Climate Change Could Crack Open a Cold War-Era Nuclear Waste Tomb

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As if catastrophic weather events, flooding, forced migrations, and food shortages weren’t enough of a reason to get moving on a serious plan to combat climate change, here’s one more: it may be about to crack open a Cold War-era nuclear tomb.

What is that? Let’s get a little history lesson…

During the Cold War, the Pentagon thought they’d show off the U.S. nuclear muscle by dropping 67 bombs on the atolls of the Marshall Islands.

Afterward, they gathered up (most of) the irradiated soil and debris from six of the Pacific Islands, and took it (along with contaminated Nevadan soil) and entombed it in a giant, concrete-domed pit on Runit Island.


“The Tomb” is a 17-inch thick concrete dome with a 377-foot diameter, built to contain radioactive material dumped in “Pacific Proving Grounds” (as I’m tying this I’m thinking dear god, what were people thinking back then?!).

The containment has worked since the late 1970s, but now, as the L.A. Times reports, the dome might be close to cracking open as sea levels rise and the climate changes.

Reporters from the Los Angeles Times and Columbia University have found evidence that the dome is covered in cracks that are getting worse as the temperature steadily rises. The sea levels around Runit Island are also rising, causing radioactive material to leak into surrounding waters.


Earlier this year, a peer-reviewed study found that some regions of the Marshall Islands have radiation levels comparable to Chernobyl and Fukushima.

The re-emergence of the Cold War-era issue is dredging up old grievances, as well. When the Marshall Islands officially gained their independence from the U.S. in 1986, the States washed their hands of responsibility for the mess they left behind.

Although the U.S. government agreed to pay for resettlement and healthcare for those affected by the testing, they wanted nothing to do with dealing with the continued monitoring and maintenance of “The Tomb.”

Recently, Hilda Heine, the president of the Republic of the Marshall Islands, made it clear that she doesn’t agree with the States’ way of thinking on this one.


“I’m like, how can the dome be ours? We don’t want it. We didn’t build it, The garbage inside is not ours. It’s theirs.”

She’s not wrong, but as an American, I would like to tell President Heine that, regardless of how correct she is in her thinking, she may want to make a plan to deal with the mess.

Because the chances the U.S. government has one seem pretty darn small.