Unknown Hazard Posed by Offshore Nuclear Waste Dumps

Wednesday, 01 Jan 2014 07:18 AM

By Elliot Jager

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The uncertain ecological and health risks posed by thousands of steel drums containing nuclear waste dumped until 1970 into the ocean off California and Massachusetts is a legacy of the Cold War, according to the Wall Street Journal.
The waste now sits on the ocean bed though precisely how much, where, and in what condition no one knows for sure.
Between 1946 and 1970 something like 110,000 barrels were tossed into the oceans at various sites off the east and west coasts.
Some of these 55-gallon drums contained nuclear waste with short-life spans but others will remain radioactive for a thousand more years.

No systematic effort has been made to determine if there is a contamination problem, the Journal reported.

Among the places drums were dumped was near the Farallon Islands, west of San Francisco, which overlaps an area with a national marine sanctuary.

Possible contamination of the site has not been checked in decades. In 1991, traces of americium, a radioactive decay product of plutonium, were found in some fish samples, the Journal reported.

The position of the State Health Department in California is that monitoring the dump sites ought to be a federal responsibility.
A now-retired fisherman, Frank Mirarchi, 70, recalls occasionally hauling in containers of nuclear waste off Massachusetts Bay. Officials checked him and other crew members and told them they did not see any problems. 

Two bottom-dwelling species were declared off-limits to fishermen by Massachusetts authorities, the Journal reported.

A 1995 article in the Natural Resources Journal by law expert Kristin Moody-O'Grady reported that the former Soviet Union had dumped 2.5 million curies of radioactive waste into the oceans.

This quantity is "twice the combined total radioactive waste dumped by twelve other nuclear nations during the entire nuclear era."
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