Denmark urged to clean up US military waste in Greenland

November 26, 2016 by Jan M. Olsen
In this file photo dated Aug. 16, 2005, an abandoned US Air Force vehicle is seen on Aug. 16, 2005, outside the eastern Greenland settlement of Kulusuk where there used to be a U.S. Air Force base as part of an early warning radar system. Greenland is calling on Denmark to clean up an abandoned under-ice missile project and other U.S. military installations left to rust in the pristine landscape after the Cold War, because Greenland argues that Denmark is responsible for allowing the Camp Century development. (AP Photo/John McConnico, FILE)

Greenland is calling on Denmark to clean up an abandoned under-ice missile project and other U.S. military installations left to rust in the pristine landscape after the Cold War.

The 1951 deal under which NATO member Denmark allowed the U.S. to build 33 bases and radar stations in the former Danish province doesn't specify who's responsible for any cleanup.

Tired of waiting, Greenland's local leaders are now urging Denmark to remove the junk that the Americans left behind, including Camp Century, a never-completed launch site for nuclear missiles under the surface of the massive ice cap.

"Unless Denmark has entered other agreements with the United States about Camp Century, the responsibility for investigation and cleanup lies with Denmark alone," said Vittus Qujaukitsoq, Greenland's minister in charge of foreign affairs.

Camp Century was built in 1959-60 in northwestern Greenland, officially to test sub-ice construction techniques. The real plan was top secret: creating a hidden launch site for ballistic missiles that could reach the Soviet Union.

The project was abandoned in 1966 because the ice cap began to crush the camp. The U.S. removed a portable nuclear reactor that had supplied heat and electricity, but left an estimated 200,000 liters of diesel oil and sewage, according to an international study published in August.

Scientists are warning that as global warming melts the ice cap, the waste could surface and pollute the environment.

In an Oct. 24 letter to Danish Foreign Minister Kristian Jensen, obtained by The Associated Press, Qujaukitsoq asked about Denmark's plans for Camp Century, adding that an international study said the waste includes "radioactivity, oil and PCB pollution."

PCBs stands for polychlorinated biphenyls, a man-made chemical once widely used in paints, plastics and other products, but were banned after they were demonstrated to cause cancer and other ailments.

In this file photo dated Aug. 16, 2005, a rusty container of lubricant oil for a U.S. military vehicle stands among abandoned U.S. military material on Aug. 16, 2005, outside the eastern Greenland settlement of Kulusuk where there used to be an U.S. Air Force base as part of an early warning radar system. Greenland is calling on Denmark to clean up an abandoned under-ice missile project and other U.S. military installations left to rust in the pristine landscape after the Cold War, because Greenland argues that Denmark is responsible for allowing the Camp Century development. (AP Photo/John McConnico, file)

At a meeting on Nov. 17 in Nuuk, the Greenland capital, to discuss the issue, Jensen said Denmark's Environment Ministry was investigating the environmental risks.

"I hope it can be done as quickly as possible," he told a news conference, declining to give any specifics.

Jensen later told The Associated Press in an email that "it is still too early to say who will be involved in a possible cleanup."

The U.S. military was interested in Greenland during the Cold War due to its strategic location in the Arctic. Under the 1951 agreement, the U.S. also built four radar stations as part of an early warning system to detect incoming Soviet bombers.

The U.S. Air Force still uses the Thule Air Base, about 1,200 kilometers (745 miles) below the North Pole. Military airfields in Narsarsuaq, Kulusuk and Kangerlussuaq have become civilian airports.

Several other military installations have been abandoned, some in remote areas, in the hope they would be entombed forever in the thick ice cap that covers most of the vast island.

Local authorities have started clearing some of the sites, but don't have sufficient resources, said Rasmus Eisted of Danish engineering company Ramboll, which has been involved in some cleanup projects.

Eisted singled out a junkyard in Kangerlussuaq containing miscellaneous military equipment from the time it was a U.S. Air Force Base known as Sondrestrom. The continuing cleanup task was larger than first anticipated, he said.

Aleqa Hammond, a former Greenland premier who now represents the mostly Inuit population of the Arctic island in the Danish Parliament, said Greenland could bring Denmark before a U.N. panel on indigenous issues unless it deals with the junk.

"Denmark is responsible for cleaning up after the Americans," Hammond told AP. "I see a potential political crisis between Greenland and Denmark."

Explore further: Melting Greenland ice threatens to expose Cold War waste

Related Stories

Melting Greenland ice threatens to expose Cold War waste

September 26, 2016

A snow-covered former US army base in Greenland—dubbed "a city under ice"—could leak pollutants into the environment as the climate changes, raising difficult questions over who is responsible for a clean-up.

Melting ice sheet could release frozen Cold War-era waste

August 4, 2016

Camp Century, a U.S. military base built within the Greenland Ice Sheet in 1959, doubled as a top-secret site for testing the feasibility of deploying nuclear missiles from the Arctic during the Cold War. When the camp was ...

Denmark claims North Pole via Greenland ridge link

December 15, 2014

Scientific data shows Greenland's continental shelf is connected to a ridge beneath the Arctic Ocean, giving Danes a claim to the North Pole and any potential energy resources beneath it, Denmark's foreign minister said.

Denmark names first Arctic envoy

January 17, 2012

Denmark, which is planning to lay a claim to the North Pole sea bed, on Tuesday named its first permanent envoy to the resource-rich Arctic.

First step in the Deep Space mission

September 22, 2016

Deep Space is a project that will use a new specially designed telescope to look far into space in order to observe radiation from the early universe. The equipment will be placed at Summit in the middle of the Greenland ...

Recommended for you

The world needs to rethink the value of water

November 23, 2017

Research led by Oxford University highlights the accelerating pressure on measuring, monitoring and managing water locally and globally. A new four-part framework is proposed to value water for sustainable development to ...

'Lost' 99% of ocean microplastics to be identified with dye?

November 23, 2017

The smallest microplastics in our oceans – which go largely undetected and are potentially harmful – could be more effectively identified using an innovative and inexpensive new method, developed by researchers at the ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.