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Underground fire outside St. Louis has burned since 2010, nears nuclear waste dump via Chicago Tribune

Beneath the surface of a St. Louis-area landfill lurk two things that should never meet: a slow-burning fire and a cache of Cold War-era nuclear waste, separated by no more than 1,200 feet.

Government officials have quietly adopted an emergency plan in case the smoldering embers ever reach the waste, a potentially “catastrophic event” that could send up a plume of radioactive smoke over a densely populated area near the city’s main airport.

Although the fire at Bridgeton Landfill has been burning since at least 2010, the plan for a worst-case scenario was developed only a year ago and never publicized until this week, when St. Louis radio station KMOX first obtained a copy.

[…]

Underground smoldering is not unheard of, especially in abandoned coal mines. Common causes include lightning strikes, forest fires and illegal burning of waste.

At least 98 underground mine fires in nine states were burning in 2013, according to the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement.

Few underground fires can match one in Centralia, Pennsylvania. In 1962, a huge pile of trash in the town dump, near a coal mine, was set on fire, and it has burned beneath the town for more than half a century. Only a few people remain in a community that once had 1,000 residents.

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