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The Military Science

Better Living Through Nukes? 432

perkonis writes "So, you've got 23,000 nukes laying about and no one to use them on. What to do with them? Well, you blow up stuff for fun and profit. Some of the ideas range from good on paper (such as mining oil shale) to just downright bad (such as making a new Panama Canal). Making a big ditch by blowing up nukes — what could possibly go wrong?"
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Better Living Through Nukes?

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  • by JamesP ( 688957 ) on Saturday April 11, 2009 @12:21PM (#27542529)

    blowing up geological faults to 'ease the tension'. Better a small slip than a full-blown earthquake.

    Or maybe if it's just for fun, give it to the Mythbusters.

    • by Roger W Moore ( 538166 ) on Saturday April 11, 2009 @12:42PM (#27542709) Journal
      Even if this was deep enough to contain the radioactivity do we really want lots of civilian uses for nuclear explosions? This will mean demand to make more and, rather than being stored on high security military bases, they will be looked after by companies hiring security guards. If we want to get rid of them the safest option is to disassemble them and either burn the fissionable material in a reactor or render it non-weapons grade. Developing commercial uses will only encourage us to build more.
      • by Rei ( 128717 ) on Saturday April 11, 2009 @12:47PM (#27542733) Homepage

        And the radioactivity is really problematic for some of these tasks. For example, oil shale. That was studied a lot in the 70s, and last I saw, it was deemed infeasible because it'd leave the oil too radioactive to be usable.

        Oh, and as for using any relevant amount of nuclear weapons on the surface at once -- say, the amount that would be exchanged between India and Pakistan in a nuclear war -- um, no. [] That would be a Bad Thing(TM).

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Dare nMc ( 468959 )

          radio active waste hasn't stopped coal power plants, I would think as clean as we are able to burn oil now, sepearte out any heavy metal at the end would be easier than coal. Actually just mixing it into a pipeline seams pretty safe from what the article says about the lack of radioactivity in the low fissionable material bombs should make this a non-issue.
          Coal-burning plants are particularly noted for producing large amounts of toxic and mildly radioactive ash due to concentrating naturally occurring meta []

          • Coal contains trace amounts of uranium, typically at around 3ppm.

            However ordinary soil contains trace amounts at concentrations ranging from between 1-5ppm.

            • Re:Reality Check (Score:5, Insightful)

              by Joce640k ( 829181 ) on Saturday April 11, 2009 @07:21PM (#27545269) Homepage

              The radioactivity in soil stays put, burning coal releases it into the air. If you live downwind of a coal power station you might want to borrow a Geiger counter and check out your garden (or not, if you prefer ignorance).

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Jurily ( 900488 )

        they will be looked after by companies hiring security guards.

        And that is worse than the Russian military how?

        Developing commercial uses will only encourage us to build more.

        Yes. And used responsibly that can be a good thing. We might even see new nuclear power plants, which is definitely a good thing.

        Fearmongering will get us nowhere.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by BitZtream ( 692029 )

        The civilian sector already uses military grade controlled explosives for civilian uses. They just do so by asking the military to allow them to do so and to provide the materials and expertise to pull it off.

        Just because a civilian use for it exists, doesn't mean that you let civilians do it themselves.

        The final catch is that nuclear fuel is a finite resource, just like oil. You can just run around using it for all sorts of silly things unless you intend to run out of it. The main difference between pet

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Anpheus ( 908711 )

          Since the cold war, demand for uranium has dropped too. If we had more nuclear power plants, we'd have more mining capacity, and we'd have something that could bridge us over until widespread renewable energy adoption and/or fusion. (It's only 20 years away!!! Still...)

    • Can we do that to California?

      If a wide enough opening is made in the mountains between California and other desert states would it bring good climate change? If Arizona, Nevada, etc could be made lush I'd nuke 'em.

    • by Simonetta ( 207550 ) on Saturday April 11, 2009 @01:44PM (#27543167)

      A weird weapon, it only works if you don't use it... shades of WarGames.

