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.

[daylifegallery id=”1272648400606″]

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, and the inimitable Kevin O’Flynn of The Moscow Times

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97 Responses to Nuke that slick

  1. Zach Hensel says:

    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.

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  3. 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.


    Trying to get some people familiar with the idea of sealing the leak with a nuclear device.

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

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

  7. tommym says:

    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.

    • Howard Hall says:

      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:

      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.

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  20. What a horrible species we are.

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  40. 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.

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  48. 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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  50. I suspect that BP know that but they don’t want to because that would mean losing the well. All their effort is aimed at finding a fix that would let them exploit the well.

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  54. edreed says:

    The US has already used underground nukes to try to boost gas flow.

    There was an attempt at Rulison in 1969 and another in 1973.

    The Russians don’t have a monopoly on the wacky use of nukes.

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  57. Peter Crocco says:

    Nuking is no longer necessary what with the creation of the bunkerbuster bomb used in Afganistan; this bomb will do the trick, as has been explained by a pro I watched but can no longer remember his name….

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  66. pharmacie says:

    yeah, bomb the leak to hell, teach it some democracy!

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  76. 4karats says:

    For remote uninhabited areas (like the nuclear testing grounds in Russia), nuke-that-slick may be an option but should not be encouraged. A serious environmental and ecological assessment will definitely be required if nuke-that-slick has to be applied in Gulf coast. A political assessment will also be necessary. When all other methods have been tried without success, may nuke-that-slick be finally the last option, but I still hope that it will not be used. When the clathrates are disturbed, I hope they will not produce a non-stopped positive feedback in creating more methane, in turn more carbon dioxide, above the ocean (our atmosphere) by nuke-that-slick, casting a real show “Land Before Time”.

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  79. joefrino says:

    Joe Frino

    I believe we may not have an option here!! We may not be able to wait another 2 months for BP to finish
    another well. AND what happens IF THAT DOES NOT WORK!! Also BP is saying it will be done by August . What if it takes longer?? We should not automatically say no to using a nuclear blast. In addition what you are saying is the US should not use this method because
    other nations can use this has an excuse. So, we have to be held hostage by what other nations might say or do ??? Even if the nuclear
    option might be the only thing that works? Let’s think this out some more before we back ourselves into a corner and be sorry for the next 100 years

    • 4karats says:

      Hi Joe Frino,
      My apology for having not expressing my point clear enough. I did not say we should absolutely not nuke that well. I said we should do assessments (ecological, environmental, and political) first if we have to nuke that slick. Those assessments may take more than 2 months. One of the risks of nuking is that the location of the Gulf Coast is too close to densely populated states. Another risk is the disturbances that could be created to the clathrates (which may cause release of methane, and in turn, more carbon dioxide, in positive feedback to our environment). Thank you.

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  82. spidey says:

    listening to c-span during an oil-leak topic call-in, a metal fabricator offered high hopes for ‘explosive welding’ as an solution. of course, he didn’t know how effective the plan would be at 5 thousand feet. Also, CNN has been featuring spill clean-up ideas and a great one that was performed on a small scale was dehydrated sphagnum peat moss used as an oil sponge. Wow!!

  83. joefrino says:

    I do not want to really use a nuke if something else like a blockbuster bomb would work or a clean smaller type of tactical nuke?
    Anyway, I should have been clearer also, I was directing my comment to Cris Allison who said we can’t use a nuke. Anyway, we are running out of time. The enviormental damage this is causing as we debate this puts this under a crisis management decision. What are our options, what is the highest percentage probability of an action to STOP THIS. Some of the options may not be plesent but we have to act. The best minds should be on this now making the decisions. Oh, well, in 2 months should not even be in the picture !!

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  92. I believe they do not want to plug this hole. They want the oil! They want the flow to keep coming and capture it if they can. (STOP IT? ARE YOU KIDDING ME? THIS IS A GOLD MINE!) They have paid alot to produce it. They want to use this well in my opinion, not shut it off. If they wanted it shut off they would nuke it in a heartbeat. Let’s see, what excuse we can use today that American people will fall for? How about this one? It would send a precedence to stop this disaster as soon as it starts by nuking it. Great idea! Let’s use it. I think we make our own rules in our country today and tomorrow. What we do today we don’t have to do tomorrow if we don’t want to. In my opinion, The so called small people on the coast will never be paid the total cost they will have to bare. Bp in the end will draw from this well, and the impacts will be brushed away. The end of the spill and the disaster it caused will go on for years yet the end of the payment will be in site for bp and the powers they pay off. (After all they were exempt and they already paid more than the law required.) I think we are watching a publicity stunt. I say get your money while you can because you’re well will dry up but bp’s will not. Unless you nuke it.

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