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Russia's Self-Contained Nuclear Lighthouses

During the days of the former Soviet Union, the government decided to build autonomous lighthouses on the Northern coast of the country. Often hundreds of miles from the nearest villages and towns, they needed an independent power source.


(Russia's Self-Contained Nuclear Lighthouses)

After reviewing different ideas on how to make them work for a years without service and any external power supply, Soviet engineers decided to implement atomic energy to power up those structures.

So, special lightweight small atomic reactors were produced in limited series to be delivered to the Polar Circle lands and to be installed on the lighthouses. Those small reactors could work in the independent mode for years and didn’t require any human interference, so it was very handy in the situation like this. It was a kind of robot-lighthouse which counted itself the time of the year and the length of the daylight, turned on its lights when it was needed and sent radio signals to near by ships to warn them on their journey. It all looks like ran out the sci-fi book pages, but so they were.

These structures today lie abandoned, the technicians needed to service them were no longer trained and the factories that produced parts were halted when the USSR fell; eventually, the lighthouse mechanisms failed.

Then, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the unattended automatic lighthouses did it job for some time, but after some time they collapsed too. Mostly as a result of the hunt for the metals like copper and other stuff which were performed by the looters. They didn’t care or maybe even didn’t know the meaning of the “Radioactive Danger” sign and ignored them, breaking in and destroying the equipment. It sounds creepy but they broke into the reactors too causing all the structures to become radioactively polluted.


(Polluted, radioactive interior)

I thought about several well-known sf writers when I read this story. In his 1982 novel Friday, Robert Heinlein describes shipstones, which were completely sealed power sources that (depending on size) could power a house, a ship or a city for decades at a time.

I also thought about how the fall of an empire caused similar problems in a fictional work, namely Isaac Asimov's Foundation trilogy. Hober Mallow, Trader, had this conversation with a tech-man about the power stations under his care:

"And all those generators are in your hands?"

"Every one," said the tech-man, with more than a touch of complacency.

"And if they break down?"

The tech-man shook his head indignantly. "They don't break down. They never break down. They were built for eternity."

"Eternity is a long time. Just suppose-"

"It is unscientific to suppose meaningless cases."

"All right. Suppose I were to blast a vital part into nothingness? ...Suppose I fuse a vital connection, or smash a quartz D-tube."

"Well, then," shouted the tech-man, furiously, "you would be killed."

"Yes, I know that," Mallow was shouting, too, "but what about the generator" Could you repair it?"

"Sir," the tech-man howled his words, "...Now get out!"

Via English Russia.

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