Two things you never want to see together: an inextinguishable underground fire and a nuclear waste dump. But they're only 1,200 feet apart in an area north of St. Louis and may be growing closer, the AP reports. The underground fire at Bridgeton Landfill has been burning for five years and releasing unpleasant smells into nearby neighborhoods, but the county government's worst-case scenario plan—revealed by KMOX—was written only last year. This "is not an indication of any imminent danger," says County Executive Steve Stenger. And the landfill's operator, Republic Services, says safeguards (like structures that grab gasses from below the surface) exist to separate the waste from the blaze. The landfill "is safe and intensively monitored," says a spokesman.
Yet the emergency plan notes that flames could reach the nuclear waste and send radioactive smoke over communities near the main St. Louis airport "with little or no warning." And a state lawsuit against Republic Services claimed that pollutants and radiation are already spreading from the site, the Missouri Times reported last month. What's more, expert-witness reports released by Attorney General Koster claim the blaze is moving closer to the waste. The landfill itself is part of a bigger history, City Lab reports, harking back to "the lethal legacy of uranium processing" around St. Louis as part of the Manhattan Project during the Second World War. As for the fire, its cause is unknown, but it's not alone: Nearly 100 such blazes are burning in mines across nine US states, and one has burned in a Pennsylvania town dump for over 50 years. (Maybe nuclear waste is safest when stored in salt beds?)