To make the BP spill worse, go nuclear
So the world still has 22,500 nuclearweapons. Could we turn swords into ploughshares just once and drop an ICBMwarhead down that tube gushing oil at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico?Wouldn’t that just stanch the leak and save the environment? No.Quite the opposite, this would make things even messier. As the New York Timesquotes ...
So the world still has 22,500 nuclearweapons. Could we turn swords into ploughshares just once and drop an ICBMwarhead down that tube gushing oil at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico?Wouldn’t that just stanch the leak and save the environment?
No.Quite the opposite, this would make things even messier. As the New York Timesquotes a blogger in a piece thismorning, the one thing that’s worse than an oil spill is a radioactive oilspill. Aside from whether a nuclear explosion would work, it might well leavebehind radioactive materials that would be an environmental nightmare fordecades to come.
Ask the people who live near theSemipalatinsk test range in Kazakhstan, a 19,000 square-kilometer zone where theSoviet Union carried out 456 nuclear blasts from 1949 until 1989. Eighty-six ofthem were exploded in the air, 30 at the surface, and 340 underground intunnels and boreholes. Contamination poisoned the population. They would surelytell us today: Don’t do this! And they would surely be joined by those whosuffered from the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster.
TheTimes says that the buzz over this idea of corking the BP spill with a nukegrew so intense this week that the United States government felt compelled todeny that they had ever considered it. Good thing.
Asidefrom the environmental hazards, there would be a global outcry against the useof a nuke in peacetime, which would not only violate arms control treaties butmake it immensely more difficult to persuade countries like Iran and NorthKorea not to build a bomb. It would also call into question Barack Obama’s professeddesire to work toward elimination of nuclear weapons.
Butdidn’t the Soviet Union once use nukes for this? Not exactly. Both the UnitedStates and the Soviet Union did have a programs of using nuclear blasts forpeacetime purposes. In the Soviet case, it was primarily excavation. All told,the Soviet Union carried out 715 nuclear tests, of which 156 were labeled as“for peaceful purposes.” (The U.S. total tests were 1,030 with 35 for Plowshare, theoverall name for the program to use nukes for peaceful purposes. A pdf about theU.S. tests is here.)
According to a study published bythe Russians in 1996, the first time they used a nuke to close a “gas plumeborehole” was the 30-kiloton explosion on September 30, 1966 in Uzbekistan.Several additional blasts were used for excavation. On September 26, 1969, theyset off a 10 kiloton nuke in the Stavropol region for “oil recoveryintensification.” And in 1970, there was another blast in the Orenburg regionfor creating “reservoirs” for storage of natural gas.
Asnuclear historian Robert S. Norris notes in the Times, all these Soviet were onland and did not involve oil. Eventually, both superpowers gave up trying touse nukes for peaceful purposes, and one of the reasons was the environmentalhazards.
Didn’t we already learn this lesson from history?
David E. Hoffman covered foreign affairs, national politics, economics, and served as an editor at the Washington Post for 27 years.
He was a White House correspondent during the Reagan years and the presidency of George H. W. Bush, and covered the State Department when James A. Baker III was secretary. He was bureau chief in Jerusalem at the time of the 1993 Oslo peace accords, and served six years as Moscow bureau chief, covering the tumultuous Yeltsin era. On returning to Washington in 2001, he became foreign editor and then, in 2005, assistant managing editor for foreign news. Twitter: @thedeadhandbook
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