      Nuclear weapons have solved the problem of national defense, but at a stiff price. In the past, there was always someone out there who thought that they could just come to your country or piece of ground, kick your ass, steal everything of value, rape your women, and turn your (and your women's) children into their slaves to buy, sell, fuck, or work to death as they please.

      Hell, we even did it ourselves and got away with it for a long time. Your ancestors did also to your neighbors. And your neighbors did it to you. It's quite possible that you are thinking right now about doing it to someone.

      It's not a bad idea, actually. You get all the benefits and you get to kill off all the assholes and bullies in your society that would make your life miserable if they weren't occupied by raging, raping, and pillaging someone else, somewhere else. Excuse me, I meant to say "turn all our brave boys into heroes or martyrs, proudly serving in our nation's defense..." Same thing.

      However, there are some countries that no-one imagines or seriously plans to conquer and enslave. These countries have, at great expense, developed refrigerator-sized machines that convert hydrogen into helium in the most environmentally-insensitive way imaginable. When someone shows up at the border for a little bit of the old in-out, they get met with a few of these hydrogen-to-helium converters thrown their way, along with a few tossed through outer space to the folks back home.

      What a mess. Basically the consequences of having to deal with having hydrogen-to-helium machines thrown your way far exceeds the joys and profits in ravishing and pillaging your neighbors. So you find something else to do. And we have world peace. Peace through machines. Not microprocessor-controlled dildos, or cool stereos playing groovy music, but through hydrogen bombs.

      One small problem: If you have a few of these hydrogen-to-helium conversion machines, it's real easy to get your friends and neighbors to give you their stash and daughters. Without having to go through the trouble of violently taking it. Just go to their embassy with a list in one hand and picture of the H2H machine in the other. Don't say a word; they'll get the message.

      So they want a few of the H2H machines themselves. And the more that there are around, the more likely that some one, somewhere, for some reason, under some God's direction, justified by some ancient holy book, is going to set them off. Which is bad for business.

      So an elaborate game evolves. You pretend that you are going to use them if it were to happen that someone might assume that they could pretend to do something that would piss you off, if it were possible that it could ever happen.

      And, success, you get world peace. Civilized people don't fuck with each other any more. Giant corporations can pretend that chickenshit things like trading MP3 files are a major issue, and other fantasies.

      The only problem is when weirdos and fanatics get the H2H devices. And you don't know if they are going to be willing and able to play the 'pretend that we use them' game. So you can ignore them and hope for the best, as we do with nuclear powers like Israel and Japan ( please don't insult our intelligence by telling me that the Japanese don't have hydrogen-to-helium conversion machines), or you can threaten to kick their ass in advance if they cross a certain line that you and the other civilized nations have drawn in the sand (Pakistan and Korea). Or, if you're lucky, you can just buy them off and get them to surrender their H2H machines (and their U238 little brothers), like South Africa and the Ukraine.

      Anyway, back to the point. You don't want to use the H2H converters for anyt

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Garrett Fox ( 970174 )
        To understand the alternative to this dilemma, look up Operation Downfall [], the plans for the land invasion of Japan.
      • by Yokaze ( 70883 ) on Saturday April 11, 2009 @04:12PM (#27544245)

        > One small problem: If you have a few of these hydrogen-to-helium conversion machines, it's real easy to get your friends and neighbors to give you their stash and daughters. Without having to go through the trouble of violently taking it. Just go to their embassy with a list in one hand and picture of the H2H machine in the other. Don't say a word; they'll get the message.

        So, the US hasn't fought a war, excuse me, armed conflict in the last 50 years?

        Nuclear weapons aren't good for small things. They are an all-out-weapon. They may help avoiding an all-out war, as it is M.A.D., but do next to nothing in small cases. Any threat is void, if you can't realise it. The usage of tactical nukes would generate a diplomatic and economical outfall, which would far outweigh any positive benefit you might possibly expect from the usage of said weapon. Even the hint at using a nuclear weapon will create a backlash from other nations.

