Nuking the Spill: Pro: You’re doing something about it – Contra: You’re doing the wrong thing

The above video is about to go viral as desperation about the gulf oil spill mounts. Otherwise quite sensible people are all for it, because it seems so easy and the US has lot’s of nukes, don’t they? Russia has reported five incidents where they used a nuclear explosion to shut down oil or gas leaks and there are reportedly hundreds that have been used for non military means:

The Soviet Union, a major oil exporter, used this method five times to deal with petrocalamities. The first happened in Uzbekistan, on September 30, 1966 with a blast 1.5 times the strength of the Hiroshima bomb and at a depth of 1.5 kilometers. KP also notes that subterranean nuclear blasts were used as much as 169 times in the Soviet Union to accomplish fairly mundane tasks like creating underground storage spaces for gas or building canals.

Looks like Obama is just a sissy who doesn’t dare to do the right thing, because of, as the above post says, anti nuclear political correctness. Maybe, however, he’s just a little smarter than the “nuke it” crowd. The procedure has never been tested in deepwater environment. At Crooks & Liars there are two discussions and it was this comment on the earlier thread, that gives us an idea about how bad this would possibly come out:

Seattle_Truthseeker says:

Hi, its been a long time since I have posted to C&L – but did want to weigh in on this – I have a somewhat unusual perspective, as I used to work at the Nevada Test Site (NTS) (AEC-ERDA-DOE contractor) outside of Las Vegas, and particpated on about two dozen underground tests – we tested at between 50kT and 1 Megaton. I’m an electrical engineer and not a physicist, nor a geologist. We tested in both vertical shafts (Area 6, and Paiute Mesa) and down long tunnels (Area 12). For this to work you would need to drill or enlarge the hole large enough to emplace the device between 3k and 5k feet below the sea floor, then back fill the hole with the device at the bottom. Its possible to do that. But the real variable and unknown is how the rock strata would behave (geologists shold know this however) – and the oil is a plastic, non compressible fluid. Its possible that the device would create the requisite cavity which would then chimney (thus sealing the cavity). BUT – you are detonating below sea level – water will flash to steam within a few milliseconds after detonation. If you want to see what happens when water flashes at 0 time plus a millsecond or two, google on Baneberry (a sub-surface test that went December of 1969) and look at that vent cloud. You are talking about superheated and very radio-active steam. That steam will find any fissure. The gamma, and beta shot into the ocean would be pretty awful. Sea water can not absorb neutrons very well. You could not keep the hole either dry or within acceptable limits of moisture. Bottom line – I wouldn’t want to be the one on the hook for ensuring a contained non-venting prompt criticality – I don’t believe its possible in this environment. BTW, I have stood at the edge of Sedan crater, and its a very humbling experience. We humans are destroying the planet with ever larger paper cuts…….

Sounds inviting.

Now why not take a look at the Bikini Atoll, which is now some 60 years after the US conducted nuclear tests there barely fit for resettlement. Those tests were surface tests and the gulf oil spill is under water, I agree, but let’s just for the sake of it consider what happens if radiation should spill. Like taking even the worst case scenario into account unlike what BP did on Deepwater Horizon, safety-wise. When it comes to underground nuclear blasts, I do not know about the geology of the gulf at the well site ,but you can find pictures of a couple of very impressive craters after the underground tests in Nevada and not all of those went over well, like the  Baneberry mentioned above. So, will the thing crater properly and close the well, or simply tear an even bigger, and much bigger, hole? Then there is Mururoa, where the French have conducted their tests, many of them under water. Read about those effects:

The possible environmental effects of underground testing include short-term and longterm effects. At the time of the explosion, fracturing of the atoll surface triggers landslides, tsunamis (tidal waves), and earthquakes. There is also evidence that radionuclides have vented to the environment. Possible long-term effects include leakage of fission products to the biosphere and transfer of dissolved plutonium from the lagoon to the ocean and the food chain.

