Nuking The Well: A Gulf-Saver?

(h/t Raw Story) Matt Simmons thinks so. Simmons said the US government should immediately take the effort to plug the leak out of the hands

(h/t Raw Story)

Matt Simmons thinks so.

Simmons said the US government should immediately take the effort to plug the leak out of the hands of BP and put the military in charge.

"Probably the only thing we can do is create a weapons system and send it down 18,000 feet and detonate it, hopefully encasing the oil," he said.

His idea echoes that of a Russian newspaper that earlier this month suggested the US detonate a small nuclear bomb to seal the oil beneath the sea. Komsomoloskaya Pravda argued in an editorial that Russia had successfully used nuclear weapons to seal oil spills on five occasions in the past.

No, see..."probably" isn't going to cut it for me.

That video is a pretty decent overview of how the Russians have tackled blown wells with nuclear devices, but it doesn't really look at the ecological price attached to detonating a nuclear device in an ecologically sensitive area, or how to contain the toxic waste generated by such an explosion.

David Neiwert wrote about this awhile ago, and some of the comments really sent chills down my spine.

Its possible that the device would create the requisite cavity which would then chimney (thus sealing the cavity). BUT - you are detonating below sea level - water will flash to steam within a few milliseconds after detonation. If you want to see what happens when water flashes at 0 time plus a millsecond or two, google on Baneberry (a sub-surface test that went December of 1969) and look at that vent cloud. You are talking about superheated and very radio-active steam. That steam will find any fissure. The gamma, and beta shot into the ocean would be pretty awful...(read the rest)

I Googled the term Baneberry and found this photo at the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection (EPA):

banbary_79115_0.jpg

That plume is the "vent". That vent is radioactive steam. Mmmmhmmm.

What are the chances it would stop the leak(s)?

According to Simmons, there's another plume in the same field that's even bigger and stronger than the original leak. He argues that a nuclear device would close them both off. Probably. Maybe.

Did I mention that Simmons isn't a nuclear engineer? He's a private investor in energy ventures. Bottom line for me? I see no reason to place any confidence in what someone who may have a clear conflict of interest suggests as a solution.

How it works

This Christian Science Monitor article has some details:

Weapons labs in the former Soviet Union developed special nukes for use to help pinch off the gas wells. They believed that the force from a nuclear explosion could squeeze shut any hole within 82 to 164 feet (25 to 50 meters), depending on the explosion's power. That required drilling holes to place the nuclear device close to the target wells.

Several articles around the web reason it out as the lesser of two evils in cases where all other efforts have failed. Indeed, the scientist in the video says there are two options: nuclear and drilling a second well. Drilling a second well would take months, as we already know.

In nukes we trust?

There's a lot of information people would have to accept on trust, especially people like me who have visions of nuclear fallout and mutated sea monsters as the result of something like this. For instance, MNN.com's Shea Gunther says:

I wonder, have they considered blasting it with a nuke? The Russians first did it in 1966, four more followed in 1979 with only one failing to stop the leak. A nuke would collapse the hole carrying the oil in the Gulf and would neatly seal things up. At that water depth any radiation would be contained. I'm sure the U.S. government could rustle something up quick in their stockpile, and we could have this sucker tied up by the weekend.

My problem: I can't find any written empirical evidence that the fallout would be contained at that water depth. In fact, it appears to me from the comments on Dave's post that there's a very real risk of toasting everything within a couple of miles and shooting radioactive steam into the atmosphere for good measure.

What about regular conventional explosives?

As I understand it, the goal with any explosive device is to cause the hole to collapse on itself. According to some experts, the problem with conventional explosives is the same problem other solutions are bumping against: this well is so deep and subject to such severe pressure that there's no empirical evidence available to support or refute the claim conventional explosives would succeed. If they didn't succeed, the problem might be made even worse.

This is an incredibly frustrating problem, not only because of the draconian measures needed to stop the spillage, but because we're being asked to take so much on faith when it comes to the steps needed to stop the leak and clear the oil.

  • We're told dispersants are non-toxic but hazmat suits are needed and the manufacturer's own instructions recommend they not come in contact with bare skin.
  • We haven't been told what kind of impact dropping all that mud has, particularly when mixed with oil.
  • We have no idea how long it will take the microbial agents to eat the oil and clear the water.
  • We have absolutely no clue as to whether a nuclear device will work and if it does, whether it will do so at the expense of all living things for years to come.
  • Worst of all, no one has any faith in the information we're receiving from BP, because they have not been forthright with us and appear to be acting in their best interests rather than our own.

I wasn't a rocket scientist in school, but common sense tells me the nuclear option may not be the best one.

And then, there's this map from NOAA which tells us that the breach in the pipeline is adjacent to a munitions dump.

Screen shot 2010-05-29 at 8_098a9.46.34 PM.png

Prior planning prevents piss-poor performance. Someone once gave me that advice. Too bad Halliburton, BP, Transocean and the MMS ignored it.

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