Nuke the Gulf oil leak?

You guys, here's an idea! Let's nuke the Gulf oil spill! Julia Ioffe in True/Slant: "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."


    1. Strange–he never mentions this during his stage act. (Yes, I know that’s not the same Teller, but I couldn’t resist.)

      Seriously, are they trying to turn this into a Bruce Willis movie?

  1. If a childhood spent watching old Sci-Fi and horror movies on Saturday afternoons taught me anything, this is just asking for trouble in the form of awakened dinosaurs, primordial ooze coming to irradiated life, and the oceans catching on fire.

      1. No, that’s when we experiment with teleportation technology (derived from what we find on Mars and its moons).

    1. That should be “Nuke the Gay Whales for Jesus”, per a mid-’80s bumper sticker I saw in Austin.

  2. You didn’t link to your conspiracy theories page, which already suggested this:

    The real motive for the attack, the article concludes, is to put Obama in an “impossible dilemma”-either he allows the leak to continue indefinitely, wreaking untold economic and ecological havoc, or he authorizes the “nuclear option.” […] But that “would leave the UN’s nuclear conference in shambles with every Nation in the World having oil rigs off their coasts demanding an equal right to atomic weapons to protect their environment from catastrophes too, including Iran.”

  3. It’ll be just like in those old 50’s monster movies.

    “We’ve tried everything, Mr. President, except…the bomb.”

  4. The Soviets weren’t the only ones with other uses for nukes. Check out Operation Plowshare. Fun stuff like trying to release natural gas in Colorado, except the gas was too radioactive to use.

    1. The natural gas in your kitchen’s gas-burning stove already contains a little radon…

  5. So it is probably not the best way to fix this, but for amazing fireworks finales, engineering charges, and of course hordes of nazi zombies that I think it might be useful to have a few Davy Crockett rounds and the bazooka launcher. My father had a friend in the US air force at the publicity stunt where they popped an AIR-2 Genie anti bomber formation nuclear missile overhead, it uses the same warhead as the Davy Crockett. Really I just want to be a recognized nuclear power like the crazy Eskimo in Snow Crash.
    As long as we are going to be nuking stuff and chucking the test ban treaty out anyone up for using some of the retired nukes building a giant project orion spaceship?

  6. Not an idea I like.
    But then I don’t like the idea of the Gulf becoming a dead zone for the next century or so either.

    Frankly, if its done it will be hushed up. All we’ll know is that they “got the preventer unstuck” or something like it. Horrid PR even if it is, eventually, the best choice.

    1. Frankly, if its done it will be hushed up. All we’ll know is that they “got the preventer unstuck” or something like it. Horrid PR even if it is, eventually, the best choice.

      It cannot be “hushed up”. It is impossible to detonate a significantly sized nuclear warhead on Earth without the earthquake-watchers the world over detecting the shock. This is how we learn about all the secret underground nuclear tests – they’re only secret until the bomb blows up.

      How did Larry Niven put it? “It sounds like God’s knocking, and He wants in bad.”

  7. if dropping a nuke on the leaking well is the only way to seal it, and the benefits (stopping oil leak) outweigh the environmental detriments, I’m all for it.

  8. Considering that, as JamesPadraicR points out, the last time we tried something like this the radioactive contamination rendered the field in question unusable, I have to ask if this approach have a similar impact?

    1. The oil field will probably be unusable for a while
      /tear BP.

      Still, at some point, the option should be considered instead of everyone being all “omg teh nukez!”

      If it’s deep enough (and at 5000 feet, it *is*) there should be minimal surface radioactivity. Take a look at operation wigwam, which was done at something like half of that depth and had very little surface radioactivity.

      And I’m sure we have cleaner nukes nowadays than in the 1950s. A W80 would be a pretty decent solution. Or a B61.

      Sea life? yeah, not so good news on that. The current situation is not exactly awesome either.

  9. Extinguishing and evacuating at once…people in New Orleans can ride the surf all the way up to Arkansas.

  10. Brought to you by the same folks who thought invading Iraq was the way to get bin Laden.
    Shock & Awe!

  11. So all of our non-radioactive fuel-air bomb and bunker-buster technology can’t be applied here?

    Tactical nukes have already been replaced to my understanding.

    (I am not a weapons buff.)