        > please don't insult our intelligence by telling me that the Japanese don't have hydrogen-to-helium conversion machines

        Aside from experimental reactors in laboratories? Or is that your euphemism for hydrogen bombs? If not going as far as questioning your intelligence, I have at least doubt your knowledge on foreign nations. Look up the Japan's non-nuclear policy []. It already created a severe discontent in the general populace, that the Japanese government allowed the US to dock a nuclear driven military vessel in a Japanese harbour.
        IRC, the last notable Japanese politician that suggested in context of the build up of nuclear power in North Korea, it might be a good idea to have a own nuclear weapons had to resign due to public outrage.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 11, 2009 @02:00PM (#27543309)

      I am a geology student, studying seismology, and it is a personal pet peeve when someone says that a small earthquake will relive the pressure of a large fault. The force of an earthquake is measured on the Richter scale*, which is a logarithmic scale. A difference of one magnitude on the scale is equivalent to 10 times the force. Lets say we had a fault that had built up the pressure for an 8.0. Let's also assume that with a single nuke you could create a small earthquake at a force of 3.0. This is a difference of 5 orders of magnitude, so 100 000 times the force, and you'd need 100 000 3.0 earthquakes to equal one 8.0 earthquake. Do you really wish to set off that many nukes?

      Please do not say that a smallish earthquake is going to prevent a large one. To a geologist, this makes you sound about as stupid as the people who believe that California is going to fall off into the ocean the next time we have a large earthquake. []

      *We use the moment magnitude scale for the most part these days, but most non-geologist are more familiar with the Richter scale. MMS is 30 times the force for one degree of magnitude.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by omris ( 1211900 )

        To a geologist, this makes you sound about as stupid as the people who believe that California is going to fall off into the ocean the next time we have a large earthquake.

        Hey. We can hope, can't we?

    • by igny ( 716218 ) on Saturday April 11, 2009 @02:59PM (#27543681) Homepage Journal
      I suggest blowing all the ice in Antarctica to put more water into oceans to dissolve all that dangerous CO2 to keep it away from the atmosphere to stop the global warming and finally to avoid the melting of Antarctica.
  • In the 50s there were lots of civil engineering projects planned, and stuff like Freeman Dyson's Orion space ship. It never got going since it doesn't sound so safe.
    • by Brian Gordon ( 987471 ) on Saturday April 11, 2009 @12:32PM (#27542625)
      Now there's an understatement.

      Then the radioactive waste is poured into the subterranean cavity so formed

      "Radioactive waste is dangerous and toxic so we need a safe way of disposing of it without the possibility of it leaking into the ground. I propose pumping it into the ground."

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by jimpop ( 27817 ) *
        Radioactive waste is dangerous and toxic....

        As are many of the items in use by people on a day to day basis.
        • by KahabutDieDrake ( 1515139 ) on Saturday April 11, 2009 @02:00PM (#27543301)
          Not on a scale of tens of thousands of years. Nor do very many "daily" use items have a tendency to destroy reproductive qualities immediately. Radiation attacks the fast growing cells first (or more rapidly) and therefore renders any biological exposure fatal to the blood line.

          The testing in the 50's caused a noticeable legacy. Most of the test sites are still unsafe for human occupation, and the planets background radiation level still hasn't dropped to pre-nuke levels.

          I don't have a problem with nuclear power plants. They have proven that they are more or less a safe (acceptable risk) use of the technology. The same can NOT be said for nuclear bombs. Air bursting causes most of the radioactive fallout to go into the super-sphere, but it comes down eventually, some if, if not all. Ground shots tend to destroy any local ecology and permanently irradiate environments. Read up on Bikini Atoll, and the Baker test.
          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by fredklein ( 532096 )

            Not on a scale of tens of thousands of years.

            Morbo says: Half-lives do not work like that!

            The stuff that'll be around for "tens of thousands of years" is not that radioactive. It's the stuff that only hangs around for a few years that puts out a really dangerous amount of radiation. But, then, it's only dangerous for a few years.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by emmons ( 94632 )

        Pumping it into the ground 1500 feet down into the earth's crust in the middle of a tectonic plate and far below any water tables is perfectly safe. Leaving it above ground waiting for some weird freak accident to allow contaminates to somehow get into the water table is a tiny bit less so.

