Thursday, January 10, 2008

Mercury Rising

An almost forgotten relic of World War II has become a ticking time bomb, threatening the island of Fedje in Norway with a large- scale ecological disaster.

By: Vanessa Uy

When the German u-boat U-864 was torpedoed by the British Royal Navy operating near the waters of the island of Fedje (pronounced feyah) during World War II, the act generated repercussions that extends to this day. Recently declassified World War II era documents provided by the United States Government reveals the true mission of U-864. U-864 was transporting 60 metric tons of the toxic liquid metal mercury to imperial era Japan to jump- start her own nuclear weapons program.

In recent years, campaigns to raise the U-864 and salvage her toxic mercury cargo to avoid an ecological disaster that may come sooner rather than later. Interest groups like the Citizens Initiative Raise U-864 are pleading the international community for assistance since salvaging the tons of toxic mercury trapped in a sunken World War II era submarine under 700 meters of water requires tools and expertise that the local government of Fedje just don’t have.

The local inhabitance are quite fearful of the environmental contamination that amount of mercury can cause. Anyone familiar with the term “minamata disease” may have an idea about this. “Minamata disease” was named after a place in Japan, were a factory illegally dumped toxic chemical wastes mostly composed of mercury compounds into the local waterways. The locals eat the fish found in these waters not knowing the extent of the contamination. Many die due to the toxic effects of mercury and many children are born with malformed limbs. The illegal dumping was not immediately halted since it happened just a few years after World War II. Japan was under rapid industrialization, environmental concerns just has to take a back seat. I hope Fedje won’t become a 21st Century Minamata.

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