In the early 1960’s whilst Cliff Richard was strutting his stuff, skirts were getting shorter and hair was getting longer the Ministry of Transport asked Yarrow’s Admiralty Research Department to seek tenders for the installation of a nuclear reactor power plant in a 65,000 ton deadweight commercial tanker hull with the designation Y127, the ship itself had not actually been designed and the tender was for the feasibility of designing, installing and after care of the nuclear power plant.

 

In the early 1960’s whilst Cliff Richard was strutting his stuff, skirts were getting shorter and hair was getting longer the Ministry of Transport asked Yarrow’s Admiralty Research Department to seek tenders for the installation of a nuclear reactor power plant in a 65,000 ton deadweight commercial tanker hull with the designation Y127, the ship itself had not actually been designed and the tender was for the feasibility of designing, installing and after care of the nuclear power plant.

 

In March and April of 1960 meetings were held between English Electric, Hawker Siddley, Babcox and Wilcox, Mitchell Engineering and the Nuclear Power Group to find the best way forward and to consider the requirements for the tender.

The ship was visualised as a commercial freighting tanker of 20,000 shaft horse power, with a single screw, and a reactor of either the Boiling Water Indirect Cycle or, the Organic Liquid Moderated Type. However the tender was not to include the perceived dockside and port facilities that would be required to maintain the nuclear power plant, like the re-fuelling of the reactor and the handling of the spent radioactive fuel, instead the costing’s for this were to be quoted separately.

The closing date for the tender was to have been the 29th July 1960 and a number of meetings of the various firms involved took place prior to this date. The firms involved each brought their own particular expertise to the project, with the Nuclear Power Group (Swan Hunter’s) looking at the design of the stainless steel clad pressure vessel and the primary shielding as well as the proposed design of the ships structure to support the containment facility, English Electric the containment structure, reactor layout and the steam generator plant.

After the initial meetings one problem surfaced that needed to be urgently addressed, so Yarrows asked the Nuclear Power Group for guidance on the rate of sinking of the ship in case of accident, so that they could ensure the containment structure was pressure balanced by flooding at submergence below 100 feet, supposing that the ship was sinking at around 1 foot per second, this raised the question of the valves required to equalize the pressure in the reactor and it was found that further work needed to be carried out to overcome the problem.

Another problem that was to be overcome by the designers of the nuclear power plant and machinery spaces, was the fact that the tender for the hull itself had not actually been called for, so any installation problems would have to be studied without any detailed design or construction plans so it was suggested that the designers needed to enlist the help of both a shipbuilder and a marine engineer.

When the specifications for the ship were put down on paper the length of the tanker was envisaged as 775 feet with a beam of 112 feet 6 inches and a maximum loaded draught of 43 feet 6 inches, and a fully loaded speed of 15.5 knots. The designers also had to look at the possibility of using a commercial hull already building, or in the design stage to the specifications stated, but with modifications to the machinery spaces to accommodate the nuclear plant. This would mean the removal of the boilers and auxiliary machinery, bunkers removed from the engine room tanks and the deep tank forward. The nuclear plant would then have been installed in its own compartment, separated from the ships side by special collision protection; it was then found that the cargo would have to be re-distributed to maintain strength and trim.

The reactor room would then have been placed immediately forward of the engine room, but separated from it by an oil-tight bulkhead and the sides of the reactor room would have been formed by a continuation of the cargo tanks longitudinal bulkheads, with the wing tanks outboard of the bulkheads designed as collision protection.

Just to complicate matter further the group looking at the tender for the nuclear power plant then received instruction to consider the installation of the power plant in a 35,000 ton deadweight Fast Admiralty Replenishment Tanker, which was given the designation Y501, whilst the commercial tanker became Y502.

 

Y_501_Admiralty_Nuclear_Tanker

 

Fast Admiralty  Replenishment Tanker Y501

showing the location of it's nuclear power plant

 

The Admiralty Replenishment Tanker would in addition to the nuclear power plant, have a turbo-electric drive producing 5,000 shaft horse power and with the nuclear output this would have been 30,000 shaft horse power on each of the two shafts. The design would also have included cargo pumps capable of giving 800 tons per hour when used for replenishment at sea, which would I am sure been very interesting when RASing.

The whole of the nuclear powered tanker design programme was finally abandoned in November 1961as not being cost effective or practical, but that was not before other countries took up the challenge of building a nuclear powered cargo ship, the most famous of which must be the NS Savannah, she was ordered in 1955 for the US Maritime Administration from the New York Shipbuilding Corporation and completed in December 1961.

 

NS_Savannah

NS Savannah

The ship was designed and built to showcase President Eisenhower’s “Atoms for Peace” programme. The ship was designed to be visually impressive, more like a private yacht than a cargo ship and she had 30 air-conditioned state rooms, a lounge that could double as a movie theatre, swimming pool, library and a veranda. She performed well at sea, though she had a crew that was a third larger than a conventional ship of the same dimensions.

 

Ns-savanna-eng

 

Epaulettes of the Chief Engineer

NS Savannah

The ship was decommissioned in 1971 and laid up at Galveston, Texas, then in 1981 she was obtained by the Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum for use as a museum ship, with modifications so that people visiting could look at the layout of the ship, including the reactor space which had viewing windows placed around it.

The second nuclear powered cargo ship was the Otto Hahn of Germany, the ship was laid down at the shipyards of Deutsche Werft AG of Kiel in 1963 and the ships nuclear reactor went critical for the first time in 1968. Otto Hahn was certified to carry a cargo of Ore and Passengers; she made her first port visit in 1970, when she called at Safi in Morocco to load phosphate ore.

 

Otto_Hahn

NS Otto Hahn

Just nine years later in 1979, the Otto Hahn was de-activated, the nuclear power plant and propulsion plant were removed and replaced with conventional diesel engines and on the 19th November 1983 her name was changed to MS Norasia Susan, she has changed hands a number of times over the years and is presently owned by Domine Maritime Corporation of Liberia.

Not to be outdone the Japanese launched their own nuclear powered cargo ship on the 12th June 1970, the ship was built by Ishikawajiima Harima Heavy Industries, Tokyo for the Japanese Atomic Energy Research Institute, the ship was named Mutsu and was designed and built to test the feasibility of nuclear power in a commercial ship, and it is worth noting that the Mutsu never actually carried a cargo. The ship suffered problems from the start, on her first test run the reactor shielding started to leak and whilst the radiation was not significant, fishermen at her home port blocked her from re-entering. In 1995 the reactors were removed and replaced with conventional machinery; she was rebuilt as the Ocean Observation ship Mirai and continues in service.

The final attempt at a commercial nuclear ship was the Russian Sevmorput, which was designed with ice-breaking capabilities, and able to carry barges or containers, she was built at the Zaliv Shipbuilding Plant, Kerch, Ukraine and remains in service, the only nuclear powered cargo ship to survive.

sevmorput

Russain nuclear ship Seymorput

 

It is worth noting that had the design for an Admiralty Fast Replenishment Tanker been adopted and the ship built, then the nuclear power plant could possibly have been incorporated into one of the Ol class of tankers that were laid down in 1964 and 1965, they were around 24,000 tons deadweight, so not far off the intended design weight. It is also worth pondering that if this tanker had indeed been built as a nuclear powered ship, then she would have needed a specialist engineering department to operate her nuclear power plant, this in the 1960 would have probably been outside the expertise of the RFA, and the engine room crew would in all probability have been Royal Navy specialist from the nuclear submarine programme.

It is also fair to say that there are probably not many ports in the world where a ship of his type would have been welcomed. So runs ashore would have been severely limited and loading of oil cargo or stores would have to have been completed at sea. Would you have signed on this ship? - I know I wouldn’t!

 

 

 

Copyright © 2008 – 2017 Christopher J White

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