Operation Plowshare

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Not to be confused with the anti-nuclear Plowshares Movement.
The 1962 "Sedan" plowshares shot displaced 12 million tons of earth and created a crater 320 feet (100 m) deep and 1,280 feet (390 m) wide

Project Plowshare was the overall United States term for the development of techniques to use nuclear explosives for peaceful construction purposes. It was the US portion of what are called Peaceful Nuclear Explosions (PNE).

Successful demonstrations of non-combat uses for nuclear explosives include rock blasting, stimulation of tight gas, chemical element manufacture (test shot Anacostia resulted in Curium-250m being discovered), unlocking some of the mysteries of the so-called "r-Process" of stellar nucleosynthesis and probing the composition of the Earth's deep crust, creating reflection seismology Vibroseis data which has helped geologists and follow on mining company prospecting.[1][2][3]

Negative impacts from Project Plowshare’s 27 nuclear projects generated significant public opposition, which eventually led to the program's termination in 1977.[4] These consequences included Tritiated water (projected to increase by CER Geonuclear Corporation to a level of 2% of the then-maximum level for drinking water)[5] and the deposition of fallout from radioactive material being injected into the atmosphere before underground testing was mandated by treaty.

Rationale[edit]

By exploiting the peaceful uses of the "friendly atom" — in medical applications, earth removal, and later in nuclear power plants — the nuclear industry and government sought to allay public fears about nuclear technology and promote the acceptance of nuclear weapons[citation needed]. At the peak of the Atomic Age, the United States Federal government initiated Project Plowshare, involving "peaceful nuclear explosions". The United States Atomic Energy Commission chairman at the time, Lewis Strauss, announced that the Plowshares project was intended to "highlight the peaceful applications of nuclear explosive devices and thereby create a climate of world opinion that is more favorable to weapons development and tests".[6][need quotation to verify]

Proposals[edit]

Proposed uses for nuclear explosives under Project Plowshare included widening the Panama Canal, constructing a new sea-level waterway through Nicaragua nicknamed the Pan-Atomic Canal, cutting paths through mountainous areas for highways, and connecting inland river systems. Other proposals involved blasting underground caverns for water, natural gas, and petroleum storage. Serious consideration was also given to using these explosives for various mining operations. One proposal suggested using nuclear blasts to connect underground aquifers in Arizona. Another plan involved surface blasting on the western slope of California's Sacramento Valley for a water transport project.[4]

Project Carryall,[7] proposed in 1963 by the Atomic Energy Commission, the California Division of Highways (now Caltrans), and the Santa Fe Railway, would have used 22 nuclear explosions to excavate a massive roadcut through the Bristol Mountains in the Mojave Desert, to accommodate construction of Interstate 40 and a new rail line.[4] At the end of the program, a major objective was to develop nuclear explosives, and blast techniques, for stimulating the flow of natural gas in "tight" underground reservoir formations. In the 1960s, a proposal was suggested for a modified in situ shale oil extraction process which involved creation of a rubble chimney (a zone in the oil shale formation created by breaking the rock into fragments) using a nuclear explosive.[8] However, this approach was abandoned for a number of technical reasons.

Plowshare testing[edit]

One of the Chariot schemes involved chaining five thermonuclear devices to create the artificial harbor.

One of the first plowshare nuclear blast cratering proposals that came close to being carried out was Project Chariot, which would have used several hydrogen bombs to create an artificial harbor at Cape Thompson, Alaska. It was never carried out due to concerns for the native populations and the fact that there was little potential use for the harbor to justify its risk and expense.[9]

A number of proof-of-concept cratering blasts were conducted; including the Buggy shot of 5 1 kt devices for a channel/trench in Area 21 and the largest being 104 kiloton (435 terajoule) on July 6, 1962 at the north end of Yucca Flats, within the Atomic Energy Commission's Nevada Test Site (NTS) in southern Nevada. The shot, "Sedan", displaced more than 12 million short tons (11 teragrams) of soil and resulted in a radioactive cloud that rose to an altitude of 12,000 ft (3.7 km). The radioactive dust plume headed northeast and then east towards the Mississippi River[citation needed].

