The Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) is considered to be the "holy grail" of nuclear arms control. Ratifying the CTBT would institute a global ban on all nuclear weapons explosions on the earth’s surface, underwater and underground. Banning these test explosions drastically reduces any chances of developing new nuclear weapons technologies and programs.
The CTBT has now been signed by 182 nations and ratified by 157 including Russia and U.S. allies. However, the CTBT will not go into effect until it is ratified by eight specific countries including the United States, China, India and Iran. U.S. ratification would spur these key counties to ratify and would reinforce the global taboo against nuclear testing.
To learn more, check out our fact sheet: CTBT Fact Sheet
Dee Finney's blog
start date July 20, 2011
today's date January 19, 2013
TOPIC: PROJECT GASBUGGY - NUCLEAR TESTING IN THE U.S.
36°40′40″N 107°12′29″W / 36.6779°N 107.2080°W
|Test series||Operation Crosstie
|Test site||Carson National Forest|
|Date||December 10, 1967|
Project Gasbuggy was an underground nuclear detonation carried out by the United States Atomic Energy Commission on December 10, 1967 in rural northern New Mexico. It was part of Operation Plowshare, a program designed to find peaceful uses for nuclear explosions.
Gasbuggy was carried out by the Lawrence Radiation Laboratory and the El Paso Natural Gas Company, with funding from the Atomic Energy Commission. Its purpose was to determine whether controlled nuclear explosions could be useful in loosening rock formations for the sake of natural gas extraction. The site, which is now part of Carson National Forest, is approximately 21 miles southwest of Dulce, New Mexico and 54 miles east of Farmington, and was chosen because natural gas deposits were known to be held in sandstone beneath Leandro Canyon. A 29-kiloton device was placed at a depth of 4,227 feet (1288 meters) underground and detonated; a crowd had gathered to watch, which viewed the detonation from atop a nearby butte.
The explosion was carried out according to plan, detonating successfully and creating an 80-foot-wide (24 meters), 335-foot-deep (102 meters) crater at the site. Wells were drilled and natural gas was extracted from the site. However, the gas proved to be too radioactive to be commercially viable. Highly radioactive material in the area was removed, and the site is now level ground safe to approach at the surface, although drilling or digging in the area is prohibited. In 1978, a placard was installed at the site noting the location of ground zero. The placard is publicly accessible via the dirt road New Mexico F.S. 357/Indian J10 through Carson National Forest.
After Gasbuggy, two further nuclear explosions were carried out as part of Operation Plowshare in the interest of gas extraction, both in Colorado. Devices were detonated as Project Rulison in 1969 and Project Rio Blanco in 1973, both with similar results.
A man (arrowed) standing in the cavity created by the Gnome detonation
|Test site||Gnome Site|
|Date||December 10, 1961|
|Nearest city||Loving, New Mexico|
|Geographic features||Mescalero Sands, Centinela Mound|
|Location||14.5 km east of the Pecos River|
|- elevation||1,037 m (3,402 ft)|
|Geology||Permian, Salado Formation|
|Easiest access||New Mexico State Road 128|
Project Gnome was the first nuclear test of the Plowshare program and was the first continental nuclear weapon test since Trinity to be conducted outside of the Nevada Test Site. It was tested in southeastern New Mexico, approximately 40 km (25 mi) southeast ofCarlsbad, New Mexico.
First announced in 1958, Gnome was delayed by the testing moratorium between the United States and the Soviet Union that lasted from November, 1958 until September, 1961 when the Soviet Union resumed nuclear testing, thus ending the moratorium. The site selected for Gnome is located roughly 40 km (25 mi) southeast of Carlsbad, New Mexico in an area of salt and potash mines along with oil and gas wells.
Unlike most nuclear tests which were focused on weapon development, Shot Gnome was designed to focus on scientific experiments:
It was learned during the 1957 Plumbbob-Rainier tests that an underground nuclear detonation created large quantities of heat as well as radioisotopes but most would quickly become trapped in the molten rock and unusable as the rock resolidifed. For this reason, it was decided that Gnome would be detonated inside a bedded rock salt dome. The plan was to then pipe waterthrough the molten salt and use the steam generated to produce electricity. The hardened salt could be subsequently dissolved in water in order to extract the radioisotopes. Gnome was considered extremely important to the future of nuclear science because it could show that nuclear weapons might be used in peaceful applications. The Atomic Energy Commission invited representatives from various nations, the U.N., the media, interested scientists and some Carlsbad residents.