    1. Sadly, at least in this instance, even MOAB which is the most powerful non-nuclear bomb in the US arsenal, is only 1/1000th the power of Little Boy.

      And fuel/air bombs wouldn’t work very well underwater, there being no air to combine with the fuel. It would have to be a bomb with an oxidizer included – or no need for one like a nuke.

    2. I believe Fuel-Air explosives require air, which is distinctly lacking 5000′ underwater. :)

      And more seriously devices designed to operate in air at certain pressures may have issues functioning at the pressures involved here. Witness the problems with the cofferdam.

  12. Reminiscent of the Simpsons episode where Homer gets a gun and proceeds to use it for everything around the house, including opening his beer.

  13. You’re forgetting where this spill is, it’s in the deep south, y’all.

    The voice-over for the button being pressed needs to be “Hey bubba, watch this…”

  14. Well the area is already a dead zone due to the agricultural runoff from the Mississippi river. Also from what I understand the bomb would only be 1.5 times the size of the bombs used in Japan.

    The problem is if it does not work, we may be way worse off due to the crumpling of the platform onto the area where the leak is.

  15. When it comes to using explosives as a unique way to solve a problem, I’ve got three words: Oregon exploding whale.

  16. I don’t want to eat radioactive fish, so couldn’t conventional explosives be used instead?

    And shame on Russia for adding to the world’s cancer. 169 times!

  17. I’m not a nuclear weapons or engineering expert, but it seems to me that a nuke would blow open the oil vent and cause it to spew radioactive oil everywhere even faster.

  18. That’s more like a nuclear charge in a deep and pretty insulated well couple of miles away not a bombing of some point on the gulf floor. The shift of a ground layers caused by explosion will close the (previously drilled) channel from the oil field feeding the gusher.
    Might work.

  19. How effective would a nuke even be, considering how much shielding from the pressures at 5k feet would be needed? Not that I’m against the idea – if it would do less damage than say, 2 more months of oil pouring out while BP sits and rotates, I’d be easily persuaded.

  20. Nuking the sea floor might work but taking off and nuking it from orbit is the only way to be sure

  21. Whatever works.
    If those Ruskies could do it, those good ol’ boys from Texas can dang well do it too.
    It’s a question of shutting off the flow.
    As stated, whatever works.

  22. The Soviets were probably the worst polluters out there. Yes, worse than us. Old sub nuclear reactors would get dumped in the Artic and there’s the whole ‘use what’s essentially a candle wick to regulate my nuclear reactor’ design. This is one of their less insane ideas, being merely 7.5 on the WTF meter. Sure it didn’t work 20% of the time, sure nuclear fallout in the form of radioactive mud would pollute the Gulf Stream, sure Florida would lose out on billions from tourists wanting non-glowing beaches, but it might work!

  23. I had actually thought about this exact thing. They use high explosives to cap off an oil fire, so why not use them for this?

    1. They don’t actually close the well with high explosives in a blow-out; they just use them to blow out the fire.

      Red Adair is/was one of the best known technicians who specialise(d) in this. Essentially, you get a drum of TNT, wrap it in insulation, point a hose at it to keep it from cooking of prematurely, then get it up close to the well and blow it.

      Hopefully it blows out the fire, and you can then get at the well to cap it.

  24. Right now, nuking the oil leak would violate several arms control treaties (e.g. the Partial Test Ban Treaty, the Peaceful Nuclear Explosions Treaty, the Seabed Treaty), which would mean that the U.S. would have to either: (a) unilaterally violate all of those treaties, or (b) negotiate a special exemption to each of these treaties for this one emergency case (which would likely take many months of negotiations at the very least). Neither option is good.

    Also, if they nuke it, it might contaminate the oil, rendering it unusable (which is why the U.S. abandoned the idea of using nukes to stimulate oil fields back in the 1960s).

    Nuking it clearly has to be an absolute last resort, to be used only if it is determined that there is no other possible way to stop the leak.

  25. If I’ve learned anything in engineering school, it’s that any problem can be solved by the suitable application of explosives.

    Incidentally, when I signed in, a window popped up that said “Alert from 1″ I can only take this to mean that not only can boingboing read minds, it agrees with me.

  26. Our responsibility to not use nukes should be the main consideration here. Oil will have a far smaller impact on all parties involved than radio active material if something were to go wrong. Additionally, we have a moral obligation to uphold our end of those nuclear treaties, especially considering our leadership role in the nuclear world.

