Agreement to rid Baltic of Radioisotope Thermal Electric Generators signed in Murmansk

Publish date: April 23, 2009

Written by: Alexey Pavlov

Translated by: Charles Digges

MURMANSK – The Murmansk Region and Norway’s northerly Finnmark County will assists and finance the liquidation of 71 radiologically dangerous Radioisotope Thermal Electric Generators (RTGs) used to power military lighthouses for Russia’s Baltic Sea. Russia will also assist in financing the project.

Eight years ago, the Finnmark province and the Murmansk Region agreed to jointly solve environmental problems in the region. Replacing RTGs with thermoelectric generators for lighthouses fell within the framework of this cooperative effort. The RTGs had fallen into decrepitude over many years and become a radiological hazards for the entire Arctic region, as well as an attractive source of radiological theft for would be terrorists because of their remote locations. The Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs contributed 747 million roubles ($23.7 million).

The complexity of the project laid in the fact that the lighthouses were spread over an enormous land-based area along the White, Barents and Kara seas, as well as on the Arctic islands of Kolguev, Vaigach, and on the Novaya Zemlya archipelago. The dangerous generators were dismantled by Murmansk-area specialists, hauled out by helicopters and dropped off on naval vessels.

They were then delivered by rail to the Mayak Chemical Combine for storage. In this manner, 153 RTGs from the Archangelsk and Murmansk regions were disposed of. They are in the process of being replaced by safe batteries – many of them solar – at a rapid pace. Six batteries remain to be installed this year.

“From my point of view, this work was appropriately arranged – that is, a balance between defending environmental interests and not worsening the financial situation was observed,” said the Murmansk Region’s new governor, Dmitry Dmitrienko. “After all, questions of the safety of sea navigation lay at the foundation of any sea-bound economic activity, and replacing dangerous RTGs has allowed the observance of the interests of all states of the Barents Sea.”  

Liquidation of RTGs in the Nemets Autonomous Region will continue along the same schedule. The region was host to 27 RTGs that fall under the purview of the Russian Transport Ministry. Last year, 16 of them were dismantled and hauled away and replaced by sources of alternative energy. The remaining 11 are slated to be dismantled and removed this year.

But this will not complete the work of removing Russia’s RTGs. Other regions of the country are asking for help from the Murmansk Region to deal with their own RTG problems, specifically the Baltic Fleet the RTGs it has situated in the Kaliningrad and Leningrad regions.

Over the next four years, 71 RTS need to be removed, which will be replaced with 56 safe batteries. The funding for the Baltic project will be supplied by Norway, Finland and Russian organisations. On the whole, the Norwegian investment in the project amounts to NOK 55 million ($8.3 million), or 277 million roubles.

“The world economic crisis has not impacted our work on the liquidation of the RTGs,” Gunnar Kjønnøy.

“We have signed an important agreement, and we are doing this for the sake of ridding the Baltic of radioactive sources,” he said. “They cannot fall into the wrong hands or create a danger to shipping and the environment of this enormous region.”

The dismantlement and removal of the RTGs will be performed by Baltic Fleet specialists, Finnmark County, and specialised Murmansk organisations, which have taken part in similar operations in the Arctic Region. In 2009, the destruction of 22 RTGs is planned, nine alternative energy sources will replace the lighthouse power sources. Full dismantlement of the RTGs is scheduled to be completed by 2012.

The governors also discussed one other important project at their meeting – the construction of a storage facility for radioactive waste at Andreyeva Bay. The governors said the all earlier planned measures will be completed despite world financial difficulties, and that the work schedule has not changed.

“I know that ecological organisations demand speeding the tempo of work at the bay. But this is not possible. There is, after all, specific technology that cannot be destroyed,” said Murmansk’s Dmitrienko.

“All will come in its time.”

Governor Kjønnøy supported his Russian counterpart and said that in February a new agreement had been signed in the Norwegian city of Kirkenes – and that it will be carried out.

The contract of which the governors were speaking was for a sum of 2 million rubles ($60,000). The contract is for the development of the technical tasks and conditions for the reconstruction of the external electrical grid at Andreyeva Bay. In May, it is expected that another contract will be signed for the building of a workers’s canteen and training centre.