Project Plowshare

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pages: 356 words: 95,647

Sun in a Bottle: The Strange History of Fusion and the Science of Wishful Thinking by Charles Seife


Albert Einstein, anti-communist, Brownian motion, correlation does not imply causation, Dmitri Mendeleev, Ernest Rutherford, Fellow of the Royal Society, Gary Taubes, Isaac Newton, John von Neumann, Mikhail Gorbachev, Project Plowshare, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, Ronald Reagan, the scientific method, Yom Kippur War

“Congress Phases Out International Fusion Project Funding.” Press release, 7 October 1998. Sakharov, Andrei. Memoirs. Trans. Richard Lourie. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990. Samm, Ulrich. “Controlled Thermonuclear Fusion Enters with ITER into a New Era.” Ca. 2003. (accessed 26 July 2007). Sanders, Ralph. “Defense of Project Plowshare.” Technology and Culture 4 (Spring 1963): 252-55. Sandia National Laboratories. “Project Plowshare.” Poster. (accessed 25 July 2007). ———. “Rapid-Fire Pulse Brings Sandia Z Method Closer to Goal of High-Yield Fusion Reactor.” Press release, 24 April 2007. Sauthoff, Ned. “US ITER Project.” PowerPoint presentation, 31 October 2006. (accessed 26 July 2007). Schirber, Michael.

With the January 1965 explosion, Russian scientists, in a fraction of a second, had carved a major lake and a reservoir, now known as Lake Chagan, out of bedrock. Program No. 7 was not the only secret government project to harness the power of fusion. An equivalent program was already under way in the United States. A few years earlier, American scientists began work on Project Plowshare and started drawing up plans to use nuclear weapons to create an artificial harbor in Alaska, widen the Panama Canal, and dig a second Suez canal through Israel’s Negev desert. Project Plowshare and Program No. 7 were crude attempts to harness the power of fusion. Researchers quickly reasoned that if humans could learn to control the power of fusion, it could be the biggest boon that mankind has ever seen. We could visit the outer reaches of the solar system and even visit nearby stars.

Rio Blanco failed because the bomb didn’t produce caverns of the expected shape. At first, Gasbuggy and Rulison seemed to work. The nuclear bombs shattered rocks around the test site and natural gas poured out of the wells. Unfortunately, the gas was radioactive, and no utility would buy it. After twelve years of trying and twenty-seven nuclear tests, Project Plowshare sputtered to a halt without ever having proved the usefulness of peaceful nuclear bombs. Thirty years after Teller first dreamed of liberating the power of the sun upon the Earth, Project Plowshare was dead. Even the discovery of oil in Alaska in the late 1960s didn’t make his proposal of a bomb-carved harbor any more palatable. In his waning years, Teller turned away from peaceful nuclear explosions and back toward using fusion as a tool of war, dreaming up unworkable schemes to defend the United States from a Soviet missile attack.


pages: 423 words: 118,002

The Boom: How Fracking Ignited the American Energy Revolution and Changed the World by Russell Gold


accounting loophole / creative accounting, American energy revolution, Bakken shale, Bernie Sanders, Buckminster Fuller, clean water, corporate governance, energy security, energy transition, hydraulic fracturing, margin call, market fundamentalism, Mason jar, North Sea oil, oil shale / tar sands, oil shock, peak oil, Project Plowshare, risk tolerance, Ronald Reagan, shareholder value, Silicon Valley, Upton Sinclair

But a partnership between the government and El Paso Natural Gas became a reality. The Plowshare scientists wanted to know whether using nuclear blasts to fracture rocks around wells would work and be cost effective. “Aspects outside the scope of a technical program—political, sociological, and psychological considerations—were not matters of AEC [Atomic Energy Commission] concern,” notes The Nuclear Impact: A Case Study of the Plowshare Program to Produce Gas by Underground Stimulation in the Rocky Mountains, a 1976 book about the program written by Frank Kreith and Catherine B. Wrenn. This oversight would doom nuclear fracturing, as would another problem. In 1967, scientists detonated a twenty-nine-kiloton bomb outside of Farmington, New Mexico. Cheered by local civic leaders and state officials, the bomb was lowered three-quarters of a mile into a gas well, nestled in a shale rock formation.

Early Days of Oil: A Pictorial History of the Beginnings of the Industry in Pennsylvania. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1948. History of Petroleum Engineering. New York: American Petroleum Institute, 1961. Howard, George C., and C. Robert Fast. Hydraulic Fracturing. New York: Society of Petroleum Engineers of AIME, 1970. Kreith, Frank, and Catherine B. Wrenn. The Nuclear Impact: A Case Study of the Plowshare Program to Produce Gas by Underground Nuclear Stimulation in the Rocky Mountains. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1976. Lederer, Adam. “Using Public Policy Models to Evaluate Nuclear Stimulation Projects: Wagon Wheel in Wyoming.” Master’s diss., University of Wyoming, 1998. McLaurin, John J. Sketches in Crude-Oil: Some Accidents and Incidents of the Petroleum Development in All Parts of the Globe. Harrisburg, PA: self-published, 1896.

