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Cold War radar sites get cleaned up in Canada

CBC NewsEye on the Arctic

Decades of work to clean up Distant Early Warning Line sites across Nunavut are almost complete, according to the federal Defence Department.

Officials say the cleanup of debris and contamination at 14 of the 15 DEW Line stations the department handles across Nunavut should be finished by the end of this summer.

"Of the 15 sites in Nunavut, at the end of this summer 14 will have been cleaned up," Dave Eagles, a retired lieutenant-colonel who is leading the cleanup project for Defence Construction Canada, told CBC News.

The old DEW Line sites were part of a radar tracking system that was created across the North in the 1950s and '60s, in an effort to protect North America from attack at the height of the Cold War.

The sites featured experimental housing modules, state of the art communications structures and airstrips. After they were abandoned, the sites were found to be contaminated with toxic waste, including large quantities of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).

Cleanup started in '80s

The Defence Department began cleaning up the DEW Lines in the 1980s. Last month, Inuit-owned Qikiqtaaluk Logistics won a contract to finish cleaning the Cape Dyer site by 2013.

Meanwhile, the department plans to finish work this summer at the Fox 3 site, located near Clyde River and Qikiqtarjuaq, Nunavut.

Speaking in Inuktitut, Clyde River Mayor Apiusie Apak said he is glad the area is almost cleaned up, since people go there and it's not nice to see the mess.

Eagles said once a DEW Line site has been cleaned up, there is little left to look at.

"There will be a non-hazardous landfill, and at most places a Tier 2 landfill as well," he said.

"That should be all you see at a site, plus the bronze plaque we leave to say there was a DEW Line site here and it's been cleaned up."

Local jobs created

Eagles said the Tier 2 landfills, which contain soil with low levels of PCBs, are monitored. Any material that has higher toxicity levels is shipped to southern Canada to be incinerated, he added.

Eagles said many Inuit living near the DEW Line sites have been hired for cleanups, and the Defence Department has worked closely with Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., the territory's land claims organization.

"We get a lot of young people who learn how to drive heavy rock trucks, operate excavators," he said.

"Some people [are] learning how to cater, which is cooking meals for a big camp of hungry people, having them on time. That's a real challenge. So there's a lot of people learning a lot of skills."

This story is posted on Alaska Dispatch as part of Eye on the Arctic, a collaborative partnership between public and private circumpolar media organizations.