GLOBAL WARMING THREATENS TO RELEASE NUCLEAR WASTE FROM COLD WAR BASE IN GREENLAND
Nuclear waste buried underneath the ice in Greenland in a Cold War-era bunker is at risk of being exposed, scientists fear, due to global warming.
Radioactive coolant, thousands of gallons of sewage and diesel fuel, and tons of PCBs – a chemical coolant, banned in 1979 - were abandoned at the US Camp Century base when it was decommissioned in 1967.
The Americans left the base nearly fully intact, under the assumption that it would be buried forever under accumulated snowfall.
The base was officially used as a scientific centre, designed to carry out experiments such as drilling into the ice core. But it also served as a top-secret nuclear missile testing site, under a programme named Project Iceworm, which was to see if launch sites could be built close enough for missiles to reach the Soviet Union.
When it was mothballed, the nuclear waste was buried in a series of tunnels 50 feet underground. Snow has since fallen on top.
But a new, peer-reviewed study published on Thursday in Geophysical Research Letters, a journal of the American Geophysical Union, warns that the ice is melting faster than snow is falling on top, to replenish it. And climate change could see the material released into the oceans by the end of the century.
“Two generations ago, people were interring waste in different areas of the world,” said Liam Colgan, a climate scientist at York University in Toronto, Canada, and lead author of the study. “And now climate change is modifying those sites.
“When it reached end of life, the army just closed the doors on it and left everything in place,” he told The Toronto Star.
“They did take out the nuclear reaction vessel, but they left everything else in place. Buildings, trucks, supplies, waste, all of it. They thought it would snow forever.”
He said that the ice sheet that sits on Greenland is now melting at a rate of 8,000 tons per second.
Mike MacFerrin, a study co-author, and researcher at the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, said that the waste would then seep into the ocean, threatening the ecosystems of the fish and animals that the people who live in the communities there depend on.
Resolving the matter also presents a political challenge.
The US built the base, with permission from Denmark – although they did not approve the missile testing. Greenland is now a self-governing territory.
“Nato allies really need to demonstrate that they have good closure plans to deal with their legacies of abandoned bases,” said Mr Colgan.
“We’re adding further motivation for more comprehensive discussion of what to do with these abandoned bases in Greenland.”