        It should be noted though that the casks they use at US nuclear power plants to store spent rods are really really freakin' tough. So it's really more just a problem of the stuff taking up space and not having a permane

    • I don't see how a ship the size of a city propelled by hundreds of nuclear explosions sounds dangerous. You just aren't adventurous enough.
  • Ideas (Score:5, Funny)

    by OldProgrammerDude ( 721239 ) on Saturday April 11, 2009 @12:23PM (#27542547)
    I always wanted to get back at John for that prank!
  • by Ancient_Hacker ( 751168 ) on Saturday April 11, 2009 @12:25PM (#27542563)

    It was tried back in the 60's with "project Plowshare". Blowing up new harbors, blowing up gas wells, etc, etc, etc. Did not pan out. Radioactive gas spewing into your home through the cooktop, not a big win. Radioactive dust and water from making a new harbor, not too keen either, and this was before peta and greenpeace et al.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      We just put peta and greenpeace in the soon to be harbor, then detonate the nuke.

      Kill three birds with one stone.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Idiomatick ( 976696 )
      Not really. It was just politically infeasible. Nuclear weapons can be built to have very low fallout. So the gas was probably safe to use.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by drinkypoo ( 153816 )

        Nuclear weapons can be built to have very low fallout.

        It's not going to help with repurposing the stockpile, though. Also there is a history of bungling such things. We totally blew it with using a lot of stuff, like DDT, Asbestos, PCBs, etc - in each case, overuse and use where it was inappropriate, when we completely knew the risks.

    • by dlenmn ( 145080 ) on Saturday April 11, 2009 @01:52PM (#27543223)
      From TFA:

      "The natural gas work culminated in 1973 with the explosion of three 33-kiloton bombs thousands of feet underground in Rio Blanco, Colorado. The key problem was that the gas this produced had measurable amounts of radioactivity. Not surprisingly, that created political problems for the method, even though the scientists involved in the experiments claimed the radiation would not be detrimental to public health."


      From one of the scientists on the project (quoted in TFA):

      "For excavation, we put a lot of time and effort and money into developing nuclear explosives which had minimal fissionable material so that you could carry out a 100-kiloton cratering explosion and release the radioactivity equivalent to a 20-ton explosive of fissionable material."

      Radiation is a problem, but over 2000 nuclear test have been carried out, and we haven't all dropped dead. A few more explosions that have specifically designed to minimize fallout won't kill us either.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      The referenced article mentions the project name and claimed that it was a technical success. They didn't bother to mention several technical failures, including unexpected releases of radioactive dust (some of which drifted into Canada, in contravention of a treaty), and a general inability to predict the outcome of their explosions. One of their experiments attempted to create a hill, but ended up with a crater. Another experiment did the opposite. They tried to connect two natural gas cavities, and

  • I really liked the thought on some new harbours and canals, but due to the radioactivity it's not viable yet.

    Likewise, I could imagine making a few lakes out in the mid west or along the Mississippi river to catch some of the flooding ( and some huge bass ponds )

    • by ColdWetDog ( 752185 ) * on Saturday April 11, 2009 @12:37PM (#27542647) Homepage

      ( and some huge bass ponds )

      Mutant bass? With lasers?

      I find your ideas intriguing and would like to subscribe to your newsletter.

    • I really liked the thought on some new harbours and canals, but due to the radioactivity it's not viable yet.

      I think more accurately, due to radiation it's not viable ever. Maybe using conventional explosives would work but nuclear weapons simply won't, until we develop a mutation that makes radiation impotent to humans (I don't even think this is evolutionarily possible).

