One of the most well-known US military bases in the Arctic is Thule Air Base, in Greenland’s frigid northwest. Less well-known is the now-defunct Camp Century. Just 150 miles from Thule, the area surrounding Camp Century is bitterly cold. Nighttime temperatures dip to -70°F and wind whips ice and snow through the air at 125 miles per hour.
Camp Century was opened in 1960 rather openly— the US Army released a short documentary film outlining the new construction techniques used to build the camp. Publicly at least, the camp was supposed to be used for conducting scientific research in the Arctic.
In reality, Camp Century was cover for a top-secret weapons project. The Danish government was opposed to housing nuclear weapons on their soil, and was thus not informed about Camp Century’s true purpose.
At Camp Century, engineers developed and improved subterranean Arctic building techniques. Modified tractors cut deep trenches nearly 30 feet into the ice. These trenches were then covered with steel semicylinders and topped with snow and ice that froze them firmly into place, providing shelter for the small underground city.
Transporting or airdropping diesel to fuel power generators would have been prohibitively expensive, and impossible during extreme weather conditions. The solution was to install a portable nuclear reactor that addressed all of Century’s electricity needs.
Building upon lessons learned from Camp Century, Project Iceworm was to be built on a massive scale. Iceworm would have been the world’s largest ICBM launch site— over 52,000 miles of tunnels cut deep into the Greenland ice sheet. Iceworm’s footprint would cover an about the size of the state of Indiana, and a whopping three times the size of the host country, Denmark.
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