Inspired by President Dwight D. Joined by like-minded government officials, scientists, and business leaders, champions of "peaceful nuclear explosions" maintained that they could create new elements and isotopes for general use, build storage facilities for water or fuel, mine ores, increase oil and natural gas production, generate heat for power production, and construct roads, harbors, and canals. By harnessing the power of the atom for nonmilitary purposes, Plowshare backers expected to protect American security, defend U. Scott Kaufman? Indeed, despite technological and strategic promise, Plowshare? Skeptical politicians, domestic and international pressure to stop nuclear testing, and a lack of government funding severely restricted the program. By the mids, Plowshare was, in the words of one government official, "dead as a doornail. In deft, fast-paced writing that draws on extraordinarily wide research, Scott Kaufman recreates the extraordinary vision of Plowshare proponents and their allies in Congress and the private sector, showing how their prospects and ultimate failure were shaped by politics and science, fear and hope, economics and Cold War competition. For anyone interested in the future of the planet, Project Plowshare's rise and fall offers salient lessons about unintended consequences, technological hubris, and balancing risk and promise. Until this book we didn't know how little we actually knew about one of the early Cold War's most infamous and intriguing nuclear programs.
The program took its name from the Bible Isaiah , "they will beat their swords into plowshares.
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Project Plowshare was the overall United States program for the development of techniques to use nuclear explosives for peaceful construction purposes. As part of the program, 31 nuclear warheads were detonated in 27 separate tests. Successful demonstrations of non-combat uses for nuclear explosives include rock blasting , stimulation of tight gas , chemical element manufacture, [a] unlocking some of the mysteries of the R-process of stellar nucleosynthesis and probing the composition of the Earth's deep crust, creating reflection seismology vibroseis data which has helped geologists and follow-on mining company prospecting. The project's uncharacteristically large and atmospherically vented Sedan nuclear test also led geologists to determine that Barringer crater was formed as a result of a meteor impact and not from a volcanic eruption, as had earlier been assumed. This became the first crater on Earth definitely proven to be from an impact event. Negative impacts from Project Plowshare's tests generated significant public opposition, which eventually led to the program's termination in By exploiting the peaceful uses of the "friendly atom" in medical applications, earth removal, and later in nuclear power plants, the nuclear industry and government sought to allay public fears about nuclear technology and promote the acceptance of nuclear weapons. The United States Atomic Energy Commission chairman at the time, Lewis Strauss , announced that the Plowshares project was intended to "highlight the peaceful applications of nuclear explosive devices and thereby create a climate of world opinion that is more favorable to weapons development and tests". Proposed uses for nuclear explosives under Project Plowshare included widening the Panama Canal , constructing a new sea-level waterway through Nicaragua nicknamed the Pan-Atomic Canal, cutting paths through mountainous areas for highways, and connecting inland river systems. Other proposals involved blasting caverns for water, natural gas, and petroleum storage.
Operation Plowshare was a program officially established by the Atomic Energy Commission AEC in to explore the technical and economic feasibility of using nuclear explosives for industrial applications. Until its termination in for environmental, technical, and political reasons, 27 nuclear tests were carried out. These experiments examined the possibility of using nuclear explosives for major excavation projects, underground fracturing for fossil fuel production and mineral leaching, creation of artificial aquifers, and chemical isotope manufacture. Scientists and government personnel began to express interest in developing nuclear explosives for productive peacetime activities in the s. Strong international reactions to Egypt's nationalization of the Suez Canal in prompted consideration for a nuclear excavation of a second canal. Though this issue was resolved diplomatically, it brought the possibility of nuclear excavation for major civil engineering projects into the mainstream. A Division of Peaceful Nuclear Explosives would soon be created to assume responsibilities associated with the project. On September 19, , the first US underground nuclear test codenamed Ranier provided the first experimental data for possible engineering uses of nuclear explosives; this was a major impetus for the further development and expansion of Plowshare. The existence and mission of the Plowshare program was publicly announced by the AEC on June 6, During the nuclear testing moratorium that went into effect on October 31, , numerous non-nuclear preparatory experiments including high explosive tests were conducted, with major plans and proposals for nuclear tests and civil engineering projects under development.
The program took its name from the Bible Isaiah , "they will beat their swords into plowshares. The idea of using nuclear explosions for non-military purposes was first raised by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in his famous "Atoms for Peace" speech in December —an idea that resonated with Edward Teller.
Some 24 papers were presented, covering a broad array of ideas. While interest was high, discussions were hampered by the lack of data on the effects of underground explosions. Such data was subsequently generated with the Rainier event in September On Sept. Rainier was fired beneath a high mesa at the Nevada Test Site. While Rainier was not officially a Plowshare test, the data and confidence generated from the event proved pivotal to the nascent Plowshare Program and to the future of arms control and the conduct of nuclear tests.
Unlike the first nuclear test conducted in , Project Gnome was widely publicized and was attended by more than observers from the press, public and foreign nations. The project was a multipurpose experiment designed to explore the feasibility of using a deeply buried explosion in a dry salt bed for isotope production, power recovery and scientific experiments.
The culmination of three years of planning, Gnome involved the detonation of a 3. The international crisis precipitated by Egypt's seizure of the Suez Canal in placed the initial focus of the Plowshare Program on large-scale earth excavation for the creation of harbors and canals. Because of the Panama Canal Company's long-held interest in a sea-level canal, Plowshare continued to emphasize civil engineering applications in this direction.
Two years later, in , President Lyndon Johnson ordered a study to determine a site for the construction of a new sea-level canal. The subsequent study, published in , was the most exhaustive U. However, it concluded that traffic on the Panama Canal wouldn't exceed capacity till —effectively shelving plans for a new sea-level canal. In addition to large-scale earth excavation projects, other Plowshare projects conducted between and focused on the production of new heavy isotopes unobtainable by conventional means.
Such isotopes were expected to open new areas of nuclear physics research, provide diagnostic and therapeutic applications in medicine and serve as sources of energy. The AEC also encouraged private industry partnership to explore the use of nuclear explosions for commercial purposes. In , the first of three joint government-industry experiments was conducted to investigate the feasibility of using nuclear explosions to stimulate natural gas production.
On Dec. Department of the Interior. The detonation produced an underground chimney feet high with a diameter of almost feet. While Gasbuggy's results were encouraging, with an increase in gas production six to eight times over previous rates, the quality of the gas produced showed some undesirabilities.
Gasbuggy and two subsequent gas stimulation nuclear tests, the last in , effectively brought Project Plowshare to a close. While 27 nuclear tests were conducted in the Plowshare Program between and to develop such peaceful use technology, environmental concerns, as well as opposition to nuclear energy and nuclear devices, led to the demise of the program. Project Plowshare was terminated in However, important legacies from the Plowshare Program live on at LLNL, including the biomedical program, which was first established to study the effects of fallout and other radioactive hazards on biological systems, and the Atmospheric Release and Advisory Capability ARAC program, now NARAC, which grew out of the need to predict the potential for atmospheric release from cratering shots.
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