Two nuclear generators missing in Arctic

Radioactive Thermal Generators.

Lethal radioactive Strontium-90 source used to power lighthouse likely washed out in the sea north of the Taimyr Peninsula.


Generators using a strong radioactive emitting source were installed in remote located lighthouses all along the Soviet Union’s Arctic coastline in the 70ies. Over the last 10 years, a massive program for collecting and securing the potential lethal radioactive sources has been going on. Norway, for instance, financed removal of 180 so-called radioactive thermal generators (RTGs) along the coast of the Barents-, White- and Pechora Seas during the period from 2001 to 2009. 

Those lighthouses are now powered by solar-panels with battery capacity to last year-around.

Funding is already allocated by USA for continuing wast of where Norway’s program stopped. Canada is also discussing a similar removal support program for RTGs in lighthouses further east on Russia’s Arctic coast north of Siberia.

But, for some of the RTGs, the removal program comes too late.

Russia’s hydrographical agency and the Federal agency for sea and river transport have searched for old RTGs in lighthouses and now announce that two of them are missing. The information is made available in a report to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) by Russia’s Kurchatov Institute. 

A 700 IBS (318 kg) nuclear generator is missing from its location on the Lishniy island in the eastern Kara Sea. The island belongs to Severnaya Zemlya archipelago north of the Taimyr Peninsula. 

Aleksandr Grigoriev with the Kurchatov Institute in Moscow says to Izvestia that the RTG most likely is washed out to the sea. The coastline where the lighthouse once stood was partly washed away. The amount of radioactivity in that particular RTG is believed to be between 46,000 to 50,000 Curie. 

The other missing RTG was located in a lighthouse on the Kamchatka Peninsula in the Far East. 

There are currently 56 lighthouses with nuclear generators still operating in western and central part of the Northern Sea Route, from the Yamal Peninsula in the west to the New Siberia Islands in the east.