(The Greenland Ice Sheet, home to Camp Century, an abandoned US base that could leak radioactive waste)
While certain political parties and public figures (here’s looking at you, Donald Trump) may dismiss the reality of climate change as a politically expedient ploy, the overwhelming majority of scientific opinion not only confirms its existence but has also furnished a sobering look at its longterm effects. From decreased water reserves threatening vulnerable populations to rising sea levels putting coastal cities underwater, climate change poses a number of threats to the social good across the globe.
In addition to the aforementioned macro-level threats, there are also regional particularities that tie directly to climate change. Take, for example, an abandoned US military base in Greenland that has recently garnered headlines for the cataclysmic danger it may pose in the future.
The base, named Camp Century, was built into the Greenland Ice Sheet in 1959 and deserted in 1967. Ostensibly a research station, the camp was additionally used as a potential nuclear launch site, chosen for its striking distance to the Soviet Union.
When the camp was decommissioned, the 200 US military personnel stationed there up and left, with official opinion holding that the encroaching ice would effectively seal off residual pollutants. While this policy may have worked out until now, shrinking glaciers in Greenland may release a host of dangerous materials that could result in an environmental catastrophe.
In a statement, climate scientist William Colgan described the situation:
When we looked at the climate simulations, they suggested that rather than perpetual snowfall, it seems that as early as 2090, the site could transition from net snowfall to net melt. Once the site transitions from net snowfall to net melt, it’s only a matter of time before the wastes melt out; it becomes irreversible.
The secret nuclear program at Camp Century – called Project Iceworm – also featured a nuclear reactor that powered the base and that has most certainly resulted in radioactive waste. Other harmful materials – including biological and chemical waste – also factor into the pollutants that could escape through melting ice.
To further complicate the situation, the responsibility for cleaning up this gargantuan mess is up in the air. The base was created and funded by the United States, but was approved by Denmark, then the colonial power in possession of Greenland. Nowadays, Greenland is an autonomous country.
The case of Camp Century, while high-profile, may not be entirely unique, as Colgan explains: ”Two generations ago, people were interring waste in different areas of the world, and now climate change is modifying those sites.”
As climate change progresses without a meaningful, united response from governments, agencies, and institutions around the world, threats like the one posed by Camp Century will proliferate. And, regardless of how effectively the world turns the tide on climate change, we now live in a reality where Camp Century and other toxic relics will inevitably require herculean efforts to control.
It’s just a matter of time.