The first PNE blast was Project Gnome, conducted on December 10, 1961 in a salt bed 24 mi (39 km) southeast of Carlsbad, New Mexico. The explosion released 3.1 kilotons (13 TJ) of energy yield at a depth of 361 meters (1,184 ft) which resulted in the formation of a 170 ft (52 m) diameter, 80 ft (24 m) high cavity. The test had many objectives. The most public of these involved the generation of steam which could then be used to generate electricity. Another objective was the production of useful radioisotopes and their recovery. Another experiment involved neutron time-of-flight physics. A fourth experiment involved geophysical studies based upon the timed seismic source. Only the last objective was considered a complete success. The blast unintentionally vented radioactive steam while the press watched. The partly developed Project Coach detonation experiment that was to follow adjacent to the Gnome test was then canceled.

Over the next 11 years 26 more nuclear explosion tests were conducted under the U.S. PNE program. The radioactive blast debris from 839 U.S. underground nuclear test explosions remains buried in-place and has been judged impractical to remove by the DOE's Nevada Site Office. Funding quietly ended in 1977. Costs for the program have been estimated at more than (US) $770 million.[4]

Natural gas stimulation experiment[edit]

Three nuclear explosion experiments were intended to stimulate the flow of natural gas from "tight" formation gas fields. Industrial participants included El Paso Natural Gas Company for the Gasbuggy test; CER Geonuclear Corporation and Austral Oil Company for the Rulison test;[10] and CER Geonuclear Corporation for the Rio Blanco test.

The final PNE blast took place on 17 May 1973, under Fawn Creek, 76.4 km north of Grand Junction, Colorado. Three 30 kiloton detonations took place simultaneously at depths of 1,758, 1,875, and 2,015 meters. If it had been successful, plans called for the use of hundreds of specialized nuclear explosives in the western Rockies gas fields. The previous two tests had indicated that the produced natural gas would be too radioactive for safe use; the Rio Blanco test found that the three blast cavities had not connected as hoped, and the resulting gas still contained unacceptable levels of radionuclides.[11]

By 1974, approximately $82 million had been invested in the nuclear gas stimulation technology program. It was estimated that even after 25 years of production of all the natural gas deemed recoverable, only 15 to 40 percent of the investment would be recouped. Also, the concept that stove burners in California might soon emit trace amounts of blast radionuclides into family homes did not sit well with the general public. The contaminated gas was never channeled into commercial supply lines.

The situation remained so for the next three decades, but a resurgence in Colorado Western slope natural gas drilling has brought resource development closer and closer to the original underground detonations. By mid-2009, 84 drilling permits had been issued within a 3-mile radius, with 11 permits within one mile of the site.[12]

Nuclear tests[edit]

The U.S. conducted 27 PNE shots in conjunction with other, weapons-related, test series.[1] A report by the Federation of American Scientists includes yields slightly different than that presented below.[13]