  • by iammani ( 1392285 ) on Saturday April 11, 2009 @12:31PM (#27542615)
    What about creating mutants?
  • by auric_dude ( 610172 ) on Saturday April 11, 2009 @12:32PM (#27542627)
    Sell them to Iran, North Korea or whoever wants some and use the cash obtained to finance various economic stimulation packages. Then as soon as the money, gold, diamonds or whatever is in the bank have them self destruct via some CIA,NSA bit of trickery. Seen it in a James Bond film so it must be possible.
  • by MikTheUser ( 761482 ) on Saturday April 11, 2009 @12:34PM (#27542629)
    There is a Treaty banning Nuclear Weapon Tests In The Atmosphere, In Outer Space And Under Water (, which would probably hold and prevent this from happening, even though the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty ( still allows nuclear explosions for "peaceful purposes". Anyway, the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (, which stands on much better fotting again since Obama supports it, would definitely prevent it.
  • pickle 'em? (Score:5, Funny)

    by Theolojin ( 102108 ) on Saturday April 11, 2009 @12:34PM (#27542637) Homepage

    I don't get what the big deal is. How can they lead to healthy living? They don't exactly have a lot of nutritional value---just a smidgeon of vitamin C. Don't get me wrong; they are yummy and all---especially the hot house variety, with fewer seeds and the flavor...oh, the flavor is wonderful.

    Wha? Oh. *N*ukes.


  • Several years ago, the Brits published a study that even a small scale nuclear exchange would kick up enough crap in the atmosphere that it would cool the planet. Here's a way to get rid of a few nukes and stop global warming at the same time! Hey! You could call this... are you ready... Glow-ball cooling! Whaaaaat? You want me set to the damn things off with a match?
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by earlymon ( 1116185 )

      This solution was proposed in a short scifi story several decades ago, in fact. In the story involving the USA and USSR, one side was visiting the other and no one noticed that a colonel from the entourage stepped aside and pulled a counterpart aside and they spoke briefly. A year later there were two accidental launches, one from each side. Political tensions eased when it became clear that the two small nukes landed in the deep ocean, and sent up huge plumes of water vapor with little radiation. Not t

  • by Anonymous Coward
  • But...KABOOM!

    Now look what you've done.
  • by j. andrew rogers ( 774820 ) on Saturday April 11, 2009 @12:49PM (#27542755)

    The majority of the "23,000 nukes" have essentially been deactivated and are only counted because they have not been fully disassembled yet. The link itself says only 8,000 are operational globally. On the other hand, if you count plutonium cores, trigger assemblies, and miscellaneous spare parts lying around that could be engineered into a functional weapon if required there are significantly greater than 23,000 potential nukes.

    What does or does not constitute a nuclear weapon for accounting purposes does not necessarily match common sense understanding.

  • by sam_handelman ( 519767 ) <skh2003@columbia. e d u> on Saturday April 11, 2009 @01:10PM (#27542891) Homepage Journal

    You puncture a big hole in the earth's crust, and let the ocean flow in. You use the electrical output from the turbines to re-smelt the turbines (because they get coated with salt), and you use the steam as fresh water.

  • 1. You take them apart.
    2. You put the material in a reactor.
    3. You sell the electricity.
    4. You reprocess the waste like they do in Japan. "But without pouring it into a buck through stupidity."
    5. Profit.

  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Saturday April 11, 2009 @01:16PM (#27542929) Homepage

    The classic book on this is "Engineering with Nuclear Explosives". [] I have a copy, discarded from the Stanford engineering library, and I had the Internet Archive digitize it. It has the Panama canal plan, plus several other proposed projects.

    The California Department of Highways seriously considered using 22 nuclear bombs to excavate for I-40 through the mountains between Barstow and Needles. Here's the environmental impact statement: The cloud resulting from each of the two row shots would be cylindrical in shape, about 2 miles high, and 7 miles in diameter. The density of dust in this cloud might be such as to obscure vision during its passage within the first 100 miles. While radioactivity levels in the cloud would not present a hazard, it might be necessary from a traffic hazard viewpoint to close any highways in the path of the cloud during passage within the first 100 miles.

    Based on the Sedan experience, it is estimated that access to the channel for limited periods of time for inspection purposes would be possible within about 24 hours. Entry for an 8-hour work day or 40-hour work week without unusual safeguards should be possible within about 4 days.

