From I Really Appreciate Science, 2017: Russia’s 132 Nuclear Lighthouses, A source of Arctic Vortex Collapse?  Maybe…not, but I crunch some of the numbers to show you. Can’t Blame “Ivan”

Screen Shot 2017-12-29 at 12.21.36 PMFirst, in the 1960’s Soviet Russia built ~132 ‘Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator’* (RTG)-powered lighthouses.  This consisted of a string of Nuclear-Powered Lighthouses along their Arctic Coastline.  Each of the 132 lighthouses has 10 RTGs running on Strontium-90, one of the most deadly, inefficient nuclear fuels occurring naturally from Uranium decay.

  • Deadly, because it will replace Calcium in bones, instigating in some individuals bone cancer and leukemia.  In sea shells, and minerals it will appear as a natural component while it decays, heating up the environment.  In this case, the Arctic Ocean near Russia and Siberia. ***
  • Second, in keeping with the “responsible leadership” of the Putin regime, they let these lighthouses go unattended.  with routine inspections every few years by the Russian Northern Fleet.
  • Third, they have been vandalized and radioactive waste has sullied every  Arctic river system flowing into the Barents Sea and Kara Sea.
  • Fourth, The Barents Sea and Kara Sea are the sights of  the greatest changes in Arctic Sea Ice Minimum and are a reason that the Arctic Vortex Collapse is occurring.

Hmmm.  A first question might be, has any government body or a single atmospheric or environmental scientist taken this consideration into their calculations?

Secondly, how many RTG’s are accounted for now?  After the present Russian government attempted to remove a few RTGs by helicopter, only to ‘drop one in the ocean’, they said they will ‘stay in place.’

If the number is down to 1,000 RTGs, is that enough to help heat up the Arctic Ocean to account for the change in Arctic Sea Ice melting?

Let’s do a straight-forward calculation to see if this even worth considering.  If we assume one RTG the size depicted in the photo (above) contains 1,000 lb of Strontium-90. Then, 1000 lb of Strontium-90 = 453,600 gm.s

One lighthouse with 10 RTGs:  1000 lb X 10 RTGs = 4,536,000 gm.s.  If 0.46 Watts are generated by one gram then this is equivalent to ~2 MW.  [0.46 W/gm X 4,536,000 gm.s].

Each of the lighthouses with 10 RTGs would have ~2MWs of  generating power.

One Calorie of energy will raise the temperature of one gram of water one degree C.

4.184 Watt = 1 Calorie/second.  About four Watts is required to raise the temperature of  1 gram of water in one second.  Or, 4.184 W will generate 1 Calorie every second.  Two MW = 478,011 Calories/second or ~478 kilograms of water could be raised 1 degree C every second.  At each lighthouse.

Now, from the opposite end, let’s use take the data of measured temperature rise at the surface of Lake Baikal and rivers flowing into the Arctic.  They have  documented increases in temperature of 1.2-2.0 degrees C. How many calories to raise that water just 1 degree C?

To compare our calculation to Arctic Sea Ice loss measured in cubic meters, we must covert “grams” to “cubic meters” of water: one cubic meter of water at 20C (known as STP) is ~2.4 million gm.s.

Arctic Sea Ice is measure in terms of visible area to microwave satellites: MILLIONS OF SQUARE-KILOMETERS. Then investigators go down and measure the depth of the ice where they have clear microwave images. Usually much greater than 1 meter.  We will also change from thinking in terms of seconds to actually raising the temperature 1 degree over an hour (3600 seconds), then a day. Which is more realistic.

71,500 cubic meters raised one degree C in an hour for all 132 lighthouses. Or 1.72 million cubic meters/day are raised 1 degree C.

154 million cubic meters/Summer season (90 days) raised only 1 degree C or half the observed rise in temperature in Lake Baikal and Arctic rivers.  This is the maximum range for 132 nuclear-powered lighthouses with 10 RTGs each.

Concluding, it certainly has the prospect for having a significant impact on Arctic Sea Ice melting and Arctic Vortex Collapse if 154 million cubic meters could be raised a degree in the Summer season.

Would it be responsible for all  the melting? No. Not even close.  Remember that melting is still seasonal before freezing begins.  And this assumes the whole amount of Strontium-90 did nothing else but heat water and was present in the environment to do so.

The difference between Science and Opinion: I am no friend – as a scientist – to oppressive regimes.  In fact, I started out the calculations on the potential impact 132 ancient nuclear-powered lighthouses, owned by Russia, would have on Arctic Vortex Collapse via Arctic Sea Ice melting along the Siberian Coast with a certain bias against Russian President Putin.

However, the impact of 132 nuclear-powered lighthouses on Arctic Sea Ice melting – while still significant – cannot account for the majority of melting every summer. Nor even the half of the measured temperature rise.  I hope my calculations prove accurate.

A scientist should be wrong often enough to know when she is right, but she can never be dishonest.  “Know me,” she might say, “by my Science.”

You can perform the same experiment under the same conditions, but differ in the results, said Prof Dr Feynman at the end of a lecture.  In fact, he is correct. We make unseen assumptions every time we use any “simplifying” equation.  A physicist has to be a hard worker, constantly re-evaluating and re-calculating before publication of a peer-reviewed article. She must seek scientific truth from facts.


  • * RTGs use thermocouples to convert heat from the radioactive material into electricity. Thermocouples, though very reliable and long-lasting, are very inefficient; efficiencies above 10% have never been achieved and most RTGs have efficiencies between 3–7%. Thermoelectric materials in space missions to date have included silicon–germanium alloys, lead telluride and tellurides of antimony, germanium and silver (TAGS). Studies have been done on improving efficiency by using other technologies to generate electricity from heat. Achieving higher efficiency would mean less radioactive fuel is needed to produce the same amount of power, and therefore a lighter overall weight for the generator. This is a critically important factor in spaceflight launch cost considerations.
  • ** Strontium-90 has been used by the Soviet Union in terrestrial RTGs. 90Sr decays by β emission, with minor γ emission.  While its half life of 28.8 years is much shorter than that of 238Pu, it also has a lower decay energy with a power density of 0.46 watts per gram.  Because the energy output is lower it reaches lower temperatures than 238Pu, which results in lower RTG efficiency. 90Sr is a high yield waste product of nuclear fission and is available in large quantities at a low price.  Let’s just think about that last sentence for a moment as we look at just one RTG (below) for the Russian Lighthouses.  Remember, each Lighthouse was equipped with at least 10-100 of these beasts…Screen Shot 2017-12-29 at 8.14.13 PM
  • ***A study of hundreds of thousands of deciduous teeth, collected by Dr. Louise Reiss and her colleagues as part of the Baby Tooth Survey, found a large increase in 90Sr levels in through the 1950s and early 1960s. The study’s final results showed that children born in St. Louis, Missouri in 1963 had levels of 90Sr in their deciduous teeth that was 50 times higher than that found in children born in 1950, before the advent of large-scale atomic testing. Commentators on the study said that the fallout was likely to cause increased cases of diseases in those who absorb strontium-90 into their bones.  An article with the study’s initial findings was circulated to JFK (R.I.P.) in 1961, and helped convince him to sign the Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty ending the above-ground nuclear weapons testing that placed the greatest amounts of nuclear fallout into the atmosphere.  The Chernobyl disaster released roughly 10 PBq, or about 5% of the core inventory, of strontium-90 into the environment.

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