Removal of strontium batteries posing radiation hazards

All 180 radioactive strontium batteries (RTGs) in lighthouses in Northwest Russia have now been removed and secured as a consequence of Norwegian-Russian cooperation and funding from Norway. The removal and safe disposal of RTGs and their replacement with solar panel technology in Northwest Russia is a priority area under the Norwegian Nuclear Action Plan.

The last of the remaining radioactive strontium batteries was removed on September 1st from a lighthouse on the Island of Vaigach. State Secretary in the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Elisabeth Walaas, the Norwegian Radiation Protection Authority’s Director General, Ole Harbitz, and the County Governor of Finnmark, Gunnar Kjønnøy, visited Vaigach together with a Russian delegation to overlook the removal.

An RTG (radioisotope thermoelectric generators) is a radioisotope device which transforms thermal energy from the decay of radioactive material into electricity.

In the former Soviet Union, approximately 1000 such energy sources were installed, most of them in lighthouses and navigational beacons. Around two-thirds of them have now been removed. A lack of physical security for the energy sources makes them easily accessible to intruders. A number of attempted thefts in recent years have shown that the radioactive sources can go astray. By removing the sources and replacing them with solar cell technology, the danger of contaminating the environment as well as of them going astray is reduced. RTGs are categorized by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) as radioactive sources with highest amounts of radioactivity and therefore highest risk.

In 2005, a Memorandum of Understanding was signed by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Federal Atomic Energy Agency of the Russian Federation. This provided the basis for the provision of funds by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs for the dismantling of all RTGs in lighthouses in the counties of Murmansk, Arkhangelsk and the Nenetsk Autonomous Area (including Novaya Zemliya), and their replacement by solar panels or other alternative power supplies. Now, all 180 RTGs in these areas have been removed and secured. The project manager from the Norwegian side was the County Governor of Finnmark and from the Russian side, the Murmansk Regional Administration.

Norway and Russia will continue the work in the Baltic sea. 71 RTGs will be removed from lighthouses in the Gulf of Finland and the coast of Kaliningrad in the period 2009-2012. Finnland and France will also contribute to this work.

Inquiries to:  Head of section Ingar Amundsen, Norwegian Radiation Protection Authority, phone: + 47 920 46 233