UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres (File photo)
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres (File photo)

Cold War 'coffin' leaking radioactive waste in Pacific, UN expresses concern

ANI | Updated: May 16, 2019 23:24 IST

Washington D.C. [USA], May 16 (ANI): UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Thursday confirmed that a massive concrete dome built during the Cold War era to contain waste from nuclear testing conducted by the US has degraded and began leaking into the Pacific Ocean.
Speaking to a group of students in Fiji, Guterres described the structure on Enewetak Atoll in the Marshall Islands as "a kind of coffin" and said it was a legacy of the US' atomic weapons testing in the Pacific, Al Jazeera reported.
"The Pacific was victimised in the past as we all know," said Guterres, referring to nuclear explosions carried out by the US and France in the region.
The Marshall Islands were ground zero for 67 American nuclear weapons tests from 1946 to 1958 at Bikini and Enewetak atolls when it was under the US administration.
Hundreds of people residing on the islands were forcibly evacuated and resettled or were exposed to radiation.
The tests included the 1954 "Bravo" hydrogen bomb, the most powerful detonated by the US, about 1,000 times bigger than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima.
Guterres, who is touring the South Pacific to raise awareness of climate change issues, said Pacific Islanders still needed help to deal with the fallout of the nuclear testing.
"The consequences of these have been quite dramatic, in relation to health, in relation to the poisoning of waters in some areas," Guterres added.
"I've just been with the president of the Marshall Islands (Hilda Heine), who is very worried because there is a risk of leaking of radioactive materials that are contained in a kind of coffin in the area," he was quoted as saying.
The "coffin" is a concrete dome, built in the late 1970s on Runit Island, part of Enewetak Atoll, as a dumping ground for waste from the nuclear tests.
Radioactive soil and ash from the explosions were tipped in a crater and capped with the concrete dome, which was then capped with 45 centimetres of concrete.
However, the dome is now proved ineffective at containing the waste in the long run as the bottom of the crater was reportedly never lined at all.
Cracks have also developed in the concrete after decades of exposure. Authorities are concerned that it could break apart if hit by a tropical cyclone.
Expressing concern over the situation, Guterres tweeted, "Our oceans are in serious trouble, from coral bleaching to biodiversity loss. Healthy oceans save lives and livelihoods. We need urgent climate action to protect our oceans - and our future." (ANI)