Wednesday, June 02, 2010

The nuclear option

The Soviets apparently used nukes 120 times for civilian purposes, including to put out gas fires. See also here.

NYTimes: ...Much of the enthusiasm for an atomic approach is based on reports that the Soviet Union succeeded in using nuclear blasts to seal off gas wells. Milo D. Nordyke, in a 2000 technical paper for the Lawrence Livermore National 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. But the last blast of the series, Mr. Nordyke wrote, “did not seal the well,” perhaps because the nuclear engineers had poor geological data on the exact location of the borehole.

Robert S. Norris, author of “Racing for the Bomb” and an atomic historian, noted that all the Soviet blasts were on land and never involved oil.

Whatever the technical merits of using nuclear explosions for constructive purposes, the end of the cold war brought wide agreement among nations to give up the conduct of all nuclear blasts, even for peaceful purposes. The United States, after conducting more than 1,000 nuclear test explosions, detonated the last one in 1992, shaking the ground at the Nevada test site.

Pundits joked about the appointment of astrophysicist Jonathan Katz to the DOE "dream team" that advised Obama on how to deal with the oil spill. What would an astrophysicist know about capping an oil well? These pundits were unaware of Katz's work as a Jason. (See also here. Jasons Steve Weinberg, Freeman Dyson and Richard Muller invented adaptive optics, which was promptly classified by the military and kept from civilian astronomers for a decade.)

Of course, we all know what happened to Katz once his politically incorrect views came to light. We first mentioned Katz on this blog back in 2004.


jrf said...

"*We* first mentioned Katz on this blog back in 2004. "

The royal we?

Yan Shen said...

Entirely off the topic of this post...

Botti said...

***Of course, we all know what happened to Katz once his politically incorrect views came to light. ***

I still can't understand how people thought that his views on moral issues somehow rendered his possible views on an oil spill inappropriate.

gcochran said...

The Jasons didn't invent adaptive optics, and Freeman Dyson is mistaken in saying that the technology stagnated until declassified.

As for the use of "we", probably a tapeworm.

steve hsu said...


I was hoping you would chime in on this. The story about the Jasons inventing it has spread far and wide, and I've always wanted to hear more about it from someone who is actually in the field. (See the book The Jasons, reviewed in one of the links above.)

My understanding is that there was an earlier paper by a British astronomer, but that was too early and the technology didn't exist to implement his idea. What's the real history?

anon said...

Just read Katz's essay on homophobia. It's not exactly a great advert for a non-expert writing about a subject he knows little about. He comes across as *deeply* stupid to me, irrespective of what I think of his views.

Funny Man said...

At least the guy has the balls to say it and is putting his tenure to good use. Can't say that about most professors. Do we need to respect prevailing opinions? Can we tolerate people that may just have a different attitude? The essay was just defending people who are afraid, it wasn't calling for any violent actions. I disagree very much with the essay, but hey, people don't agree very often anyways. Society, please get over it.

Blog Archive