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A vision full of power for Australia

By Stuart Ballantyne - posted Tuesday, 10 May 2022

As a Merchant Navy navigator I knew the range and durability of my ship was intrinsically limited to the fuel capacity

In the late1960's and as the new junior 3rd officer of the elderly cargo passenger cargo ship "Francis Drake", we berthed in Yokohama opposite to the world's first nuclear passenger cargo ship Savannah, a superb yacht styled ship. The Marylin Monroe of the shipping industry !

At 1600hrs, when Savannah's passengers started returning from their shore excursions, I made the move. Dressed in full uniform, and carrying a large envelope marked "ORDERS" (containing a handwritten chinese take-away list), I started my brisk march across the pier.


Despite the official crowd including security staff at the bottom of the Savannah's gangway, I marched purposefully through them and straight up the gangway. Bluff used to work then, nowadays you need a badge, a gun, a peaked cap and an Alsatian dog.

The bright orange "art deco" style of the upholstery and space-age styling of the lounge and reception areas made our old 1948 built ship look like a floating relic out of a bleak Charles Dickens novel.

Of course it was only a few minutes later when they realised I was an imposter and apprehended me and politely escorted me off the vessel, despite my protests that I had mistaken their ship as mine.

The Savannah was a showcase of US President Dwight Eisenhower's "Atoms for Peace" initiative. Considering at that post 2nd World War time, the very mention of the word Atom made people instinctively hold their heads and duck, this initiative was a good one.

The Germans at the same time built the "Otto Hahn" and the Japanese built "Mutsu", both nuclear powered. The 164 metre Otto Hahn managed to clock up 250,000 sea miles (11 trips around the world) on a very impressive 22 kilograms of uranium, with no greenhouse gas emissions!.

No other power system comes close to nuclear.


Success stories are generally short lived and the beancounters within the US Administration, decided that losing $2 million a year was just not on, and mothballed Savannah.

This was in 1973 when oil was $20 a tonne, they had no idea that just one year later, the Arab oil embargo would quadruple fuel oil to over $80 a tonne. Small change indeed by today's standards.

Savannah was capable of circling the earth 14 times at 20 knots without refuelling. Nowadays a similar 14,000kW of installed power would cost around US$49 million in just fuel alone.

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About the Author

Stuart Ballantyne is just a sailor who runs Seat Transport Solutions who are naval architects, consultants, surveyors and project managers.

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