Wednesday, May 5, 2010

We’ll Put This In The “Maybe” Column…

Thousands of barrels-worth of oil continue to leak into the Gulf of Mexico from the site of the BP drilling rig collapse, threatening an ecological disaster along the Gulf Coast of almost unimaginable proportions. BP’s latest plan is to drop what’s basically a giant funnel connected to a hose over the leaking pipes on the seabed, hoping to trap the oil and pump it to barges on the surface – BP though has never tried this tactic in water as deep as the current leak site and is not overly optimistic about its chances for success. But according to Russia Today, some former Soviet scientists think they have a solution to stopping the leak – use a nuclear bomb.

Incredibly there is a precident for this bizarre action. In 1963 a natural gas well in Uzbekistan failed catastrophically, resulting in a plume of flame 120 meters tall that consumed 12 million cubic meters of gas per day. For three years, the blowout resisted all attempts to extinguish it. Finally, a group of Soviet nuclear physicists stepped in to help, not surprisingly their idea came in the form of a small nuclear bomb. Since everything else they had failed, Soviet authorities decided to go ahead with the nuclear solution – a shaft was drilled down to the gas well and the bomb set off, effectively sealing the gas vein and finally extinguishing the fire.

Strangely enough, during the Cold War both the United States and Soviet Union both tried to think up ways that nuclear weapons could be used for peaceful purposes. The American version was “Operation Plowshare”, the logic was that one nuclear bomb could remove more material in a moment than a huge crew of men and machines could during weeks, or months, of labor. The ideas proposed under Operation Plowshare included using nuclear bombs to cleave passes through mountain ranges for highways or to carve a new shipping canal across Central America; the idea that came closest to reality was one to use five hydrogen bombs to create an artificial harbor in Alaska, a plan that was only scuttled when officials realized that the proposed harbor would be literally in the middle of nowhere.

The physicists interviewed by Russia Today admit that while a nuclear bomb did successfully seal the Uzbek gas fire, it was also set off in the middle of a desert, and that detonating a nuclear weapon in the Gulf of Mexico might have some adverse effects on the ecology.
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