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May. 4 2010 - 10:04 am | 182,381 views | 2 recommendations | 104 comments

Nuke that slick

Underwater nuclear test, 1958.

As BP prepares to lower a four-story, 70-ton dome over the oil gusher under the Gulf of Mexico, the Russians — the world’s biggest oil producers — have some advice for their American counterparts: nuke it.

Komsomoloskaya Pravda, the best-selling Russian daily, reports that in Soviet times such leaks were plugged with controlled nuclear blasts underground. The idea is simple, KP writes: “the underground explosion moves the rock, presses on it, and, in essence, squeezes the well’s channel.”

Yes! It’s so simple, in fact, that the Soviet Union, a major oil exporter, used this method five times to deal with petrocalamities. The first happened in Uzbekistan, on September 30, 1966 with a blast 1.5 times the strength of the Hiroshima bomb and at a depth of 1.5 kilometers. KP also notes that subterranean nuclear blasts were used as much as 169 times in the Soviet Union to accomplish fairly mundane tasks like creating underground storage spaces for gas or building canals.


These kinds of surgical strikes to shut off underground leaks, however, were carried out only five times, with the last one occuring in 1979. And there was only one misfire, near Kharkov, Ukraine, where a nuclear blast was unable to stanch a gas leak.

Happily, with a track record like that, “the chances of failure in the Gulf of Mexico are 20%,” KP writes. “The Americans could certainly risk it.”

via KP.ru, and the inimitable Kevin O’Flynn of The Moscow Times


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  1. collapse expand

    I was wondering about this the other day. Folks respond to the idea as ridiculous and reject it out of hand, generally, but it’s a lot less intuitively ridiculous than dropping a giant underwater dome over the thing.

    From what I understand, the seabed of the Gulf is more mud than rock, which could make this less effective. Also, the hole is partially occluded now; blowing it could cause it to seal, or could dislodge what’s partially sealing it now and increase the flow rate.

    If the hole weren’t partially occluded presently, there’d be no reason not to try blowing it up. The flow rate is determined by the pressure in the well (relative to the pressure at the sea floor) and not by the size of the hole at the surface.

    Another option would be a very strong infrared laser (red = less absorption by water and aquatic life) that could melt and fuse rock at the surface. We’ve got a laser that’s mounted on a 747 to shoot down missiles miles away; mount it on the bow of a ship facing down and see what happens.

    Seems a lot better than waiting three months for a new hole to be drilled.

  2. collapse expand

    The US cannot use nuclear blasts to seal the leak as it would lead to a poor nuclear precedent. If the US uses a nuclear blast to seal an oil leak than any country that has offshore oil rigs that are also receptive to similar leaks will request nuclear capabilities in case of such a predicament. Such nations could be Iran or others that the US does not want to have nuclear capabilities. Even if Russia has used this method in the past, Russia is not directing the current nuclear-country dialogue so their example is not one that is viable to current geopolitical tensions.

  3. collapse expand

    Chris, I agree, but is the ecological disaster worth the politics?

    Which problem is larger, and which are we less able to control?

  4. collapse expand

    I don ‘t think we should follow the Russians’ example: Look at Chernobyl for example. There are rumored to be mutated dogs bigger than horses walking around near the site of THAT catastrophe!
    And a NUCLEAR blast so close to so many people in the Gulf – the radiation, for 10,000 years washing ashore. Who needs terrorists?!?
    I mean I don’t eat shellfish anyway, but if oil and dispersant-tinged shrimp isn’t your idea of a healthy meal, why would Nuclear Crab Cakes be any better?
    And ONLY 5 times in Russia? Hopefully they got wise, since the last blast there was in 1979.
    —–Maybe this was joke piece. I sure hope so.

    • collapse expand

      TommyM -

      You make some interesting, provocative, but sadly misinformed comments:

      1. Rumors of mutated dogs bigger than horses has the same credibility as UFO sightings. Produce one real example with documentation, please. And the giant ants in the movie “Them” don’t count.

      2. Radiation washing ashore for 10,000 years? Care to defend that, or explain how you came up with such a claim? If you took the entire inventory of nuclear material in a nuclear explosive (pre- or post-det) and leaked it into the Gulf over 10,000 years, we’d be hard-preseed to even detect it, much less see **any** effect from it.

      3. The last nuclear explosion in Russia was not in 1979, it was in 1990. The Russians/Soviets exploded more than 200 nuclear devices between 1979 and 1990, inclusively. And since you’ll get exercised over being called for BS, here’s the source: http://npc.sarov.ru/english/issues/peaceful.html.

      Using a nuclear explosion to stem this oil well leak would be a counterproductive thing for a whole variety of legitimate policy, technical, and operational reasons. Those are real issues, not KNEE-JERK drivel with SILLY use of ALL CAPS.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
  5. collapse expand

    Lets take worst case:

    BP does not really care about sealing the leak.

    There are numerous indicators of this.

    What an excellent tool for the world population reduction program which DOES exist;

    …..not only is seafood worldwide destroyed but oxygen, as David Susuki has said, 80% of which come from the sea is removed from the atmosphere and replaced by oil fumes….mmmm.

    BP was in such a hurry to take their metal box to sea, which they said wouldn’t even work beforehand that it returned to shore for another departure for the cameras…true!

    all the best sciece and technology in the world at their disposal and they come upwith, golfballs and shredded tyres….that’ll stop it….we hope…come on!

    why isn’t the army, navy and airforce involved?

    Hay spread on the slick and then harvested with seaweed harvesters used at shorelines, or anything else is 100% effective, as demonstrated on video for local counties …. there is a great harvest of hay in the southern USA due to be harvested right about now, which can be replaced with overseas supplies…no mention of its use ecept locally in some counties.

  6. collapse expand

    Why is it that we have two leaks? Why can we not place a large hydrolic clamp around this pipe and simply smash it flat? If this is a steal pipe we should be able to smash it with hydrolics. This will not fix the problem but it should slow down the leak and help until a complete fix it inacted.
    This pipe is now exposed. If you nuke it, it will no longer be exposed! If your nuke does not work you have no other options, your pipe will be gone.

    Question: how close to the valve that is not working is the first leak?

    Suggestion: Install a two piece clamp/flange just behind the first leak. Weld it in place with remote robots. Cut the steal at the bolt/flange just installed. Install new valve to a new short pipe on shore that can work and close with these remote robots. Open the flange so oil can flow through (Make this piece as short as possible.) Install a inner sleave to help keep it alined with the other pipe you want to stop from leaking that you just cut. Set it in place with the valve open. Clamp it in place with robots. then weld it in place if you can with robots, then close valve.

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    About Me

    Hi! I am a journalist who, for reasons of sentimentality and an abiding fascination with the absurd, decided to live and work in Russia for a year just as the country vies with Somalia for Most Un-Safest Spot for Journalists in the World. I will blog in a death-defying manner, dear reader. That is a promise.

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