Plowshare nuclear tests
Test name Date Location Type Depth of Burial Medium Yield (kilotons) Test series Objective
Gnome 10 December 1961 Carlsbad, New Mexico Shaft 1,185 ft (361 m) Salt 3 Nougat A multipurpose experiment designed to provide data concerning: (1) heat generated from a nuclear explosion; (2) isotopes production; (3) neutron physics; (4) seismic measurements in a salt medium; and (5) design data for developing nuclear devices specifically for peaceful uses.
Sedan 6 July 1962 Nevada Test Site Crater 635 ft (194 m) Alluvium 104 Storax A excavation experiment in alluvium to determine feasibility of using nuclear explosions for large excavation projects, such as harbors and canals; provide data on crater size, radiological safety, seismic effects, and air blast.
Anacostia 27 November 1962 Nevada Test Site Shaft 747 ft (227.7 m) Tuff 5.2 Storax A device-development experiment to produce heavy elements and provide radiochemical analysis data for the planned Coach Project.
Kaweah 21 February 1963 Nevada Test Site Shaft 745 ft (227.1 m) Alluvium 3 Dominic I and II A device-development experiment to produce heavy elements and provide technical data for the planned Coach Project.
Tornillo 11 October 1963 Nevada Test Site Shaft 489 ft (149 m) Alluvium 0.38 Niblick A device-development experiment to produce a clean nuclear explosive for excavation applications.
Klickitat 20 February 1964 Nevada Test Site Shaft 1,616 ft (492.6 m) Tuff 70 Niblick A device-development experiment to produce an improved nuclear explosive for excavation applications.
Ace 11 June 1964 Nevada Test Site Shaft 862 ft (262.7 m) Alluvium 3 Niblick A device-development experiment to produce an improved nuclear explosive for excavation applications.
Dub 30 June 1964 Nevada Test Site Shaft 848 ft (258.5 m) Alluvium 11.7 Niblick A device-development experiment to study emplacement techniques.
Par 9 October 1964 Nevada Test Site Shaft 1,325 ft (403.9 m) Alluvium 38 Whetstone A device-development experiment designed to increase the neutron flux needed for the creation of heavy elements.
Handcar 5 November 1964 Nevada Test Site Shaft 1,332 ft (406 m) Dolomite (carbonate rock) 12 Whetstone An emplacement experiment to study the effects of nuclear explosions in carbonate rock.
Sulky 5 November 1964 Nevada Test Site Shaft 90 ft (27.4 m) Basalt 0.9 Whetstone An excavation experiment to explore cratering mechanics in hard, dry rock and study dispersion patterns of airborne radionuclides released under these conditions.
Palanquin 14 April 1965 Nevada Test Site Crater 280 ft (85.3 m) Rhyolite 4.3 Whetstone An excavation experiment in hard, dry rock to study dispersion patterns of airborne radionuclides released under these conditions.
Templar 24 March 1966 Nevada Test Site Shaft 495 ft (150.9 m) Tuff 0.37 Flintlock To develop an improved nuclear explosive for excavation applications.
Vulcan 25 June 1966 Nevada Test Site Shaft 1,057 ft (322.2 m) Alluvium 25 Flintlock A heavy element device-development test to evaluate neutron flux performance.
