Thursday, June 3, 2010
After we learned President Obama’s official team to deal with the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico included Richard L. Garwin, a physicist, an IBM Fellow Emeritus, and a leading military-technology and arms-control consultant for the U.S. government who also helped design the first hydrogen bomb in 1951, speculation exploded across the internet that the U.S. could follow the former Soviet Union’s use of a nuclear bomb to seal off gushing oil well. If it worked for the Russians, why not try it here?
But, according to Stephanie Mueller, neither the Energy Department, or anyone else on the team was thinking about detonating a nuclear blast under the Gulf of Mexico. The nuclear option was not, and never had been, on the table, Mueller said.
Government and private nuclear experts agreed that using a nuclear bomb would be not only technically risky, with unknown and possibly disastrous consequences from radiation, but also unwise geopolitically. For starters, it would violate arms treaties that the United States has signed and championed over the decades. Especially, at a time when President Obama is pushing for global nuclear disarmament.
Enthusiasm for a nuclear approach is based on reports the Soviet Union succeeded in using atomic bombs to seal off gas wells. Milo D. Nordyke, in a 2000 technical paper for the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory in Livermore, Calif., described five Soviet blasts from 1966 to 1981. All but the last blast were successful. The 1966 explosion put out a gas well fire that had raged uncontrolled for three years.