Global Warming: Arctic’s Nuclear Waste

Warming of Arctic permafrost could spread nuclear waste.


Radioactive waste from the Cold War nuclear submarines and reactors and damage from mining may be released as the Arctic ice melts. Viruses and antibiotic-resistant bacteria may also be released. 

The roughly nine million square miles of Arctic dates back to about a million years old. 

Scientists warn up that two-thirds of the Arctic’s near-surface permafrost could be lost by 2100 as a result of climate change. 

A team of scientists from Aberystwyth University have conducted research and now warn that the area of the Arctic’s near-surface permafrost is warming at as much as three times the average global rate. 

The team of scientists note 130 nuclear weapons have been tested in the atmosphere by the Soviet Union from 1995 to 1990, which has left behind radioactive substances. 

Hundreds of microorganisms are currently frozen in the ice. With the thawing of the permafrost, the bacteria may mix with meltwater and create new antibiotic-resistant strains of existing viruses. 

According to a study published in the scientific journal Nature Climate Change over 100 microorganisms in the deep permafrost have already been found to be antibiotic-resistent.

If the nuclear waste trapped in the permafrost is released, it can be toxic for both humans and animals. 

Thawing permafrost, or permanently frozen land, has widely been seen as a contributor to greenhouse gas emissions as massive stores of Arctic soil carbon are released to the atmosphere as carbon dioxide and methane. Researchers are now looking into the potential release of nuclear waste and radiation and its implications. 

Dr Arwyn Edwards, Reader in Biology at Aberystwyth University and lead author of the study, said in a statement: ‘Changes in the Arctic’s climate and ecology will influence every part of the planet as it feeds carbon back to the atmosphere and raises sea levels.

‘We need to understand more about the fate of these harmful microbes and pollutants and nuclear materials to properly understand the threats they may pose.’


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