Saxon 11 July 1966 Nevada Test Site 1.2 kt 502 ft (153 m) Tuff 1.2 Latchkey A device-development experiment to improve nuclear explosives for excavation applications.
Simms 6 November 1966 Nevada Test Site Shaft 650 ft (198.1 m) Alluvium 2.3 Latchkey A device-development experiment to evaluate clean nuclear explosives for excavation applications.
Switch 22 June 1967 Nevada Test Site Shaft 990 ft (301.8 m) Tuff 3.1 Latchkey A device-development experiment to evaluate clean nuclear explosives for excavation applications.
Marvel 21 September 1967 Nevada Test Site Shaft 572 ft (174.3 m) Alluvium 2.2 Crosstie An emplacement experiment to investigate underground phenomenology related to emplacement techniques.
Gasbuggy 10 December 1967 Farmington, New Mexico Shaft 4,240 ft (1,292 m) Sandstone, gas bearing formation 29 Crosstie A gas stimulation experiment to investigate the feasibility of using nuclear explosives to stimulate a low-permeability gas field; first Plowshare joint government-industry nuclear experiment to evaluate an industrial application.
Cabriolet 26 January 1968 Nevada Test Site Crater 170 ft (51.8 m) Rhyolite 2.3 Crosstie An excavation experiment to explore cratering mechanics in hard, dry rock and study dispersion patterns of airborne radionuclides released under these conditions.
Buggy 12 March 1968 Nevada Test Site Crater 135 ft (41.1 m) Basalt 5 at 1.1 each Crosstie A five-detonation excavation experiment to study the effects and phenomenology of nuclear row-charge excavation detonations.
Stoddard 17 September 1968 Nevada Test Site Shaft 1,535 ft (467.9 m) Tuff 31 Bowline A device-development experiment to develop clean nuclear explosives for excavation applications.
Schooner 8 December 1968 Nevada Test Site Crater 365 ft (111.3 m) Tuff 30 Bowline An excavation experiment to study the effects and phenomenology of cratering detonations in hard rock.
Rulison 10 September 1969 Grand Valley, Colorado Shaft 8,425 ft (2,567.9 m) Sandstone 43 Mandrel A gas stimulation experiment to investigate the feasibility of using nuclear explosives to stimulate a low-permeability gas field; provide engineering data on the use of nuclear explosions for gas stimulation; on changes in gas production and recovery rates; and on techniques to reduce the radioactive contamination to the gas.
Flask -Green, -Yellow, -Red 26 May 1970 Nevada Test Site Shaft Green, 1736 ft (529.2 m); Yellow, 1,099 ft (335 m); Red, 499 ft (152.1 m) Green, Tuff; Yellow and Red, Alluvium Green, 105; Yellow, 0.9; Red, 0.4 tons Mandrel A three-detonation device development experiment to develop improved nuclear explosives for excavation applications.
Miniata 8 July 1971 Nevada Test Site Shaft 1,735 ft (528.8 m) Tuff 83 Grommet To develop a clean nuclear explosive for excavation applications.
Rio Blanco -1, -2, -3 17 May 1973 Rifle, Colorado Shaft 5,840 ft (1,780 m); 6,230 ft (1,898.9 m); 6,690 ft (2,039.1 m) Sandstone, gas-bearing formation 3 at 33 each Toggle A gas stimulation experiment to investigate the feasibility of using nuclear explosives to stimulate a low-permeability gas field; develop technology for recovering natural gas from reservoirs with very low permeability.

