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Last strontium battery removed

The last of the remaining radioactive sources used to provide power to lighthouses in the Barents Region was removed on September 1st. Norway has been involved with the removal of the dangerous strontium batteries from the 180 lighthouses along the Barents Sea and White Sea coastal areas.

The removal of the last radioisotope thermoelectric generator (RTG) from a lighthouse on the Island of Vaigach happend without any problem. State Secretary in the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Elisabeth Walaas, visited Vaigach together with a joint Norwegian and Russian delegation to overlook the removal. The strontium battery was taken onboard a vessel and shipped to the servicebase for Russia’s nuclear powered icebreakers, Atomflot, in Murmansk.

Since 1998 Norway has, in consultations with Russian authorities, financed the removal of RTGs and replaced them with environmentally friendly solar cell technology. The Norwegian Government has spent more than $20 million on the RTG removals with the aim to avoid radioactive contamination of the marine- and terrestrial environments.

Also, it is important to remove the strong radioactive sources from the remote - and unguarded, areas to prevent unwanted access to sources of radioactivity.

According to information from the County Governor of Finnmark in Norway, there have been four attempted thefts from lighthouses powered by strontium batteries in the northern areas.  The County Governor of Finnmark is the project manager on the Norwegian side, while the removals are coordinated by Rosatom on the Russian side.

After removal the radioactive sources from the RTGs are sent to the Mayak plant in the South Urals for long-term storage.

The first lighthouses with RTGs to be removed were those near the border to Norway west of the Fishermen’s Peninsula on the Barents Sea coast. Originally there were 180 RTGs in the Barents Region. Half of them were removed before 2006. As of 1 January 2006, there were 84 RTGs in the Murmansk, Arkhangelsk and Nenets regions, including those on Novaya Zemlya. During the autumn of 2006, six RTGs were removed from the area by the White Sea. In 2007 the remaining 21 RTGs in Arkhangelsk as well as some from Novaya Zemlya were removed. In 2008, a total of 46 RTGs in Nenets Autonomus area and on Novaya Zemlya were removed.

The last 11 RTGs on the islands of Novaya Zemlya, Kolgoyev and Vaigach are removed now.

After the inspection on Vaigach, State Secretary Elisabeth Walaas will travel to the Kola Peninsula where Norway and Russia cooperates on several other nuclear safety projects, including decommissioning of retired nuclear powered submarines. On Wednesday next week, the annual meeting in the Bilateral Commission for Nuclear Safety will take place in the Pasvik valley near the Norwegian border town of Kirkenes. 

As of January 2009, Norway has granted just over NOK 1.4 billion for nuclear safety work in Northwest Russia.

According to the Norwegian Action Plan on Nuclear Safety; Norway will continue to finance the removal of Russian RTGs from coastal areas. Now, when all RTGs are removed from the Barents Region, the work starts with the RTGs in the Leningrad and Kaliningrad regions. Here, 71 RTGs needs to be removed.