Weapons as Wastes

October 9th, 2004 - by admin

Earthwatch / United Nations Environment Programme – 2004-10-09 00:35:31


As military tensions diminish and disarmament agreements are implemented, there has been a growing recognition of the enormous problem with the disposal of obsolete weapons, particularly nerve gas and chemical weapons stockpiles and nuclear weapons, which were never designed with safe disposal in mind.

The combination of explosives and highly dangerous chemicals, often deteriorating and becoming increasingly unstable, makes dismantling such weapons, neutralizing their contents, and even transporting them to disposal facilities, both extremely expensive and environmentally risky.

The US alone has over 30,000 tons of chemical weapons whose disposal could cost at least $12 billion (Smolowe, 1996). More than 50 ocean and inland lake sites across the US contain explosive items, and harbours and beaches at the site of old battles throughout the world are riddled with unexploded bombs (Knight, 1998).

While Russia has never made any formal admission, there is evidence that the Soviet Union dumped 150 000 tons of mustard agent and other chemical weapons in the Barents and Kara Seas between 1945 and 1982.

It is unlikely that anything more than local damage resulted, as chemicals break down in seawater. However, the water is close to freezing temperature, and arsenic is more persistent. Given the enormous investment in armaments around the world, the problem of military waste can only increase. (MacKenzie, 1998)


• Knight, Jonathan. 1998. Quoted in “Bombs Away”. New Scientist, 13 June 1998, p. 6.

• MacKenzie, Debora. 1998. “Plumbing the depths of the Cold War”. New Scientist, 14 February 1998.

• Smolowe, Jill. 1996. “Chemical time bombs.” Time, 12 February 1996.