Laying waste

Norway to bury sunken Nazi sub so as to contain its toxic cargo

More than 70 years after its destruction by the British, U-864’s load of over 60 tons of mercury has made it a renewed threat

A model of sunken Nazi sub U-864 (YouTube screenshot)
A model of sunken Nazi sub U-864 (YouTube screenshot)

Norway is planning to bury the remains of a sunken Nazi submarine under layers of sand, rubble, and concrete, in order to prevent the spillage of its toxic cargo.

The rusting wreckage of the U-864, sunk in February 1945 during a desperate mission to supply Japan with advanced weapons technology, now poses a major environmental threat due to its poisonous cargo: over 60 tons of mercury.

Local residents have called for the sub to be removed, but authorities fear a salvage operation could result in a catastrophic spill. Instead, the wreckage will be buried under a “sarcophagus” similar to the one erected at Chernobyl to contain the nuclear disaster there.

The project will start next year and conclude by 2020. It is expected to cost over $32 million, The Times of London reported on Thursday.

The U-864 tried to skirt allied navy patrols on a last-ditch secret mission code-named “Caesar,” to bring jet engine parts, missile guidance systems and mercury for weapons production to Germany’s ally, Japan. British experts discovered the mission by breaking a German code.

In a rare underwater duel, the British submarine HMS Venturer stalked the U-864 for three hours before it finally sank it on Feb. 9, 1945, about two miles off Fedje.

The German submarine was only 14 months old when it went down with a crew of 73 in 500 feet of water.

The wreck lay undisturbed for almost 60 years until Norway’s Royal Navy discovered it in March 2003. Oslo’s newspaper Dagbladet has called it “Hitler’s secret poison bomb.”

The mercury containers are rusting, and some are leaking. While only four kilograms of mercury are estimated to have leaked so far, even this has caused elevated mercury levels in the silt around the wreck, as well as in fish in the area. Fishing is not allowed in the waters nearby.

When released into the ocean, metallic mercury, the silver fluid once used in thermometers, can become more dangerous than organic mercury. Through fish, organic mercury can be passed on to humans in food. Mercury poisoning can be fatal.

Even small amounts can damage the nervous system, as well as cause heart and kidney problems.

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