By 1959, the oil industry was also interested in the power unleashed by nuclear reactions, but for an entirely different reason. It wanted to use nuclear bombs to frack wells. Edward Teller, a father of the hydrogen bomb, convened a meeting that year at the Lawrence Radiation Laboratory—now the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory—to discuss peaceful uses of nuclear power. Teller suggested it could be used for mining and excavation. The US Atomic Energy Commission agreed and created Project Plowshare, named after the biblical verse from the book of Isaiah: “And they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks.” The program focused first on using the power of the atom as a massive earthmover. The government toyed with the idea of using bombs to carve out a new deepwater harbor in Alaska and build a new canal through Panama. None of these ideas ever made it off the drawing board, beset by technical problems and environmental worries.


pages: 1,117 words: 270,127

On Thermonuclear War by Herman Kahn


British Empire, defense in depth, John von Neumann, mutually assured destruction, New Journalism, oil shale / tar sands, Project Plowshare, RAND corporation

In any question as complex as that under discussion, one must, in the long run, depend on informed judgment and intuition in addition to rigorous analysis. For whatever it is worth, the author of this book views the spread of nuclear weapons with the gravest apprehension. Some of the reasons for this feeling are given on pages 491 to 494. While I agree with the notion that we will not be able to control the diffusion of weapons over the next 50 years by the kinds of social, legal, and political barriers which have been erected against Project Plowshare, and which are likely to be erected by normal negotiations, such barriers can effect 5-, 10-, and 20-year delays. It is simply my judgment that if we can buy such time, it is worth buying. We will then be better able to anticipate problems and set up arrangements ahead of time. This small number of missiles will of course be supplemented by quite a force of manned bombers that will have in their bombbays a great deal more megatons than the missiles have in their warheads.

These fuels may or may not be commercially available to each and every country to power the cheap reliable "research" missiles. If these other countries can, in fact, get access to super-fuels, their strategic capability would become an order of magnitude more threatening. Some form of climate- and weather control should be more available in 1965. The Argus effect that has been receiving much prominence at this writing is an example of a current ability at a kind of weather control. Project Plowshare has made some systematic studies on the use of nuclear explosives to modify both weather and climate. In the fifth volume of the Proceedings of the Second Plowshare Symposium (UCRL-5679), J. W. Reed speculates on the possibility that we will be able to control hurricanes by the use of 20 MT clean (relatively nonradioactive) bombs, and L. Machta discusses several suggestions on modifying climate (either increasing or decreasing the average temperature) by injecting suitable numbers and sizes of dust particles into the stratosphere through the use of nuclear explosions.


pages: 519 words: 136,708

Vertical: The City From Satellites to Bunkers by Stephen Graham


1960s counterculture, Berlin Wall, Buckminster Fuller, Chelsea Manning, Commodity Super-Cycle, deindustrialization, Edward Glaeser, Edward Snowden, energy security, Frank Gehry, ghettoisation, Google Earth, high net worth, housing crisis, Howard Zinn, illegal immigration, Indoor air pollution, Jane Jacobs, late capitalism, means of production, megacity, megastructure, mutually assured destruction, new economy, New Urbanism, nuclear winter, oil shale / tar sands, planetary scale, Plutocrats, plutocrats, post-industrial society, Project Plowshare, rent control, Richard Florida, Ronald Reagan, Skype, South China Sea, the built environment, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, trickle-down economics, urban decay, urban planning, urban renewal, urban sprawl, white flight, WikiLeaks