    This leak will be sealed in due time using conventional methods. Just because we want a solution RIGHT NOW doesn’t justify sacrificing our integrity (or just being irrational idiots). Having patients will be hard, but it’s the wise thing to do.

    And for those who are completely oblivious, the silent and hopefully obvious lesson we must learn from this is that its time to shift to another energy source!! I vote for nuclear power, and the US should follow the lead of other nations who already rely on it regularly.

  27. If the Louisiana fishermen don’t like oil washing up on shore, they’re going to like Godzilla and Mothra fighting over New Orleans even less.

  28. Lol. Amazing how even on Boing Boing one whacko post can get people to go like “Oh hey, this STUPID-ASS CRAZY IDEA is actually kinda logical, when you think of it, real long and superficially…”

    To those here who have already convinced yourselves that the nuclear fallout “wouldn’t be so bad”, have you ever thought what the political, social and moral consequences are? Yeez.

  29. Everyone keeps going on about how we need more green fuels, and then when someone finally comes up with an idea that GIVES us glowing green fuel, people treat it like a joke :(

  30. I think some well placed explosives could easily shut off the leaking oil. However, BP is not considering this because they want to save the well. They have a lot of money invested in this well and they don’t want to lose it. Bastards.

    1. I think you might be underestimating the size of the problem, and the danger of making it worse.

      At 1.6km down, how much explosive of what type, and with what primers would you use, at what distance from the well, and buried to what depth in the sea floor, to block a million-gallon-a-day leak, without turning it into a ten-million-gallon-a-day leak?

      They already lost the hole they’ve drilled. They wouldn’t lose anything more unless the oil went somewhere.

      But it IS currently wenting somewhere, quite fast, as is their share price. They have significant financial imperative to fix it if they can. They’re hardly failing out of greed: they’ve spent $625M trying to fix it (legally, their liability is only $75M, but I think they know the US Gov’t wouldn’t let them get away with that).

      Their share price has dropped, losing the company $24Bn of shareholder value because of this. And they thought they had it bad LAST year, when they were $7.7Bn down from the year before, and reported their first loss in seven years.

      They’re planning on spending a further $3.5Bn to $7Bn in cleanup alone. If it were as easy as just chucking down a few million dollars worth of dynamite, I think they’d have done it by now and not broken a sweat, and saved themselves $30Bn.

  31. Allow the PM of Japan to push the button thereby making a sort of payback for us nuking them even though they really deserved it at then time. :-)

    1. Pipes are not made of malleable copper, at a guess.

      So they’d crack instead of squish, and you’ve just moved your problem a few feet down.

  32. When the gas lines on my car spring a leak I screw a metal screw into the end of the tube.. this really works,could this be done with a larger screw to slow the leak?

  33. Every fisherman in the Gulf with a boat should be given a centrifuge and empty barrels by BP and then paid $50 for every barrel of crude oil that they retrieve and return to BP.

  34. How about this use shaped charges to blow the pipe closed, the army has used shaped charges to weld metal. It’s not the big bang a nuke would give but no radiation is a BIG + and it actually has a chance of working. Another thing where are all the navys deep submersables Woods Hole Institute has a couple. Why the mini sub controled from over a mile away when maned mini subs that can go as deep as 5 miles could be there within reach of mechanical arms controled by humans sitting three feet away?????

  35. THERMITE THERMITE AND MORE THERMITE. Thermite has been used to weld metals and cut things for decades. They could drop some in on top detonate it and be done with it. Or if that does not work. NUKE the dam thing.
    There would be no radiation in the sea. No fall out on shore. When you do a subsurface blast the fall out stays below. The pipes would not break or crush they would metal down to base materials. Everything would be fused.

    Now there could be some real issues. It could cause a massive earthquake and wave that would make new Orleans look like Atlantis. If it was not deep enough it could break throw causing a bigger wave and some fall out. We tested water detonations of islands people now live and swim on. I doubt a nuke would cause that much issue seeing how many we have used before.

    My thing is after the last try you call the worlds best deep driller in from his well that is about to catch fire but his rough kneck crew will put out and you have him drill and drill some more. Then boom there goes the leak. We all know who I am talking about Harry stamper LOLOLOLOLO

  36. what about fucking flamethrowers??? just keep have thousands of people in boats with flamethrowers and plenty of gas :)

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