Concern over munitions in Alpine lake
THE pristine turquoise waters of Lake Geneva may appear serene, but lurking below are piles of bombs, cartridges and possibly even chemical weapons discarded decades ago.
Long believed to be safely slumbering beneath thick layers of protective sediment, the munitions at the bottom of the biggest lake in the Alps have raised fresh safety and environmental concerns. “We believe there are bombs and shells, and probably rifle ammunition,” Jacques Martelain, the Geneva canton’s head geologist, told AFP.
Some also fear there might also be phosgene bombs – deadly chemical weapons – sitting on the bottom of the lake, he said.
For the first time, Swiss authorities will start mapping the piles of munitions in the lake to determine what kind of explosive debris is there, how much, and whether it should be removed.
Switzerland is a famously neutral country that did not fight in the two world wars, but its long-held position
is one of well-armed neutrality.
Between World War I and the mid1960s, thousands of tons of munitions, from artillery to grenades and detonators, were sunk in lakes across the nation.
Over the decades, the Swiss army is estimated to have dumped more than 8 000 tons of munitions in the Thun, Lucerne and Brienz lakes.
Authorities studied those stockpiles carefully and decided around a decade ago that it was safer to leave them where they were, resting at significant depths and covered with thick layers of sediment.
However, experts have warned
that the situation is different in Lake Geneva, where an armaments company, Hispano-Suiza, dumped excess munitions right up until the 1960s.
In the coming weeks, authorities will begin testing tracking techniques in the lake, which provides Geneva with around 80% of its drinking water.
The Geneva authorities had long thought the sediment that covered the weapons provided protection, as in other lakes. They also thought they were deeper, but in 2019 the French environmental organisation Odysseus 3.1 discovered several disembowelled ammunition crates at a depth of just 50m – uncovered by sediment.