Australian news, and some related international items

Why nuking the BP oil gusher is the worst possible action

Nuclear Follies: How Not To Stem the BP Oil Gusher, Daily Kos:, by Page van der Linden 7 June 2010, “…….Never has it been more apparent that there’s a lot of misunderstanding (deliberate or otherwise) regarding nuclear weapons than recently. I’m talking about the appalling, misguided idea that we can “just nuke” the BP oil gusher and it will some how “be okay”.Here’s the Global Security Newswire’s “Quote of the Day” from June 3, 2010:
The use of a nuclear weapon to stop the BP oil gusher is not an option. It is, in fact, the worst possible thing we could do. Here’s why.

Geopolitical Implications: Let’s Cause An International Incident!

Way back in 1963, after almost two decades of nuclear testing, the United States and the former USSR were the first of a large number of countries who signed the Limited Test Ban Treaty, also know as the Partial Test Ban Treaty:

The Test Ban Treaty of 1963 prohibits nuclear weapons tests “or any other nuclear explosion” in the atmosphere, in outer space, and under water. While not banning tests underground, the Treaty does prohibit nuclear explosions in this environment if they cause “radioactive debris to be present outside the territorial limits of the State under whose jurisdiction or control” the explosions were conducted. In accepting limitations on testing, the nuclear powers accepted as a common goal “an end to the contamination of man’s environment by radioactive substances.”

With that in mind, last week, I contacted nuclear weapons testing verification expert, Dr. Thomas B. Cochran; he’s worked in the area for decades, so I gave him a call and asked him what he thought of this “nuke the oil gusher” idea. He emphasized the obvious:

Well, first you should recognize that this would be in violation of two treaties, one of which we’ve signed and ratified, and the other which we’ve signed but not ratified: the Limited Test Ban Treaty and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

Secondly, there are… national agreements about not putting radioactive waste in the oceans — that might conceivably add [introduce] additional difficulties, although I don’t put that in the same league with the violation of the treaties.

Thirdly, you would have to sink a shaft and place the weapon, and the weapon would have to be at a depth sufficient that you didn’t breach the surface of the ocean bottom, similar to the way you would conduct an underground nuclear test on land, where, depending on the yield, you would estimate how deep you had to drill the shaft and place the weapon, so that it didn’t release radioactivity out of the shaft.

Now, BP has two efforts underway to sink shafts — they’re in the process of sinking shafts to try to intersect the well that’s not functioning. So, it makes no sense to me to launch a program to sink another shaft and place a nuclear warhead, when that’s going to take longer than sinking the [relief well shafts].

The timing doesn’t make any sense to me, irrespective of the fact that it’s crazy to think about using nuclear weapons.

In other words, we have to recognize several key things. Using a nuclear weapon to somehow “stop the oil gusher” would:

  1. Be the political equivalent of resuming nuclear testing. (We declared a moratorium in 1992).
  2. Most likely introduce radioactive material into the area, though how much is anyone’s guess.
  3. Be an impractical waste of time when they’re already taking a more conventional approach.

If the international implications of such an action still aren’t clear to you, Cochran bluntly told me:

[I]t would probably pretty much destroy efforts to get a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

Just Because Someone Else Did It, Doesn’t Mean It’ll Work

As the New York Times pointed out, the whole idea came from something the Russians tried back in the 1960s to stop a natural gas fire. Historian and nuclear non-proliferation expert David E. Hoffman tears down the idea that “if it worked for them it’ll work for us”:

But didn’t the Soviet Union once use nukes for this? Not exactly. Both the United States and the Soviet Union did have a programs of using nuclear blasts for peace time 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, the overall name for the program to use nukes for peaceful purposes. A pdf about the U.S. tests is here.)

According to a study published by the Russians in 1996, the first time they used a nuke to close a “gas plume bore hole” was the 30-kiloton explosion on September 30, 1966 in Uzbekistan.Several additional blasts were used for excavation. On September 26, 1969, they set off a 10 kiloton nuke in the Stavropol region for “oil recovery intensification.” And in 1970, there was another blast in the Orenburg region for creating “reservoirs” for storage of natural gas.

As nuclear 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 environmental hazards.

Daily Kos: Nuclear Follies: How Not To Stem the BP Oil Gusher

June 7, 2010 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , ,

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: