‘Secret city’ under Greenland could leak nuclear waste as ice melts, NASA warns

Rob Waugh
Picture Wikimedia Commons

It sounds like the location of a science fiction film – a secret nuclear-powered ‘city under the ice’, where U.S. Army engineers carried out hush-hush weapons research.

But the Cold War Camp Century base in northwestern Greenland is not only real – it poses a serious concern over toxic waste, as Greenland’s ice melts.

NASA showed off maps predicting how ice will melt around Camp Century – with melting predicted to reach 10 feet a year within decades.

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Often working in secret, U.S. Army engineers built a network of tunnels in the ice in Greenland in the early Sixties – a ‘secret city’ powered by its own nuclear reactor.

The base ‘Camp Century’ was highly publicised – but its real purpose was secret, to build nuclear missile launch sites close to the Soviet Union.

NASA says, ‘When the builders of Camp Century began storing waste in Greenland’s ice sheet, they had every reason to rest easy. Snow and ice would continue to accumulate, sealing the Cold War military base in an icy tomb—or so they thought. But the builders failed to foresee that one day, those frigid layers could instead start melting.

‘The pale pink area around Camp Century suggests that by 2090 or so, the area would start to see ice losses… Liquid meltwater could carry PCBs deeper into the ice—and farther downhill—long before surface melting occurs, according to the study.’

The nuclear reactor at the base – which also had a hospital and a church in its tunnels – has long since been removed, but radioactive waste remains.

‘Camp Century’ was built by U.S. Army engineers in 1959, but abandoned in 1967, as the researchers realised that the glacier was moving.

Assuming the site would remain frozen in perpetuity, the US army removed the nuclear reactor but allowed waste – equivalent to the mass of 30 Airbus A320 airplanes – to be entombed under the snow.

NASA says, ‘The Camp Century site contains 200,000 liters (53,000 gallons) of diesel fuel and 24,000,000 liters (6,340,000 gallons) of wastewater, including sewage. It contains an unknown quantity of low-level radioactive waste and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). ‘