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Climate Change on Track to Unearth Buried Nuclear Waste, Officials Warn

Unearthed

Officials are worried that rising global temperatures could cause disposed nuclear waste, dating back to the Cold War, to resurface.

According to a January report by the US Government Accountability Office, as spotted by ABC News, waste beneath former nuclear weapons testing sites could be unearthed by 2100 if temperatures continue to rise at current rates.

Climate change could spread the contamination of these testing sites by spreading the contaminated soil or having it enter the oceans, a worrying escalation of an already immense environmental problem.

Rising Tides

It's not just the United States, either. Nuclear waste across the globe could be affected.

Nuclear power plant waste that's been frozen in ice sheets in Greenland could melt as well, per the report. And the clock is ticking: the Greenland Ice Sheet's melting at unexpectedly fast rates, scientists have found.

In the Marshall Islands, a chain of volcanic islands in the central Pacific Ocean where the US conducted 67 nuclear tests between 1946 and 1958, rising sea levels could disturb disposed radioactive waste and potentially contaminate local water supplies.

Despite initial cleanup missions during the Cold War, troops didn't account for longer-term changes in the environment, critics argue.

"The military was in the rush of the Cold War," North Carolina State University associate professor of nuclear engineering Robert Hayes told ABC News. "In hindsight, they could have done a better job."

Fortunately, especially for regions that are near an ocean where huge amounts of water could easily dilute the threat of nuclear contamination, the risk remains relatively low.

"There is generally a public fear that is much higher than the actual risk," Hayes told ABC News.

In other words, according to Hayes, we'll have much "greater issues from climate change" that we'll be grappling with than from a pesky distraction like, say, nuclear waste.

More on nuclear waste: Experts Alarmed by Barrels of Radioactive Waste Off the Coast of LA