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U.S. Won't Nuke Oil Well

(Jun. 3) -A U.S. Environmental Protection Agency contractor conducts water tests Monday near the point where the Mississippi River reaches the Gulf of Mexico. The Obama administration has ruled out using a nuclear weapon to seal the oil that continues to flow into the gulf (Win McNamee/Getty Images). (Jun. 3) -A U.S. Environmental Protection Agency contractor conducts water tests Monday near the point where the Mississippi River reaches the Gulf of Mexico. The Obama administration has ruled out using a nuclear weapon to seal the oil that continues to flow into the gulf (Win McNamee/Getty Images).

The Obama administration has no intention of using a nuclear weapon to close off the underwater well that is releasing huge amounts of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, the New York Times reported yesterday (see GSN, May 6).

The idea has been tossed around by observers as other measures have failed to stop the leak. The hope would be to have the heat from the blast seal the well.

“Probably the only thing we can do is create a weapon system and send it down 18,000 feet and detonate it, hopefully encasing the oil,” said Houston energy specialist and investment banker Matt Simmons, telling Bloomberg News the thought originated with “all the best scientists.”

Added CNN reporter John Roberts: “Drill a hole, drop a nuke in and seal up the well.”

A spokeswoman for the Energy Department and other federal officials said the Obama administration was not considering use of a nuclear weapon in this situation.

"It's crazy," according to one high-level source.

The United States would breach its obligations under arms pacts and potentially unleash a radioactive disaster by employing a nuclear weapon in the Gulf, nuclear specialists said. Such a move would also seemingly be at odds with President Barack Obama's rhetoric of a world without nuclear weapons and support for a global ban on nuclear testing.

Support for the nuclear option has been linked to the Soviet Union's successful use of atomic bombs to cap leaks in gas wells on several occasions between 1966 and 1981. Four detonations achieved their intended effect, while the final effort "did not seal the well," according to a 2000 report prepared for the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California.

None of the Soviet nuclear detonations occurred underwater or were aimed at oil wells, said nuclear historian Robert Norris.

Nonetheless, the idea has caught on in some circles.

“Seafloor nuclear detonation is starting to sound surprisingly feasible and appropriate," wrote University of Texas at Austin mechanical engineer Michael Webber in a New York Times blog.

While scientists from the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico have joined researchers from across the globe in seeking an answer to the leak, not one is considering a nuclear blast as the answer, said spokesman Kevin Roark.

“Nothing of the sort is going on here,” he said in an interview. “In fact, we’re not working on any intervention ideas at all. We’re providing diagnostics and other support but nothing on the intervention side" (William Broad, New York Times, June 2).

Note to our Readers

GSN ceased publication on July 31, 2014. Its articles and daily issues will remain archived and available on NTI’s website.

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