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Radioactive nuclear reactors are resting around the globe on the seafloor in derelict subs—some the results of accidents, some intentionally dumped.
Whether they pose a threat to marine and human life now, or if they ever will, remains an open question—and one that may not be answered for another thousand years.
The remains of two U.S. and three Soviet nuclear subs, including reactors and in some cases nuclear-tipped torpedoes, all rest in deep water on the bottom of the Atlantic; any removal efforts would be extremely difficult and costly.
Seafloor reactor sites and surrounding waters are periodically tested for radioactivity levels. Mildly elevated radioactivity has been detected at some sites but not at levels that appear dangerous. The safety features seem to have been effective so far.
Nonetheless, some environmentalists are concerned that the sites pose significant threats, because no one can rule out the possibility of harmful leaks now or in the future.
While it is possible that released radioactive material would be confined to surrounding sediment, some spreading is also conceivable. Either way, marine life could be contaminated, as could humans who eat contaminated seafood.
Based in part on such concerns, most of the Russian nuclear submarine Kursk, which sank in 2000 in relatively shallow water (350 feet/107 meters), was raised last year.