Saturday, 23 January 2021

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Toxic top-secret base in Greenland

Camp Century Photo - YouTube

The recent discovery of radio-active waste in an abandoned top secret US military base has attracted the attention of a UN Human Rights Rapporteur.

Baskut Tuncak, the UN Special Rapporteur of the UN Human Rights Council on hazardous substances and wastes visited Greenland and Denmark in October, after a controversial referral of the cleaning up efforts on former US military bases in Greenland to the United Nations.

This concerns cleaning-up of 200,000 litres of diesel fuel, low-level radioactive waste from a nuclear reactor and other chemical and toxic waste. Camp Century was a top-secret US missile base dug into the ice cap in North-western Greenland. It closed half a century ago but a scientific report published in August 2016 has revealed the need for a hurried clean-up effort due to the melting of the surrounding glaciers.

Special Rapporteur Baskut Tuncak

Mr. Tuncak visited both Denmark and Greenland. He said in an interview with the Newsletter that his visit had underlined several issues including the obligation to clear military debris.

“Camp Century poses a unique threat because radio-active waste has been buried for many years,” says Mr. Tuncak, “The information that the authorities have seems to be coming in increments, which leads to a sense of uncertainty as to what exactly is there and what else may be buried and what the full magnitude of the impacts could be. There seems to be need for more transparency from the US military,” he says and points out that local communities in Japan and South-Korea have faced similar challenges.

Earlier sharp exchanges of words between authorities in Nuuk and the central Danish government in Copenhagen grew until Vittus Qujaukitsoq, who handled Greenlandic foreign affairs at the time, added fuel to the fire of controversy by criticizing Denmark for allowing the presence of US bases, which he described as “75 years of accumulated frustration and powerlessness.”.

The United States promised to clean up when Camp Century was closed but according to media reports they refuse to foot the bill.  

Special Rapporteur Tuncak will present a report to the Human Rights Council in September next year. He said that it was commendable that Denmark was taking steps to solve the issue. He said liabilities depended on contractual obligations, the type of information share, how much each side knew and lawyers were working on solutions.

Tuncak also addressed the challenges of waste management in Greenland, which covers a vast but sparsely populated area and concerns over mining activities on the local population.


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