Melting Arctic May Release Nuclear Waste And Antibiotic-resistant Bacteria

Impact on human health as well as local and global ecosystems.

5 Dec 2021 by The Water Diplomat
PASADENA CA, United States

Melting permafrost poses a risk of releasing "locked" viruses and radioactive material into the environment.

By conducting a systematic analysis of existing studies, the authors concluded that this phenomenon will likely have an impact on human health as well as in the local and global ecosystems.

Permafrost is the name given to land which, in normal circumstances, remains frosted throughout the year and the temperatures are never high enough for it to thaw. However, rising global temperatures are causing these regions to thaw and substances which were previously permanently captured are now being released into the atmosphere.

This process was already known to cause the release of greenhouse gases which, in turn, contribute to the warming of the globe. However, this study indicates that other, more immediately dangerous substances may be about to be released as well.

This is the case, startlingly, the case with radioactive, nuclear waste. Once a region used to conduct nuclear tests by the Soviet Union and the United States, there are now concerns that waste produced by those tests as well as by decommissioned nuclear submarines, may have been trapped in permafrost until now.

This “abrupt” melting may also cause bacteria which have been trapped for hundreds of years to be released. Because they were never exposed to antibiotics, this means that they may be resistant to existing treatments for infections.

There is also the risk that byproducts from fossil fuel mining in the region have been trapped since the start of the industrial revolution and may now be released into the atmosphere.

Talking to the BBC, one of the study’s authors, Dr. Arwyn Edwards of Aberystwyth University, said: “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.”.

With world leaders about to convene in Glasgow to discuss the climate, he added: “"It is imperative demonstrable action is taken at (the) COP26 summit as these findings should concern anybody. As well as fulfilling the targets of the Paris Agreement and reducing the increase in the global climate temperature to 1.5 Celsius, there needs to be a strong and immediate commitment to funding research in this area.”.