Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Cluttered and Dangerous

I’ve discussed the issue of underwater munition dumps several times, not so much because they’re a hazard – although they are – but because they’re such a perfect example of what passes for problem-solving among our expert class.

Here’s the situation in Nova Scotia:

Some of the most cluttered and dangerous deposits of bombs in these parts are corroding in soft silt at the bottom of the Bedford Basin and Halifax Harbour, in the centre of the province’s most densely populated region. But thousands of tonnes of other bombs and chemicals are in shallow waters of Sydney Harbour, in Bras d’Or Lake off Eskasoni and off Yarmouth, where a nuclear submarine, rusting in the water, still contains five vertical launch tubes and three live torpedoes....

[B]ecause the harbour is so deep the military has said they don't pose a big threat unless they are disturbed.
It's a good thing that, as James S. Robbins notes, human beings are infinitely adaptable:
Boaters are still not permitted to drop anchor due to the vast amount of unexploded munitions.
A larger worry is that unexploded ordnance may be incompatible with natural gas exploration:
Aging bombs can be easily triggered by minor underwater pressure - the "equivalent to the tap of a pencil," [Terry Long] said, noting that seismic blasts used by companies exploring for gas generate much greater pressure than that.
This could pose a very interesting problem at some point, because while there are obvious – and increasing – incentives for oil and gas drilling, cleaning up undersea UXO would be an incredibly dangerous and expensive undertaking.

Fortunately, we have plenty of experts whom we can trust to assess the situation carefully, and recommend the wisest course of action. Right?

(Given that this nautically themed post coincides with the return of International Talk Like a Pirate Day, I’m obliged to add one final remark: Arrrr.)

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