Antinuclear

Australian news, and some related international items

The plan to use nuclear bombs for fracking in Western Australia

ED Note.  The absurd and dangerous project discussed here has nothing at all to do with the very admirable American group The Plowshares.
Operation Plowshare pushed for a civilian use for atomic bombs in the 1960s and Port Hedland was in its sights, ABC Radio Perth, By Emma Wynne– 8 Nov 20  Almost every day, John Clancy visits the State Library of WA and delves into the records, intent on finding the background to stories that have piqued his interest.

Most recently, his dives into the archives led him to a largely forgotten episode in Western Australia’s past — the serious discussions that took place about using a nuclear weapon to create a deep harbour at Port Hedland in the state’s north.

The discussions were between the WA Government, United States nuclear scientists, and mining companies.

In 1961, the US Government began Operation Plowshare, a program investigating using atomic technology for civil purposes.

“[The US] had the bomb at the end of the war and they were looking for ways to get some value back out of it after all the money they had spent developing it,” Mr Clancy said.

The original fracking was atomic fracking. But it was too strong for that. It was doing too much damage underground.”

Various Plowshare ideas floated included using atomic bombs to cut a highway through southern California or duplicate the Panama Canal in Nicaragua, but they were deemed too big and too risky.

“They’d have needed 30 or 40 bombs to do that,” he said.

“There would have been too much leftover waste and they didn’t quite know what a big concentration of it in one place would end up doing.”

His interest in the connection to WA was first roused years ago on a trip to the United States.

“You can do a public tour of the Nevada [nuclear] Test Site (NTS), and I did that,” he said.

“They had one particular test that they (the NTS) had set up with Port Hedland in mind, seeing how much dirt they could shift with one blast and how big the hole would be. That’s the first I heard of this.”

Recently, his online research led to an array of documents held in the State Records Office including reports, correspondence, and newspaper clippings about the plans during the 1960s.

“I never thought there would be this much information on it,” he said.

The files reveal numerous discussions the State Government, north-west mining companies, and nuclear scientists had around using nuclear technology in the Pilbara.

At the same time, the discovery of vast iron ore deposits in the Pilbara meant that the region was rapidly opening up to mining and industrial development.

A port was needed to ship million of tonnes of iron ore offshore.

Mr Clancy said the project in Australia’s remote north-west, requiring only one or two bombs, would have seemed an ideal first project.

“The Plowshare operation was quite prominent, they were shopping around anywhere they could for someone that was interested,” he said.

“While this was going on, they were still doing underground testing in America, they were gathering information all the time.

“They [Operation Plowshare] were open to anything.”……….

While it’s not entirely clear who first suggested it, the flurry of correspondence between the Western Australian government, engineering firms and mining companies throughout the 1960s shows the idea was firmly on the drawing board.

In one letter to Charles Court, a former premier and minister for regional development and the north-west from 1959 until 1971, an engineering firm wrote they had met with Australia’s atomic energy attache at the embassy in Washington and were eager to proceed:……..

A report of a visit by Australian Atomic Energy officers to BHP’s Deepdale iron ore development, dated February 1, 1966, gives some hint of the magnitude of the political challenge faced.

It also raised the inconvenient problem of the existence of the Test Ban Treaty:

The report goes on to discuss how an exemption may have been possible, but it would have required the Australian Government to be the first in the world to propose changing the treaty.

Mr Clancy also suspects the fallout from the British tests on the Montebello Islands in Western Australia’s north-west and in Maralinga in South Australia also played a part in why the ideas came to nothing.

By 1971, the Liberal government under Premier David Brand had been defeated and the records come to an end.

In 1977, the United States Government formally ended Operation Plowshare, never having found a site for the peacetime application of nuclear weapons……..https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-11-08/documents-reveal-plans-to-use-nuclear-bombs-in-port-hedland/12848004

 

November 9, 2020 - Posted by | history, Western Australia

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