Non-nuclear tests[edit]

In addition to the nuclear tests, Plowshare executed a number of non-nuclear test projects in an attempt to learn more about how the nuclear explosives could best be used. Several of these projects lead to practical utility as well as to furthering knowledge about large explosives. These projects included:[1]

Test name Date Location Type Depth of Burial Medium Yield Objective
Pre-Gnome February 10–16, 1959 Southeast of Carlsbad, New Mexico seismic experiment (High explosive) 1,200 ft (365.8 m), each Bedded salt 3.65 tons Three seismic experiments to measure ground shock for the planned GNOME nuclear test.
Toboggan November- December 1959 & April–June 1960 Nevada Test Site ditching experiment (High explosive, TNT) 3 to 20 ft (1 to 6.1 m) Playa (combination of silt and clay) Series of 122 detonations of both linear and point HE charges Study ditching characteristics of both-end detonated and multidetonated HE explosives in preparation for nuclear row charge experiments.
Hobo February- April 1960 Nevada Test Site seismic experiment (High explosive, TNT) Unknown Tuff Three explosions, varying from 500 to 1,000 lb. charges each To study rock fracturing and related phenomena produced by contained explosions.
Stagecoach March 1960 Nevada Test Site excavation experiment (High explosive, TNT) Shot 1 – 80 ft (24.4 m); Shot 2 - 17.1 ft (5.2 m); Shot 3 - 34.2 ft (10.4 m) Alluvium Three 40,000 lb. charges Examine blast, seismic effects and throw out characteristics in preparation for nuclear cratering experiments.
Plowboy March–July 1960 Winnfield, Louisiana experiment Unknown Unknown Unknown Mining operation to examine high explosive- induced fracturing of salt.
Buckboard July–September 1960 Nevada Test Site excavation experiment (High explosive, TNT) 5 to 59.85 ft (1.5 to 18.24 m) Basalt Three 40,000 lb. charges and ten 1,000 lb. charges Establish depth of burst curves for underground explosives in a hard rock medium.
Pinot August 2, 1960 Rifle, Colorado tracer experiment (High explosive, nitromethane) 610 ft (185.9 m) Oil shale Unknown To determine how gases in a confined underground explosion migrate.
Scooter October 1960 Nevada Test Site excavation experiment (High explosive, TNT) 125 ft (38.1 m) Alluvium 500 ton charges To study crater dimension, throw out material distribution, ground motion, dust cloud growth, and long-range air blast.
Rowboat June 1961 Nevada Test Site row-charge experiment (High explosive, TNT) Varied Alluvium 8 detonations of series of four 278 lb. charges To study the effects of depth of burial and charge separation on crater dimensions.
Yo-Yo Summer 1961 At LRL, near Tracy, California simulated excavation experiment (High explosive) Varied Oil-sand mixture 100 gm charges To develop estimates for the quantities of radiation released to the atmosphere by a cratering detonation.
Pre-Buggy I November 1962- February 1963 Nevada Test Site row-charge experiment (High explosive, nitromethane) 15 to 21.4 ft (4.57 to 6.52 m) for single-charge detonations; all row-charge detonations at 19.8 ft (6.04 m) Alluvium Six single-charge detonations, four multiple-charge U.S. Army Engineer Cratering Group Study of row- charge phenomenology and effects in preparation for nuclear row-charge tests.
Pre-Buggy II June–August 1963 Nevada Test Site row-charge experiment (High explosive, nitromethane) 18.5 to 23 ft (5.64 to 7.0 m) Alluvium Five rows of five 1,000 lb. charges U.S. Army Corps of Engineers study of row-charge phenomenology and effects in preparation for a nuclear row- charge experiment.
Pre-Schooner I February 1964 Nevada Test Site cratering experiment (High explosive, nitromethane) 42 to 66 ft (18.3 to 20.1 m) Basalt Four 40,000 lb. spherical charges U.S. Army Engineer Nuclear Cratering Group study of basic cratering phenomenology in preparation for nuclear cratering experiments.
Dugout June 24, 1964 Nevada Test Site row charge experiment (High explosive, nitromethane) 59 ft (18.0 m) Basalt simultaneous detonation of a row of five 20 ton charges placed 45 feet (13.7 m) apart (1 crater radius) Study fundamental processes involved in row charge excavating dense, hard rock.
Pre-Schooner II September 30, 1965 Owyhee County, southwestern Idaho cratering experiment (high explosive, nitromethane) 71 ft (21.6 m) Rhyolite 85 ton charge Obtain data for proposed Schooner nuclear cratering test, particularly cavity growth, seismic effects, and air blast.
Pre-Gondola I, II, III October 1966 - October 1969 Near Fort Peck Reservoir, Valley County, Montana excavation experiments (High explosive, nitromethane) Varied Saturated Bearclaw shale Pre-Gondola I, four 20-ton charges; Pre-Gondola II, row of five charges totaling 140 tons; Pre-Gondola III, Phase I, three rows of seven one-ton charges; Phase II, one row of seven 30- ton charges; Phase III, one row of five charges varying from five to 35 tons and totaling 70 tons U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project to provide seismic calibration test data and cratering characteristics for excavation projects.
Tugboat November 1969- December 1970 Kawaihae Bay, Hawaii excavation experiment (High explosive, TNT) 4–8 ft (1.2-2.4 m) Water Unknown To study excavation of a small boat harbor in a weak coral medium.
Trinidad July–December 1970 Trinidad, Colorado (six miles west) excavation experiment (High explosive) Unknown Sandstone/shale Unknown Four series of row-charge detonations to study excavation designs.
Old Reliable August 1971- March 1972 Galiuro Mountains, 44 miles northeast Tucson, Arizona fracturing experiment (High explosive, ammonium nitrate) Unknown Unknown 2,002 tons To promote fracturing and in situ leaching of copper ore.

Proposed nuclear projects[edit]

A number of projects were proposed and some planning accomplished, but were not followed through on. A list of these is given here:[1]

