Nukewatch Quarterly Fall 2016
A recent study led by Canada’s York University shows that radioactive and other hazardous wastes buried and abandoned by the US military in Greenland’s melting ice cap could be exposed by 2090. Built in 1959 at a depth of up to 115 feet under the ice surface, “Camp Century” housed 200 military personnel in facilities powered by an on-site nuclear reactor. Code named “Project Iceworm,” its mission during the Cold War was to determine whether the area could support launch sites for nuclear missiles aimed at the Soviet Union.
When the Pentagon decommissioned Camp Century in 1967, researchers estimate it left behind 52,800 gallons of diesel fuel, 63,400 gallons of sewage and other waste water, toxic polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and an unknown volume of highly radioactive reactor coolant. According to a news source from Denmark—which controlled Greenland at the time—the US promised to clean up the site, but officials left the hazardous materials, assuming they would stay contained within the ice forever. Now Greenland’s ice sheet is melting at a rate of 8,000 tons per second, or 280 billion tons of ice entering the ocean each year. Once the melted ice reaches the pollutants, it could potentially transport them to the sea.
Now that Greenland is a self-governing territory, determining state responsibility for the cleanup could cause political conflict between the three governments. While Denmark gave permission for the US to use the 136-acre Camp Century site near Thule Air Force Base, its post-World War II policy prohibited nuclear weapons on its territory—a rule that the US broke by keeping at least 50 nuclear warheads at Thule between 1958 and 1965.
—USA Today, Aug. 4; IANS (independent newswire, India), Aug. 5; Copenhagen Post, June 29 & Aug. 15, 2016