June 1959, Greenland. It is the Cold War and the worlds largest military powers are on edge, everyone fears nuclear war but both sides still hold their hands nervously over their respective ‘red buttons.’ But we are in Greenland and it is the beginning of the construction of a truly grand project by the US Army Corps of Engineering. The project was a challenge that beggars belief; to build a small facility with city-like facilities, all of which was to be buried in the Greenland Ice Sheet. It also was not the most hospitable site, located a mere 800 miles from the North Pole it went through a normal day with an average temperature of -23 degrees Celsius and winds exceeding 200 kilometres and hour (125 mph).
Despite the Herculean task ahead of them they set at t with great tenacity and enthusiasm, due, in no small part to Captain Andre G. Broumas, commanding officer of the first contingent to stay at the camp during the winter. He was a driving force behind the project and was given a distinctive position as the projects ‘Inspirational Commander.’ ‘ANOTHER DAY IN WHICH TO EXCEL!’ was his motto.
October 1960, the site is complete and the PM-2A reactor has been installed: welcome to Camp Century – the worlds first nuclear ice city. Enjoy your stay.
Camp Century was built under the pretence of the ‘Army Polar Research and Development Center’ and it was indeed a self sufficient science outpost for a few years, albeit a very well stocked one. Thanks to the remote location the site had to be powered by the previously mentioned Alco PM-2A reactor, the world’s first portable nuclear reactor(that worked). In addition to sporting an impressive nuclear reactor the site was gifted with a veritable cornucopia of facilites, causing it to function more like a city than a scientific outpost.
These facilities included:
- Kitchen and Mess Hall (Canteen)
- Latrines and Showers
- Recreation Hall
- Hobby Shops
- Science Laboratories
- Standby Diesel-Electric Power Plant
- Ten Bed Infirmary (Hospital) and Operating Room
- Communications Centre
- Barbershop and more…
The camp consisted of a total of 21 tunnels, the largest of which was referred to as ‘Main Street.’ It was over 335 metres long, 8 metres wide and 8.5 metres high. The tunnels or ‘trenches’ were covered with arched corrugated steel roofs and were lined with lights which were on 24/7. To combat snow deformation the tunnels were constantly trimmed as the ice shifted regularly. The site was staffed constantly with a year round average population of 200 soldiers and scientists. During this period the site produced some of the first ice cores using a combination of thermal and electromechanical drills to reach the bottom of the Greenland Ice Sheet in 1961. The true value of the ice cores gathered was not realised until many years later. However the true purpose of the site was soon to take over thanks to the initiative that started the Camp in the first place. Project Iceworm.
Project Iceworm was the code name for a US Army proposal to build a network of mobile nuclear missile launch sites under the Greenland ice sheet; thought of in response to the overarching faxu conflict of the ongoing Cold War. Following the proposal a geographical study was carried out in 1958 and resulted in the construction of Camp Century. Around the time of construction a new type of Intercontinental ballistic missile dubbed ‘Iceman’ was constructed. It was capable of carrying nuclear warheads to anywhere within around 5,500 kilometres(3,500 miles). The initial Project Iceworm proposal involved the installation of 600 of these in the camp within a much larger network of smaller tunnels connected to the surface through which they could be launched and rain nuclear destruction upon their enemies. However studies carried out in Camp Century revealed unexpectedly large shifts in the ice.
With this discovery the Iceworm plans were finally labelled as impractical and were abandoned to the annals of history. Leaving only the scientists at Camp Century to study the ice and occasionally visit the Barbershop.
So what is left of Camp Century? Although it was expected to last for 10 years with evacuation in 1971 the actual ice shifts were, as previously mentioned, greater than expected. By the summer of 1964 the site required laborious trimming and removal of more than 120 tons of snow and ice each and every month. This continued along with the scientists dawdling around, collecting what they though were useless ice cores and visiting the Theatre.
Eventually in 1966 Camp Century was abandoned for good, left to be ravaged by the glacial ice. A return visit was staged in 1969, finding the mangled and twisted remain of buildings. The visitors observing twisted steel beams, snapped supporting timbers and the still standing building being slowly crushed under the ‘extreme pressure of the encroaching snow.’ During its short life the camp did produce some of the first ice cores which provided a solid base for research into climate change and the effects of meteor and comet strikes, with data stretching back as far as the last 100,000 years. The cores are still being studied to this day.
No return visits have since been staged but it is most likely that the tunnels have now collapsed and all that is left is snow and glacial ice, crunching and chewing on the remains of a most marvellous construction. Camp Century, its reactor long removed remains as a small and still furnished city, a ravaged memorial which stands testimony to the desire of humanity to explore the most hostile of environments.