Antarctica’s Nuclear Past

Today it's hard to imagine a nuclear power plant in Antartica. Environmental regulations for the continent are pretty strict, and the many countries that operate on the continent are bound by them, with the goal of keeping Antartica as pristine as possible while conducting research there. But there was a small nuclear reactor at McMurdo Station in the 1960s, constructed to save money on shipping fuel to the American station.

“Nukey Poo” began producing power for the McMurdo station in 1962, and was refuelled for the first time in 1964. A decade later, the optimism around the plant had faded. The 25-man team required to run the plant was expensive, while concerns over possible chloride stress corrosion emerged after the discovery of wet insulation during a routine inspection. Both costs and environmental impacts conspired to close the plant in September 1972.

This precipitated a major clean up that saw 12,000 tonnes of contaminated rock removed and shipped back to the USA through nuclear-free New Zealand. The clean up pre-dated Antarctica’s modern environmental protection regime by two decades, and required the development of new standards for soil contamination levels.

Now it is illegal to remove even a single rock from Antartica. Read more about Nukey Poo and the evolving environmental standards standards for Antarctica. -via Metafilter

(Image credit: Peter Rejcek, National Science Foundation)

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