At least one major test-related landslide and consequent Tsunami in Moruroa, on July 25, 1979. Apparently, the 120kiloton weapon, which was supposed to be lowered into a shaft of 800 meters, got stuck at a depth of 400 meters and could not be dislodged. The French authorities decided to explode the device anyway. This explosion resulted in a major underwater landslide of at least one million cubic meters of coral and rock and created a cavity, probably 140 meters in diameter. The underwater landslide produced a major tidal wave comparable to a tsunami, which spread through the Tuamotu Archipelago and injured people on the southern part of Moruroa Atoll. (27)

At least one major test-related landslide and consequent Tsunami in Moruroa, on July 25, 1979. Apparently, the 120kiloton weapon, which was supposed to be lowered into a shaft of 800 meters, got stuck at a depth of 400 meters and could not be dislodged. The French authorities decided to explode the device anyway. This explosion resulted in a major underwater landslide of at least one million cubic meters of coral and rock and created a cavity, probably 140 meters in diameter. The underwater landslide produced a major tidal wave comparable to a tsunami, which spread through the Tuamotu Archipelago and injured people on the southern part of Moruroa Atoll. (27) (read more)

So, why not help Haiti to yet another earthquake? Or poison the fish some more?

“[At the time] marine scientists believed that the ocean wouldn’t be tainted by nuclear contamination… they saw the ocean as an absorbent, resilient medium,” he said.

In one scenario, the effects of only two large bombs were modelled, one in Edinburgh and one in Glasgow. The scientists found that fish would be dangerously contaminated throughout the North Sea from Scotland to Scandinavia.

And, just to highlight the concern for environmental issues in the former Soviet Union,  in Chernobyl the water was contaminated by fallout, not directly exposed to the radiation and yet

Chernobyl Today Altered States:

Nuclear fish: These catfish no longer swim away from humans! You can step into this stream and catch them with your hands. Eating one could killyou. Everything that still grows around Chernobyl contains nuclear poison. Fish grow twice the size they used to, but only live half as long.

Conventional explosives still leave the concerns mentioned above about the geology of the seabed, I simply cannot answer that. Using a nuclear explosion with all the risks involved seems like madness to me. If any such option, nuclear or otherwise is used, please consider all the possible effects and let’s not make matters even worse.

8 thoughts on “Nuking the Spill: Pro: You’re doing something about it – Contra: You’re doing the wrong thing

  1. How are you going to get the concrete plug behind the nuke to set hard enough to keep from blowing back out?

    And, what if nuking the well only makes it worse, creating radioactive oil leaking fractures all over the sea floor?

    I’d say that would be the worst-case scenario…

  2. BnF,
    Setting concrete (or cement) is a exothermic reaction that occurs no matter where you place it. All of the reactants are self-contained in the mix. This is actually something that the Romans got down to a science without understanding what was happening.

    The only improvement in the process is the invention of Portland Cement in modern times. It has a control-able set time and can be mixed in situ.

    The Roman method used kilned limestone. How they arrived at the process is a mystery buried in the past. Perhaps they were trying to make bronze or brass and needed to get rid of stone debris from the smelting furnace.

  3. Hey all!

    Eviction by end of month unless Homeless Prevention Program pulls through.
    Though HPP only operates by phone and of course I might not have a phone very soon. At least there’s e-mail, though it may be that I can’t actually e-mail anyone, just receive—‘cos its a govt thing ( the PC at the Labor Dept.).

    So maybe that’s what happened Zooey?

    The Labor dept gave me and my bro our on login IDs passwords, but hilariously there’s nothing to login to!.
    BTW, this internet thing called IE6 is awesome!

    Anyway, Julian and I are still as mad at oil/guns/Arizona/Israel etc as you all are and will continue to be so even when we are in a tent on some scrap ground somewhere.

    Maybe I can do a blog about all this, have Zooey post it or something. at the mo though need to be looking for work—so laters. all. 😀

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