Name Date Location Type Purpose
Oxcart 1959 Nevada Test Site Nuclear explosive Investigate excavation efficiency as a function of yield and depth in planning for Project Chariot.
Oilsands 1959 Athabasca, Canada Nuclear explosive Study the feasibility of oil recovery using a nuclear explosive detonation in the Athabascan tar sands.
Oil Shale 1959 Not determined Nuclear explosive Study a nuclear detonation to shatter an oil shale formation to extract oil.
Ditchdigger 1961 Not determined Nuclear explosive A deeply buried clean nuclear explosive detonation excavation experiment
Coach 1963 Carlsbad, NM (GNOME site) Nuclear explosive Produce neutron-rich isotopes of known trans- plutonium elements.
Phaeton 1963 Not determined Nuclear explosive Scaling experiment.
Carryall Nov-63 Bristol Mountains Mojave Desert, CA Nuclear explosive Row-charge excavation experiment to cut through the Bristol Mountains for realignment of the Santa Fe railroad and a new highway I-40.
Dogsled 1964 Colorado Plateau CO or AZ Nuclear explosive Study cratering characteristics in dry sandstone; study ground shock and air blast intensities.
Tennessee/ Tombigee Waterway 1964 Northeast Mississippi Nuclear explosive Excavation of three miles of a divide cut through low hills; connect Tennessee and Tombigee rivers; dig 250-mile long canal.
Interoceanic Sea-Level Canal Study 1965-70 Pan-American Isthmus (Central America) Nuclear explosive Commission appointed in 1965 to conduct feasibility studies of several sea-level routes for an Atlantic- Pacific interoceanic canal. Two routes were in Panama and one in northwestern Colombia. The 1970 final report recommended, in part, that no current U.S. canal policy should be made on the basis that nuclear excavation technology will be available for canal construction. AEC deferred in making any decision.
Flivver Mar-66 Nevada Test Site Nuclear explosive A low-yield cratering detonation to study basic cratering phenomenology.
Dragon Trail Dec-66 Rio Blanco County, CO Nuclear explosive Natural gas stimulation experiment; different geological characteristics than either GASBUGGY or RULISON; geological study completed.
Ketch Aug-67 Renovo, PA (12 miles SW) Nuclear explosive Create a large chimney of broken rock with void space to store natural gas under high pressure.
Bronco Oct-67 Rio Blanco County, CO Nuclear explosive Break oil shale deposits for in situ retorting; exploratory core holes drilled.
Sloop 10/67-68 Stafford, AZ (11 miles NE) Nuclear explosive Fracturing copper ore; extract copper by in situ leaching methods; feasibility study completed.
Thunderbird 1967 Buffalo, WY (35 miles E) Nuclear explosive Coal gasification; fracture rock-containing coal and in situ combustion of the coal would produce low-Btu gas and other products.
Galley 1967-68 Not determined Nuclear explosive A high-yield row charge in hard rock under terrain of varying elevations.
Aquarius 1968-70 Clear Creek or San Simon, AZ Nuclear explosive Water resource management; dam construction, subsurface storage, purification; aquifer modification.
Wagon Wheel 01/68-74 Pinedale, WY (19 miles S) Nuclear explosive Natural gas stimulation; study stimulation at various depths; an exploratory hole and two hydrological wells were drilled.
Wasp 07/69-74 Pinedale, WY (24 miles NW) Nuclear explosive Natural gas stimulation; meteorological observations taken.
Utah 1969 near Ouray, UT Nuclear explosive Oil shale maturation; exploratory hole drilled.
Sturtevant 1969 Nevada Test Site Nuclear explosive Cratering experiment to extend excavation information on yields and rock types relevant to the trans-Isthmian canal.
Australian Harbor Project 1969 Cape Keraudren (NW coast of Australia) Nuclear explosive First discussed with U.S. officials in 1962, the U.S. formally agreed to participate in a joint feasibility study with the Australian government in early 1969 for using nuclear explosives to construct a harbor. The project was stopped in March 1969 when it was determined that there was an insufficient economic basis to proceed.
Yawl 1969-70 Nevada Test Site Nuclear explosive Cratering experiment to extend excavation information on yields and rock types relevant to the trans-Isthmian canal.
Geothermal Power Plant 1971 Not determined Nuclear explosive Geothermal resource experiment; fracturing would allow fluids circulated in fracture zones to be converted to steam to generate electricity.[1]

Impacts, opposition and economics[edit]

Operation Plowshare "started with great expectations and high hopes". Planners believed that the projects could be completed safely, but there was less confidence that they could be completed more economically than conventional methods. Moreover, there was insufficient public and Congressional support for the projects. Projects Chariot and Coach were two examples where technical problems and environmental concerns prompted further feasibility studies which took several years, and each project was eventually canceled.[1]

The 104 kiloton, 1962 Sedan nuclear test formed a crater 100 m (330 ft) deep with a diameter of about 390 m (1,300 ft), as a means of investigating the possibilities of using peaceful nuclear explosions for large-scale earth moving. If this test was conducted in 1965+, when improvements in device design were realized, a "100-fold" reduction in radiation release was considered feasible.[14] The 140 kiloton Soviet Chagan (nuclear test), comparable in yield to the Sedan test of 104 kt, formed Lake Chagan, reportedly used as a watering hole for cattle and human swimming.[15][16][17]

Citizen groups voiced concerns and opposition to some of the Plowshare tests. There were concerns that the blast effects from the Schooner explosion could dry up active wells or trigger an earthquake. There was opposition to both Rulison and Rio Blanco tests because of possible radioactive gas flaring operations and other environmental hazards.[1] In a 1973 article, Time used the term "Project Dubious" to describe Operation Plowshare.[11]

There were many negative impacts from Project Plowshare’s 27 nuclear explosions:[4]

Project Gnome vented radioactive steam over the very press gallery that was called to confirm its safety. The next blast, a 104-kiloton detonation at Yucca Flat, Nevada, displaced 12 million tons of soil and resulted in a radioactive dust cloud that rose 12,000 feet and plumed toward the Mississippi River. Other consequences – blighted land, relocated communities, tritium-contaminated water, radioactivity, and fallout from debris being hurled high into the atmosphere – were ignored and downplayed until the program was terminated in 1977, due in large part to public opposition.[4]

Project Plowshare shows how something intended to improve national security can unwittingly do the opposite if it fails to fully consider the social, political, and environmental consequences. It also “underscores that public resentment and opposition can stop projects in their tracks”.[4]

United States and Soviet Union/Russia nuclear stockpiles. The slow down in the production of nuclear weapons, beginning in the late 1970s in the US, greatly impacted on the economic calculations of peaceful uses of nuclear detonations.

While the above social scientist, Benjamin Sovacool contends that the main problem with oil and gas stimulation, which many considered as the most promising economic use of nuclear detonations, was the problem that the produced oil and gas was radioactive, which caused consumers to reject it and this was ultimately the programs downfall.[18] In contrast, Oil and gas are sometimes considerably naturally radioactive to begin with and the industry is set up to deal with oil and gas that contain radioactive contaminants, moreover in contrast to earlier stimulation efforts,[19] contamination from many later tests was not a show-stopping issue, historian Dr. Michael Payne notes that it was primarly changing public opinion due to the societal preception-shift, to one fearing all nuclear detonations, caused by events such as the Cuban Missile Crisis, that resulted in protests,[20] court cases and general hostility that ended the oil and gas stimulation efforts. Furthermore, as the years went by without further development and the closing/curtailment in output of nuclear weapons factories, this evaporated the existing economies of scale advantage of operation Plowshare that had earlier been present in the United States in the 50s-60s, it was increasingly found in the following decades that most US fields could instead be stimulated by non-nuclear techniques which were found to be likely cheaper.[21][22]

As a point of comparison, the most successful and profitable nuclear stimulation effort that did not result in customer product contamination issues was the 1976 Project Neva on the Sredne-Botuobinsk gas field in the Soviet Union, made possible by multiple cleaner stimulation explosives, favorable rock strata and the possible creation of an underground contaminant storage cavity.[23][24] The Soviet Union retains the record for the cleanest/lowest fission-fraction nuclear devices so far demonstrated.

The public records for devices that produced the highest proportion of their yield via fusion-only reactions, and therefore created orders of magnitude smaller amounts of long lived fission products as a result, are the USSRs Peaceful nuclear explosions of the 1970s, with the 3 detonations that excavated part of Pechora–Kama Canal, being cited as 98% fusion each in the Taiga test's three 15 kiloton explosive yield devices, that is, a total fission fraction of 0.3 kilotons in a 15 kt device.[25] In comparison, the next three high fusion yielding devices were all much too high in total explosive yield for oil and gas stimulation, the 50 megaton Tsar Bomba achieved a yield 97% derived from fusion,[26] While in the US, the 9.3 megaton Hardtack Poplar test is reported as 95.2%,[27] and the 4.5 megaton Redwing Navajo test as 95% derived from fusion.[28]

Books[edit]

IAEA review of the 1968 book: The constructive uses of nuclear explosions by Edward Teller.