.: Yale University Press, 2003, p. 234. 25Quoted in Alex Marshall, Beneath the Metropolis: The Secret Lives of Cities, New York: Carroll & Graf, 2006, p. 56. 26Maja Gori, ‘The Stones of Contention: The Role of Archaeological Heritage in the Israeli–Palestinian Conflict’, Archaeologies 9:1, 2013, p. 223. 27Eyal Weizman, ‘The Politics of Verticality: Excavating Sacredness’, Open Democracy, 28 April 2002, available at 28Cited in Gori, ‘Stones of Contention’, p. 226. 29Weizman, ‘Politics of Verticality’. 30See Chiara De Cesari, ‘Hebron, or Heritage as Technology of Life’, Jerusalem Quarterly 41, 2010, pp. 6–28. 31Scott Kirsch, Proving Grounds: Project Plowshare and the Unrealized Dream of Nuclear Earthmoving, New York: Rutgers University Press, 2005. 32See Brian Hudson, Cities on the Shore: The Urban Littoral Frontier, London: Pinter, 1996. 33Réné Kolman, ‘New Land in the Water: Economically and Socially, Land Reclamation Pays’, Terra et Aqua 128, September 2012. 34Lizette Alvarez, ‘Where Sand Is Gold, the Reserves Are Running Dry’, New York Times, 24 August 2013. 35Sand is also necessary to produce glass, the concrete used in vertical construction, and in high-tech industries. 36Joshua Comaroff, ‘Built on Sand: Singapore and the New State of Risk’, Harvard Design Magazine 39, 2014, p. 138. 37Peduzzi, ‘Sand, Rarer Than One Thinks’. 38Maria Franke, ‘When One Country’s Land Gain Is Another Country’s Land Loss’, Working Paper No. 36, Institute for International Political Economy, Berlin, 2014, available at 39Comaroff, ‘Built on Sand’. 40See Denis Deletrac’s 2012 documentary at 41See Fazlin Abdullah and Goh Ann Tat, ‘The Dirty Business of Sand: Sand Dredging in Cambodia’, Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore, 2012, available at 42The $60 billion debt the project created for the developer, Dubai World, was a major reason that forced Dubai to go to its rich Emirati neighbour, Abu Dhabi, for a $10 billion bailout in 2008. 43Adam Luck, ‘How Dubai’s $14bn Dream to Build The World Is Falling Apart’, Daily Mail, 11 April 2010. 44Mark Jackson and Veronica Della Dora, ‘“Dreams So Big Only the Sea Can Hold Them”: Man-Made Islands as Cultural Icons, Travelling Visions, and Anxious Spaces’, Environment and Planning A 41:9, 2009, p. 2092. 45Jacks and della Dora ‘“Dreams so big only the sea can hold them” ‘, p. 2088. 46Dia Saleh, ‘Bahrain: An Island without Sea’, Arteast, Fall 2013, available at 47Martin Lukacs, ‘New, Privatized African City Heralds Climate Apartheid’, Guardian, 21 January 2014. 48Asian Maritime Transparency Initiative, Mischief Reef, January 2015, at 49See John Burt, ‘The Environmental Costs of Coastal Urbanization in the Arabian Gulf’, City 18:6, 2014, pp. 760–70; Paul Erftemeijer et al., ‘Environmental Impacts of Dredging and Other Sediment Disturbances on Corals: A Review’, Marine Pollution Bulletin 64:9, 2012, pp. 1737–65. 50‘No Place to Land: Loss of Natural Habitats Threatens Migratory Birds Globally’, New York: United Nations Environment Programme, 2011. 51Susan Strasser, Waste and Want: A Social History of Trash, New York: Macmillan, 1999, p. 15. 52Cinzia Scarpino, ‘Ground Zero/Fresh Kills: Cataloguing Ruins, Garbage, and Memory’, Altre Modernità, 2011, pp. 237–53. 53Daniel Hoornweg and Perinaz Bhada-Tata, ‘What a Waste: A Global Review’, Urban Development Series 2012, no. 15, Washington, DC: World Bank, March 2012. 54Thelma Gutierrez and George Webster, ‘Trash City: Inside America’s Largest Landfill Site’, CNN, Atlanta, 2012. 55See Rodney Harrison and John Schofield, After Modernity: Archaeological Approaches to the Contemporary Past, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010. 56Quoted in Thelma Gutierrez ‘Trash City: Inside America’s Largest Landfill Site’, available at, 28 April 2012. 57‘Street Children, India’, 2006, available at 58Dave Petley, ‘Garbage Dump Landslides’, American Geophysical Union Blog, 22 June 2008, available at 59Quoted in Petley, ‘Garbage Dump Landslides’. 60Karl Mathiesen, ‘Is the Shenzhen Landslide the First of Many More?’


pages: 684 words: 188,584

The Age of Radiance: The Epic Rise and Dramatic Fall of the Atomic Era by Craig Nelson


Albert Einstein, Brownian motion, cognitive dissonance, Columbine, corporate governance, cuban missile crisis, dark matter, Doomsday Clock, El Camino Real, Ernest Rutherford, failed state, Henri Poincaré, hive mind, Isaac Newton, John von Neumann, Louis Pasteur, Menlo Park, Mikhail Gorbachev, music of the spheres, mutually assured destruction, nuclear winter, oil shale / tar sands, Project Plowshare, Ralph Nader, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, Ronald Reagan, Skype, Stuxnet, technoutopianism, too big to fail, uranium enrichment, V2 rocket, éminence grise

By 1955, Eisenhower decided a nuclear merchant ship should be wrought as an Atoms for Peace global ambassador. Featuring Raytheon’s Radarange (the first commercially available microwave oven), NS Savannah was christened by first lady Mamie on July 21, 1959, and, when it docked in New York City, inspired a “Nuclear Week” of educational events, which included two episodes of the Tonight show. Joining the Atoms for Peace agenda with his Plowshare Program was none other than Edward Teller, who studied the use of fusion bombs to dredge harbors and canals, nuclear explosions for fracking shale oil fields, and firing a nuclear rocket into the moon. This last proposal, Teller said, was to “observe what kind of disturbance it might cause.” He told the University of Alaska in 1959, “If your mountain is not in the right place, just drop us a card” and “We’re going to work miracles.”