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ELF still controversial


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ELF still controversial



Spooner Advocate

Last Updated: Wednesday, May 11th, 2005 10:14:16 AM



On Sept. 30, 2004, the United States Navy shut down the much-debated Project ELF (extremely low frequency) stations in Clam Lake, Wis., and Republic, Mich., after the Navy said the project was outdated and no longer of use.


Project ELF was built in 1968 and started transmitting ELF waves in 1989. The purpose of the project was to communicate with deeply submerged, fast-moving Trident and fast attack submarines, each carrying 24 missiles with up to eight nuclear warheads. The Navy used ELF waves because the waves are able to deeply penetrate the ocean so submarines do not need to surface to communicate with land.


Project ELF consisted of 28 miles of insulated cable buried in the granite bedrock of the Chequemgon-Nicolet National Forest. It required two above-ground antennas in Wisconsin, each 14 miles long, and three antennas in Michigan; two were 14 miles long, the other was 28 miles long. The antennas continually pumped 1.3 million watts of electricity into the bedrock.

Since the beginning of Project ELF, there has been continuous public protest, with efforts to legally and illegally shut the project down. In 1984, Wisconsin sued the federal government for not considering all potential environmental and health effects of electromagnetic pollution. Wisconsin won, but the verdict was thrown out.


Activists turned to civil disobedience acts and peaceful protests to speak out against the project, concerned that communications via ELF could precipitate nuclear war. Since 1984, activists have cut down Project ELF poles five times, disrupting outgoing messages to the deep sea for short periods.

According to Nukewatch, an organization that has continually fought to shut down Project ELF, and described by Matt Vogel, a writer for a New York publication called The Catholic Worker, “639 trespass citations have been issued, on 58 different occasions, over the past 13 years. More than 40 people have been sent to jail or federal prison for refusing to pay court-ordered fines stemming from civil disobedience connected with Project ELF.”


Not only were activists concerned about the role of Project ELF in relation to war, they were concerned about the effects ELF waves had on human health and the surrounding environment. The Lac Courte Oreilles Band of Lake Superior Ojibwa lives near the vicinity of the Clam Lake site, and the band was very active in voicing opinions and conducting research on health effects from long-term exposure to the electromagnetic radiation of Project ELF. According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), extremely low frequency electromagnetic fields are possible human carcinogens.


Like any environmental or political debate, there are at least two sides to the story and a whole spectrum of ideas in between. For example, according to studies conducted by faculty and researchers at Michigan Technological University (MTU), trees found within Project ELF’s antenna grid grow faster than those outside of it. Some people also argue that Project ELF helps preserve our way of life, for it helps to protect the United States and all of its citizens.


Communication with deep-diving submarines is far from extinct. Currently, a proposal exists to build a High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program (Project HAARP) about eight miles north of Gakona, Alaska. The project remains in a construction and testing phase. The Air Force Research Lab and the Office of Naval Research operates Project HAARP, which is designed to study the ionosphere and to “enhance communication and surveillance systems for both civilian and defense purposes,” according to the HAARP Web page. When complete, HAARP could potentially send ELF waves to submerged submarines.


For more information about the HAARP project or the related ELF program, go to http://www.haarp.alaska.edu/haarp/elf.html.


Emily Fawver is a Northland College senior and writing intern at the Sigurd Olson Environmental Institute (SOEI).

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