Energy & Environment

Galveston Residents Ask ‘What Ifs’ About Nuclear Barge Demolition

Ship converted to make electricity with nuclear reactor to be dismantled in Galveston

Corps presentation showing old photo of Sturgis
Corps presentation showing old photo of Sturgis

An old, Army cargo ship that was converted to make electricity with an on-board nuclear reactor is scheduled to be towed to Galveston. Called the Sturgis, it was one-of-a-kind. Forty years ago, the vessel could be floated to where electricity was needed.

But by the mid-1970’s, the Sturgis was no longer needed and it sat for decades in Virginia. Now it is set to be dismantled at a ship yard in the Port of Galveston.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is in charge of the project and hosted a public meeting at the Galveston Convention Center.

Army Corps specialists like Eric Barbour talked with sometimes skeptical Galveston residents about what would happen if somehow radioactive parts sank into the port’s waters.

Julie Clements, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Julie Clements, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers speaking with Galveston resident Kenny Jaynes

“We would clean it up,” Barbour told a resident.

But how?

“Dredge it, I would assume.”

At a formal presentation, the Army Corps said that dismantling the Sturgis will result in some 800 tons of scrap with low-levels of radiation, scrap that will be sent to West Texas or maybe Utah for disposal.

”Ultimately nothing will be left of the vessel and we will completely recycle and or dispose of her,” said Brenda Barber, one of project managers.

Barber said the Corps picked the Malin shipyard in Galveston over locations in other coastal states because it was the best value for the government’s money.

Galveston’s economy relies greatly on tourism and fishing and one resident asked about the impact on dolphins, often seen swimming alongside big ships entering the port.

“Had we seen that there would have been an impact, we would have dropped that location from the path forward, so there is no impact based on our evaluation,” said Barber.

The Sturgis is expected to arrive in Galveston in mid-December.

 

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Dave Fehling

Director of News and Public Affairs

As Director of News and Public Affairs, Dave Fehling manages the radio news operation at Houston's NPR station. Previously, he was a reporter at the station, covering the oil & gas industry and its impact on the environment. He won top state honors for in-depth and investigative reporting as well...

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