    Things were so much simpler then.

  • you have to implement all these schemes from orbit

    its the only way to be sure

  • Oh come on, if the subject is silly uses for a nuke can anyone beat A Realistic Plan for World Peace a.k.a. Nuke The Moon []. And it would be just crazy enough to work if we still had Bush. Nobody would believe Obama had the balls for the kind of crazy the plan requires though.

  • by istartedi ( 132515 ) on Saturday April 11, 2009 @01:30PM (#27543053) Journal

    Isn't there some way to use the fissile material in there as non-explosive fuel? Build a nuke plant in Panama and use specialized electrically powered earth-moving equipment to dig. Then when you're done you have a clean new canal and a nuke plant instead of a toxic canal.

    Or better yet, build several of the same types of reactors they use on aircraft carriers, and install them in enormous digging machines. Retired naval personnel could even be used to run the nuke operations on the diggers. Then when you're done you have several small reactors and a clean canal.

  • How about Orion? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by downix ( 84795 ) on Saturday April 11, 2009 @01:34PM (#27543081) Homepage
    I say dig up the old Project Orion [] files and let's start getting serious about space exploration and colonization.
  • Winter (Score:2, Funny)

    With all the hub-bub about "man made global warming" why not counter it with man made nuclear winter.
  • I've actually been advocating the use of nukes if our climate shift truly does get to the point of extinction level heat.

    We can easily clear a few mines (or make a pure waterway in Central America) to get enough volcanic-type particulates into the air to drench the world in rain or snow. Radiation fallout would be unpleasant, but better than the extinction of humanity.
  • Sell them as firecrackers for the 4th of July. You may have to retrofit them with a sticker that says "Aim away from face." But that wouldn't be too hard, I have a label maker.
    Or, you could put them all together and make one really big firecracker!
  • by Alaska Jack ( 679307 ) on Saturday April 11, 2009 @01:53PM (#27543245) Journal

    ...back in the day.

    Project Chariot [] was a program to blast a new harbor near Point Hope, led by none other than Ed Teller.

    Alaska was also the site of several nuclear test blasts, among them the largest one the U.S. ever conducted: Amchitka's Nuclear Legacy [].

    - Alaska Jack

  • by Beelzebud ( 1361137 ) on Saturday April 11, 2009 @02:31PM (#27543503)
    Edward Teller would love this article. Since he spent his remaining years clinging to the idea that his hydrogen bomb was a useful invention.
  • Send it to mars (Score:4, Insightful)

    by WindBourne ( 631190 ) on Saturday April 11, 2009 @04:14PM (#27544255) Journal
    I have thought that if we blow up some of that wonder CO2 that is frozen on the poles, we could start the Global warming occurring there. Obviously, it would not last that long, BUT, it would certainly bring up the equator a number of degrees. From there, we could push some ammonia based meteors into mars increased dense atmosphere.

    Also, I would not mind blowing one or two near several locations that appear to have some heat. Perhaps, we could tap a bit of volcanic action to create a SECURED source of heat, read energy.

    Now, as to the issue of fallout, well, let me point out that with a weak magnetosphere , a lot of radiation is already getting through. I would suspect that the amount of extra radiation would not matter.

    Of course, in the end, I would rather see us send several nuke reactors there.
  • Project Orion ! (Score:4, Informative)

    by mbone ( 558574 ) on Saturday April 11, 2009 @06:19PM (#27544903)

    Let's resurrect Project Orion [], and use this stuff to put a few 100 people on Mars and prospect the main belt asteroids.

    After all, this was one of the original rationales for Orion []. In all of this time, I don't think that anyone has come up with any better ideas, and we sure aren't getting into the solar system very fast with chemical rockets.

  • by Trepidity ( 597 ) <> on Saturday April 11, 2009 @09:46PM (#27545825)

    Lake Chagan [] was created [] by a nuclear blast purposely sited so its crater lip would dam the river, which created both a lake upstream of the river (and prevented downstream flooding), and a lake in the crater itself. Downside: the lake is still radioactive, 40+ years later.

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