Bush's New 'Star Wars' Base a Radioactive Danger
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Source: Common Dreams
Published on Saturday, August 11, 2001 in the Independent /UK
Bush's New 'Star Wars' Base a Radioactive
by Steve Boggan in northern Greenland
The US Air Force base that will be twinned with Fylingdales in north Yorkshire in George
Bush's "Star Wars" plans is a potential radioactive hazard with sealed missile silos
containing unidentified waste and an abandoned tip where rubbish was simply pushed into
the pristine waters of the Arctic.
The Independent and Greenpeace have uncovered mountains of abandoned waste and
claims that workers at the Thule base in northern Greenland became ill after a B-52 crashed
with four hydrogen bombs on board in 1968.
There is evidence, too, of environmental pollution on a grand scale at other disused US
bases in Greenland: at Marraq, where a Greenpeace team found tens of thousands of
rotting barrels, and at Kulusuk on the east coast, where huge quantities of industrial scrap
have been left to rust.
Thule is one of a number of forward radar bases that will be needed if President Bush's
ballistic missile defense shield is to be effective. All but Thule and Fylingdales are in
territory controlled by America. To use these two bases, the US must first obtain
permission from the UK and Denmark, which governs Greenland, but opposition to the plans
is mounting in both countries.
This week, The Independent revealed how 150 Inuit people were forcibly moved from their
homes in 1953 to make way for the Thule surface-to-air missiles and how a legal challenge
to reclaim their land will be heard by the Supreme Court in Denmark in autumn next year.
In the meantime, the primary concern of the Inuit, who were moved more than 100 miles
(160km) north of their sacred hunting grounds on the Dundas peninsula, next to the Thule
base, is that if they are given the right to return, their land will be toxic. "I am worried that
the nuclear pollution might endanger all living species," said Vittus Qujaakitsoq, secretary
to the Minister for Industry in Greenland and a prospective Social Democrat candidate for
the Danish parliament. "We have been finding deformed animals in the area, mainly seals
with no fur, and deformities of the entrails, guts and organs. These are the animals the
people must hunt, so we want to know for sure whether the area is safe."
Mr Qujaakitsoq said Greenlanders had been given assurances the area was safe after the
B-52 crash, in which between 500g (1lb) and 1.8kg (4lb) of plutonium went missing in the
waters of Bylot Sound, but they had been given no hard evidence.
Among allegations made to The Independent by a number of sources are that:
• A whole H-bomb – serial number 78252 – was lost in the January 1968 crash.
• The amount of plutonium involved was higher than that admitted by the US – up to 12kg.
• Barrels filled with contaminated ice and snow after the crash were removed to America –
but some were allowed to thaw in the spring and leaked into local soil.
• Toxic sump oil was used on roads "to keep dust levels down in summer".
Some of the claims are impossible to evaluate because of a refusal by the US and Danish
governments to reveal details of US environmental impact reports totaling about 4,000
pages. As recently as two weeks ago, an attempt by a Greenpeace toxics campaigner,
Jacob Hartmann, to gain access to a key US report, The Thule Environmental Survey, was
rejected by the Danish Foreign Ministry, which said the US authorities were "resisting
It is clear, however, that the Danish Environment Ministry is not happy with the American
findings. On 9 June, it asked the Danish Finance Ministry for £400,000 to commission its
own report, saying US surface-to-air missile silos had been filled with waste and concreted
over, and alleging that the American report had concentrated on one dump only, ignoring a
second dump, landfill sites and the impact of waste on groundwater and marine life.
One former worker at the base, John Pederson, told The Independent: "We used to just
push waste out over the edge [into the sea]. Other workers told me they had seen
radioactive waste from the B-52 crash allowed to thaw in the summer and just leak into the
ground. I wanted to speak out because I am worried about the Eskimos [sic]. They eat the
animals that live in the water round here."
Asked whether he had ever seen how chemicals were disposed of, he said no, but added:
"All the waste oil was put on the roads because they got very dusty in the summer."
After the 1968 crash, some of the 1,000-plus employees who helped in the clean-up
established the Thule Workers' Association when they found the incidence of cancer among
their number was higher than the Danish national average.
"Mostly, the Danish workers were driving vehicles and forklift trucks containing
contaminated snow, ice and equipment blown up in the crash," said Jens Zinglersen, the
association chairman. "Today, you would see people in some kind of space suit doing that.
In those days, there was no such protection, not even masks, so radioactive material was
simply breathed in."
The workers have been given small sums of compensation, but the Danish government has
not admitted that the workers' illnesses – which Mr Zinglersen says includes "strange skin
cancers" – were caused by radiation. He said after the crash: "Snow and ice was scraped
up but the rest of the ice that remained there was covered in heavy carbonate sand, which
sank to the bottom of the sea when the ice melted in the spring. And, in the fire, a lot of
equipment melted into the ice – that all sank too."
Mr Zinglersen said he was more critical of the Danish government than the American
authorities. "At least the Americans have provided us with thousands of pages of evidence,"
he said. "From this, we believe one bomb has never been found and is now on the bottom of
the sea. They have found a bit of the casing, but not all the stages. We believe, from the
evidence, that the missile was marked MK 28 and had the serial number 78252."
In 1997, a sampling expedition conducted by a Greenland Home Rule ship, the Adolf
Jensen, found that "hot particles are still present after 29 years: high anomalies signifying
hot particles have been identified not only in the 10-15cm [4in-6in] peak layer, but also in
the upper biota-reworked sediment layer".
When asked by The Independent why the Thule survey was being kept secret, Ole
Samsing, head of N7, the Danish government department that represents Greenland's
foreign interests, said: "Because the owner of the report does not want it to be released by
a third party."
Asked who the "owner" was, Mr Samsing replied: "The US government." He said it was
considered sensitive during relations between the two governments over the return of a small
part of the base – the table-top Dundas mountain and peninsula – which is symbolic to the
Inuit but relatively useless in practical terms.
Mr Samsing said no surveys had been conducted by the Danish government since the
Eighties. But three Greenpeace activists who broke into the base this week, Vincent
Custers, Olivier Devaux and Lawrence Turk, said they saw evidence of waste, including a
number of oil and chemical drums abandoned in a river.
The US Air Force said that it was unable to comment on The Independent's findings at
© 2001 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd
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