea — involves its safe removal from service and dismantling the facility to residual radioactivity level. Decommissioning can be a labor intensive and dirty job, as well as a dangerous one. Some sites have more than just radiation to worry about. At government decommissioning sites, chemicals, munitions, and explosives may also be present. Advanced, integrated radiation detection and radioactivity measurement instruments, as well as chemical analyzers, help mitigate the threat and keep workers safe.
The radiological properties of the waste (e.g. activity and composition of radionuclides, dose rates from the waste) are measured using radiation monitoring instruments. There are various radiation detection solutions that can be used in the decommissioning process including electronic dosimeters for active monitoring of employee exposure, as well as:
- Personnel Contamination Monitors, which identify surface contamination on the body, hands, and feet are used to prevent the spread of contamination.
- Air monitoring systems that give early warning to workers of airborne alpha and beta radiation.
- Multi-Purpose Survey Meters to help to quickly identify mixed radioactive surface contamination in facility and field environments.
- Handheld Radiation Isotope Identifiers which support contamination monitoring and remediation.
It is expected that thousands of pounds of material will be removed before the ship can be rendered safe enough so that it no longer has to be licensed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. It can then be scrapped or turned into a museum. It would be fascinating to see this 1959 nuclear merchant ship that traveled around the world to show off the peaceful use of nuclear power, but those radioactive parts are not relics to be saved.