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Cold War era military nuclear material may contaminate the planet with radioactive waste if Greenland's ice melts

Radioactive waste

(NaturalNews) For decades, the abandoned nuclear-powered U.S. military base, Camp Century, has been buried below the ice sheet that covers most of Greenland. A U.S. army corps of engineers built the subterranean city that had trucks, tunnels and even a nuclear reactor.

While it was advertised as a polar research station, deep down those icy tunnels hundreds of nuclear missiles were stored and ready to be launched. Almost 50 years ago, when the project was canceled, the camp, along with its hazardous waste – including radioactive material – was abandoned.

The scientists anticipated that the ice would continue to thicken and forever entomb what they had left behind.

The past doesn't stay buried

According to a new study published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, toxic waste from the Cold War era camp has never been properly decommissioned, and may pose a threat to human and environmental health in the future.

Study lead author, William Colgan, an assistant professor in the Department of Earth and Space Science and Engineering at York University in Toronto, said that if we don't take action and Greenland's ice keeps melting at the same pace, Camp Century, and its pollutants, could be uncovered by the end of this century.

Among the chemicals that threaten to be exposed are 53,000 gallons of diesel fuel, 63,000 gallons of sewage and waste water, toxic polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and an unknown amount of radioactive waste water.

While nuclear waste sounds scary, Colgan and his team noted that this isn't as concerning as some of the other toxic materials hidden under the ice pack. According to them, we should worry about the PCBs. These chemicals were once widely used in electrical structures and equipment.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, PCBs are known to damage the immune, reproductive, nervous and endocrine systems. Furthermore, PCBs can increase the likelihood of various health issues, including cancer.

According to the authors, the Arctic is already suffering the ill effects of PCBs due to what is known as the "grasshopper phenomenon." This happens when chemicals are evaporated in warm areas and then carried with the wind to cooler areas where they settle back on the ground.

Who is cleaning up the mess?

The authors of the study warned that if we continue on the present course the site could be uncovered in about 75 years. They added that it would, of course, take much longer before the base itself would become visible.

However, long before we see the structures of the base emerging above the snow level, meltwater could move underneath the ice and carry toxic waste with it as it flows to the coast.

While the area around the camp is desolate, some people that hunt for their food in Greenland and nearby areas of the Arctic could be exposed to these leaking chemicals.

Whether or not this mess will be cleaned up remains unresolved, because it is unclear who owns the waste that is left behind.The Army built the camp under a treaty between the U.S. and Denmark. Colgan and colleagues point out that it is unclear whether Denmark was sufficiently consulted regarding the decommissioning of Camp Century, and thus whether the abandoned toxic waste remains U.S. property.

"All property provided by the Government of the United States of America and located in Greenland shall remain the property of the Government of the United States of America ... [it] may be removed from Greenland free of any restriction, or disposed of in Greenland by the Government of the United States of America after consultation with the Danish authorities," the treaty reads.

Let's hope that at least one of the parties will admit their involvement and start to clean up the mess they made so we can protect our future generations.

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