NBC Weapons: The Lost Nukes Of Siberia

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NUCLEAR, BIOLOGICAL AND CHEMICAL WEAPONS

July 19, 2009: Russia has hundreds of nuclear power generators sitting in remote places, posing a risk to the environment, and a potential source of radioactive material for a "dirty bomb" (explosives surrounded by the radioactive material, which is scattered by the explosion, contaminating a large area). These miniature power plants are actually radioisotope thermoelectric generators (RTG). They use a hot (in terms of heat) radioactive isotope (like Plutonium 238) to generate heat, which flows through a thermocouple to a heat sink, producing a few hundred watts of electricity. These power generators are usually designed to last ten years without any maintenance. The Soviet Union used over a thousand of these for space satellites and probes, navigation beacons in remote areas, as well as light houses on its arctic coast. These devices also put out lethal, but short range, radioactivity. Animals who cuddle up to them in the Winter, will die after a few hours exposure. Some illiterate hunters have suffered the same fate.

The United States used several dozen RTGs for space satellites and some navigation beacons in Alaska. Unlike Russia, the United States collected all of its terrestrial RTG units by the mid 1990s, and safely stored them. Not so with the Soviet ones, and Russia is reminded of this from time to time, but many of these reactors are still out there, no longer generating much electricity, but still very radioactive.

 


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