World’s first floating nuclear power plant heads for dismantling site

Sturgis is towed from the Galveston shipping channel into open water on September 25, 2018 as it heads toward Brownsville, Texas. Photo: USACE

The US Army’s first floating nuclear power plant vessel Sturgis got underway from the Port of Brownsville and is en route to her dismantling site.

The vessel is being towed from Galveston to the International Shipbreaking Limited facility after undergoing radiological decommissioning that included the safe removal of all components of the deactivated nuclear reactor and all associated radioactive waste that was formerly onboard.

The Sturgis was the world’s first floating nuclear power plant. She was converted from a World War II Liberty Ship in the 1960s to a mobile nuclear plant. Over the past three years in Galveston, Texas, the US Army Corps of Engineers and it prime contractor, APTIM Federal Services, has been implementing the challenging and complex efforts to decommission the MH-1A — the deactivated nuclear reactor that was onboard the vessel.

As part of that process, the US Army Corps of Engineers safely removed and shipped more than 1.5 million pounds of radioactive waste and recycled more than 600,000 pounds of lead. Throughout the project, continuous environmental monitoring was performed and the results confirmed there was no evidence of radioactive material, lead or increased radiation exposure from the project during its time in the Port of Galveston.

With the successful removal of all radioactive waste from the Sturgis and extensive radiological surveys that confirmed all radioactive waste had been removed, the Sturgis was cleared to be towed to Brownsville for traditional shipbreaking.

“We’re extremely proud of our safety record for the Sturgis decommissioning work in Galveston,” said US Army Corps of Engineers Project Manager Brenda Barber. “Now that we’ve confirmed that all of the radiological contamination has been safely removed, the last phase of the Sturgis project will be towing the vessel to Brownsville where she will undergo final shipbreaking and recycling.”

Once in the Port of Brownsville, the Sturgis will undergo additional radiological surveys as part of ISL’s standard operating procedures. The shipbreaking is expected to be completed in early 2019. Based on current estimates, approximately 5,500 tons of steel and other assorted metals from the ship will be recycled.

The Sturgis has had a unique life since first being built in the 1940’s as a World War II Liberty Ship, the SS Charles H. Cugle. After serving in World War II, the ship was converted into the world’s first floating nuclear plant in the 1960’s, housing the MH-1A nuclear reactor. Before being shut down in 1976, the Sturgis’ nuclear reactor was used to generate electricity for military and civilian use in the Panama Canal.

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