A "doomsday" seed vault built to protect millions of food crops from climate change, wars, and natural disasters opened Tuesday deep within an Arctic mountain in the remote Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard.
"The Svalbard Global Seed Vault is our insurance policy," Norway's Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg told delegates at the opening ceremony. "It is the 'Noah's Ark' for securing biological diversity for future generations."
(See new photos of the vault.)
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and 2004 Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai of Kenya were among the dozens of guests who had bundled up for the ceremony inside the vault, about 425 feet (130 meters) deep inside a frozen mountain.
"This is a frozen Garden of Eden," Barroso said.
The vault will serve as a backup for hundreds of other seed banks worldwide. It has the capacity to store 4.5 million seed samples from around the world and shield them from man-made and natural disasters.
(Related story: "Doomsday" Vault Will End Crop Extinction, Expert Says [December 27, 2007])
Dug into the permafrost of the mountain, it has been built to withstand an earthquake or a nuclear strike.
Norway owns the vault in Svalbard, a frigid archipelago about 620 miles (1,000 kilometers) from the North Pole.
Other countries can deposit seeds without charge and reserve the right to withdraw them upon need.
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