Try as I might, I’m not perfect. My goal is to get every detail in every story right, but sometimes a post gets through with a factual error. Such was the case last night, in a story about Russia’s new floating nuclear power plant. Some background research led me to believe that it was the first of its kind.
A couple of Ars readers, thankfully, disabused me of that notion quickly (one cool thing about writing for Ars is you always know that you’re writing for a bunch of people who are dramatically smarter than yourself). Though such a power system is quite rare, there has been another floating nuclear plant that we can point to as an example: a US Army barge called the Sturgis, which was installed in Panama during the Vietnam War.
The 10MW floating nuclear power plant was a repurposed World War II Liberty ship. It was unpowered and had to be towed to its destination, where it provided electricity until 1976. While it floated in Panama’s Gatun Lake, it powered both civil and military operations on land nearby, “including powering the locks of the canal during drought to augment its traditional hydropower sources,” according to Christopher Augsburger, a spokesperson for the US Army Corps of Engineers, Baltimore District. In 1977, the Sturgis was decontaminated and readied for long-term storage, and in 2012 the power plant’s official decommissioning began at the Port of Galveston in Texas.
By early 2017, the decommissioning crews had begun to take apart portions of the radioactive Reactor Containment Vessel that had lived on the barge for 50 years. “During the process of dismantling portions of the Sturgis to gain access to and remove radioactive components, the team has been able to safely recycle approximately 600,000 pounds of lead,” the US Army Corps of Engineers wrote.
Augsburger told Ars in an email that the decommissioning process is expected to come to a close this summer. Currently, more than 99 percent of the vessel’s radioactive parts have been transported to waste facilities. “The major remaining effort for the Sturgis in Galveston is essentially radiological surveys confirming the vessel is ready to be released for shipbreaking,” Augsburger wrote. “One key note is that environmental monitoring has been continuous since prior to the arrival of the Sturgis in Galveston, and no evidence of radioactive material, lead, or increased radiation exposure from the STURGIS has been documented outside of the reactor containment area to date.”
Soon only the Sturgis‘ legacy (and recycled steel and lead) will remain.
Listing image by US National Archives and Records Administration
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