“The Containment of Underground Nuclear Explosions”, Project Director Gregory E van der Vink, U.S. Congress, Office of Technology Assessment, OTA-ISC-414, (Oct 1989).

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g "Executive Summary: Plowshare Program" (PDF). US Department of Energy, Office of Science and Technical Information. Retrieved 23 April 2016.   This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  2. ^ http://symposia.obs.carnegiescience.edu/series/symposium4/ms/becker.ps.gz
  3. ^ http://www.ociw.edu/ociw/symposia/series/symposium4/proceedings.html
  4. ^ a b c d e f g Sovacool, Benjamin K (2011), "Contesting the Future of Nuclear Power: A Critical Global Assessment of Atomic Energy", World Scientific: 171–2 .
  5. ^ Jacobsen, Sally (May 1972). "Turning up the Gas: AEC Prepares Another Nuclear Gas Stimulation Shot". Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 28 (5): 37. ISSN 0096-3402. 
  6. ^ Hewlett, Richard G.; Holl, Jack M. (1989). Atoms for Peace and War, 1953-1961: Eisenhower and the Atomic Energy Commission. Berkeley and Los Angeles, California: University of California Press. p. 529. highlight the peaceful applications of nuclear explosive devices and thereby create a climate of world opinion that is more favorable to weapons development and tests 
  7. ^ "Preliminary Design Studies In A Nuclear Excavation — Project Carryall" (50). Highway Research Board. 1964: 32–39. Retrieved 2010-01-30. 
  8. ^ Lombard, DB; Carpenter, HC (1967). "Recovering Oil by Retorting a Nuclear Chimney in Oil Shale". Journal of Petroleum Technology (Society of Petroleum Engineers) (19): 727–34. 
  9. ^ O'Neill, Dan (2007) [1995], The Firecracker Boys: H-Bombs, Inupiat Eskimos, and the Roots of the Environmental Movement, New York: Basic Books, ISBN 0-465-00348-6 .
  10. ^ "Austral Oil, Co., Inc.". Harvard Business School. Retrieved 2014-11-23. 
  11. ^ a b "Environment: Project Dubious". Time magazine. Apr 9, 1973. 
  12. ^ Jaffe, Mark (2009-07-02). "Colorado drilling rigs closing in on '60s nuke site". The Denver Post. Retrieved 2010-01-30. 
  13. ^ "RESTRICTED DATA DECLASSIFICATION DECISIONS 1946 TO THE PRESENT, RDD-7, January 1, 2001.". 
  14. ^ Declassified U.S. Nuclear Test Film #35 c. 29:30 minutes
  15. ^ Guinness World Records. "Largest crater from an underground nuclear explosion". Retrieved October 24, 2014. 
  16. ^ "The Soviet Nuclear Weapons Program". Retrieved October 24, 2014. 
  17. ^ Russia Today documentary that visits the lake at around the 1 minute mark on YouTube
  18. ^ Sovacool, Benjamin K (2011), "Contesting the Future of Nuclear Power: A Critical Global Assessment of Atomic Energy", World Scientific: 171–2 
  19. ^ Gasbuggy” tests Nuclear Fracking
  20. ^ #32 Project Oil Sands, Alberta's Experience with the Atomic Bomb,Dr. Michael Payne
  21. ^ Plowshare Program Executive Summary, pg 4-5
  22. ^ Nuclear Stimulation Projects
  23. ^ Milo D. Nordyke 1998 Science & Global Security, 1998, Volume 7, pp. 1-117
  24. ^ Milo D. Nordyke, 2000. peaceful nuclear explosions (PNEs) in the Soviet Union over the period 1965 to 1988.
  25. ^ The Soviet Program for Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Explosions by Milo D. Nordyke. Science & Global Security, 1998, Volume 7, pp. 1-117
  26. ^ 4.5 Thermonuclear Weapon Designs and Later Subsections. Nuclearweaponarchive.org. Retrieved on 2011-05-01.
  27. ^ Operation Hardtack I. Nuclearweaponarchive.org. Retrieved on 2011-05-01.
  28. ^ Operation Redwing. Nuclearweaponarchive.org. Retrieved on 2011-05-01.

External links[edit]