There was some interest in the 80s and 90s in providing runways in remote areas with tritium lighting (which requires no external power, since the radioactive decay in a sample of tritium gas induces radioluminescence in a suitable material). However, apart from this failed trial in Alaska (pdf) and various vague mentions of it on the internet, I can't establish if this every became a viable technology.

Has it become widely-used (perhaps for military airstrips, if not for civilian ones)? And if so, how did the technology improve in the last couple of decades to make it work?

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    $\begingroup$ Good question, but I think the fact that you cannot find any references beyond the failed trial points towards a negative answer. Would still be nice to hear from someone who has had experience with alternate lighting systems. $\endgroup$ Jan 7, 2019 at 12:14
  • $\begingroup$ The document you posted said that Tritium lighting was in use in Alaska for part 91 operations at the time, and was FAA approved for that, document was for testing approval to part 135 operations. $\endgroup$
    – GdD
    Jan 7, 2019 at 14:52
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    $\begingroup$ I would think the advent of solar/battery powered LED based systems, along with really effective reflector based systems, has killed whatever market interest there would be in a tritium based system. $\endgroup$
    – John K
    Jan 7, 2019 at 16:53
  • $\begingroup$ I would hope, @JohnK, that they use a better solar panel/battery combo than the ones on my back deck lights! ;) $\endgroup$
    – FreeMan
    Jan 8, 2019 at 13:35
  • $\begingroup$ Some poorly funded GA airports had/have reflectors in place of lights along the runway. Your landing light made them show up fairly well. Some runways had radar reflectors on the approach end of the runway (mostly military, I assume.) $\endgroup$
    – Mike Brass
    Jan 14, 2019 at 6:29

1 Answer 1


I think it's a major headache to heave radioactive material in remote areas. Soviet union used RTG for lighthouses. A lot of countries were worried about that. You can find articles on the internet. So probably it's not very good idea due to threats.

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    $\begingroup$ Tritium has a very long half life and a simple decay chain which produces no neutrons. Also, it does not bioaccumulate. It is much safer than an RTG. $\endgroup$ Feb 1, 2019 at 9:51
  • $\begingroup$ One RTG per light would be way too much power. A runway doesn't need a frickin' laser^H^H^H^H^H lighthouse every fifty feet down the centerline. $\endgroup$ Apr 3 at 2:43

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