Digest>Archives> October 2004

The Atomic Light


By Bill Edwards


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On October 19, 1970, the nuclear-powered light in ...

Back in the early 1970s, Canada tested a nuclear-powered light. In the fall of 1970, the Brockville Breakwater Light in Ontario was set up for the test.

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On October 19, 1970, the nuclear-powered light in ...

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Brockville Breakwater Light in Ontario, Canada. ...

Brockville will be the first place in Canada to have the newest in navigational aids – a non-maintenance light which was designed primarily for use in the Arctic and in other places where access and repairs are difficult.

Federal transport Minister Don Jamieson said that the new light, with which his department will replace the one currently on the public dock, is standard except for the source of power. This is provided by means of a radioisotope which generates heat in an enclosing cylinder. The heat is transformed into electricity through a thermo-electric process, thus providing continuous power to the lamp. It is expected that this device will provide continuous power over a period of at least three years.

The unit, which utilizes gamma energy, has been carefully safety-designed to ensure that the outside surface will have a lower radiation level than that of a domestic colour television set. It was developed by the Commercial Products Division of Atomic Energy of Canada Limited in cooperation with the Federal Department of Transport and has been approved by the Department of Health and Welfare and licensed by the Atomic Energy Control Board.

A new tower now under construction on the site has been designed to accommodate the power unit.

If the device works as well as expected it could be an important factor in extending the shipping season in the Arctic, where extreme cold hampers the effectiveness of batteries and limits their life. It could also improve services in other remote locations of Canada, by reducing the cost of inspections and maintenance work on which a large part of the Department of Transport’s marine services budget is spent.


Word has it that the test did last for three years, but that the project was not pursued beyond the Brockville trial run due to cost factors and disposal concerns. Nowadays the light is solar-powered. Brockville is located about 45 miles from the eastern end of Lake Ontario, along the St. Lawrence River.

This story appeared in the October 2004 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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