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Transportation Budget Has $3 Million For Nuclear Ship via Roll Call

Tucked in President Obama’s $94.7 billion Fiscal Year 2016 budget request for the Department of Transportation is $3 million for a ship berthed in Baltimore which has carried neither cargo nor passengers since 1970.

The Maritime Administration is seeking the money for maintenance and “radiological protection” for the nuclear-powered merchant ship Savannah, a National Historic Landmark and an artifact of the Eisenhower Era.

To anyone concerned about fossil fuel pollution, a merchant fleet with no carbon dioxide or sulfur emissions might seem appealing.

The Savannah was launched by First Lady Mamie Eisenhower in 1959 as part of her husband’s Atoms for Peace campaign. It was to be a prototype of clean, efficient, nuclear-powered merchant ships.

In launching Atoms for Peace, President Eisenhower said he wanted to “hasten the day when fear of the atom will begin to disappear from the minds of people” and assure Americans that the billions of dollars they’d spent on nuclear research and development wasn’t for “the sole purpose of using it for world destruction.”

Hopes were high: “Just as the steamboat freed merchant shipping from dependence on wind and tide, so nuclear power can free merchant ships from dependence on the availability of fuel at remote ports of call,” wrote the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) in a bullish report in 1964.

That report also makes interesting reading today as pro-merchant shipping members of Congress worry about the future of the U.S. fleet and argue for the Jones Act and other federal support to keep it afloat.

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The Savannah was taken out of service in 1970 and its reactor core was defueled in 1971, but the reactor components remain low-level radioactive waste and must be removed and disposed of by 2031.

If you’re interested in some nuclear tourism, the Maritime Administration holds one public open house each year on the Savannah. This year it’s on May 17.

Read more at Transportation Budget Has $3 Million For Nuclear Ship

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