While Gnome is considered the first test of the Plowshare program, it was also part of the Vela program, which was established in order to improve the ability of the United States to detect underground and high altitude nuclear detonations. Vela Uniform was the phase of the program concerned with underground testing. Everything from seismic signals, radiation, ground wave patterns, electromagnetic pulse, and acoustic measurements were studied at Gnome under Vela Uniform.
Gnome was placed 361 m (1,184 ft) underground at the end of a 340 m (1,115 ft) tunnel that was supposed to be self-sealing upon detonation. Gnome was detonated on 10 December 1961 with a yield of 3.1 kilotons. Even though the Gnome shot was supposed to seal itself, the plan did not quite work. Two to three minutes after detonation, smoke and steam began to rise from the shaft. Although radiation was released and detected off site, it quickly decayed. The cavity volume was calculated to be 28,000 ±2,800 cubic meters has an average radius of 17.4m in the lower portion measured.
The Gnome detonation created a cavity 20 m (66 ft) wide and 50 m (164 ft) high with a floor of melted rock and salt which trapped most of the radiation. A new shaft was drilled near the original and on 17 May 1962, crews entered the Gnome Cavity. Even though almost six months had passed since the detonation, the temperature inside the cavity was still around 140° Fahrenheit (60° Celsius). Inside, they found stalactites made of melted salt as well as the walls of the cavity covered in salt. The intense radiation of the detonation colored the salt multiple shades of blue, green, and violet.
Today, all that exists to show what occurred at Gnome is a small concrete monument with two weathered and slightly vandalized plaques.
Project Plowshare was the overall United States term for the development of techniques to use nuclear explosives for peaceful construction purposes. The phrase was coined in 1961, taken from Isaiah 2:3–5 ("And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more"). It was the US portion of what are called Peaceful Nuclear Explosions (PNE).
There were many negative impacts from Project Plowshare’s 27 nuclear explosions. Consequences included blighted land, relocated communities, tritium-contaminated water, radioactivity, and fallout from debris being hurled high into the atmosphere. These were ignored and downplayed until the program was terminated in 1977, due in large part to public opposition, after $770 million had been spent.
Proposed uses 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, andconnecting inland river systems. Other proposals involved blasting underground caverns for water, natural gas, and petroleum storage. Serious consideration was also given to using these explosives for various mining operations. One proposal suggested using nuclear blasts to connect underground aquifers in Arizona. Another plan involved surface blasting on the western slope of California's Sacramento Valley for a water transport project.
Project Carryall, proposed in 1963 by the Atomic Energy Commission, the California Division of Highways (now Caltrans), and the Santa Fe Railway, would have used 22 nuclear explosions to excavate a massive roadcut through the Bristol Mountains in the Mojave Desert, to accommodate construction of Interstate 40 and a new rail line. At the end of the program, a major objective was to develop nuclear explosives, and blast techniques, for stimulating the flow of natural gas in "tight" underground reservoir formations. In the 1960s, a proposal was suggested for a modified in situ shale oil extraction process which involved creation of a rubble chimney (a zone in the oil shale formation created by breaking the rock into fragments) using a nuclear explosive. However, this approach was abandoned for a number of technical reasons.
One of the first plowshare nuclear blast cratering proposals that came close to being carried out was Project Chariot, which would have used several hydrogen bombs to create an artificial harbor at Cape Thompson, Alaska. It was never carried out due to concerns for the native populations and the fact that there was little potential use for the harbor to justify its risk and expense. A number of proof-of-concept cratering blasts were conducted; including the Buggy shot of 5 1-Kt-devices for a channel/trench in Area 21 and the largest being 104 kiloton (435 terajoule) on July 6, 1962 at the north end ofYucca Flats, within the Atomic Energy Commission's Nevada Test Site (NTS) in southern Nevada. The shot, "Sedan", displaced more than 12 million short tons (11 teragrams) of soil and resulted in a radioactive cloud that rose to an altitude of 12,000 ft (3.7 km). The radioactive dust plume headed northeast and then east towards the Mississippi River.
The first PNE blast was Project Gnome, conducted on December 10, 1961 in a salt bed 24 mi (39 km) southeast of Carlsbad, New Mexico. The explosion released 3.1 kilotons (13 TJ) of energy yield at a depth of 361 meters (1,184 ft) which resulted in the formation of a 170 ft (52 m) diameter, 80 ft (24 m) high cavity. The test had many objectives. The most public of these involved the generation of steamwhich could then be used to generate electricity. Another objective was the production of useful radioisotopes and their recovery. Another experiment involved neutron time-of-flight physics. A fourth experiment involved geophysical studies based upon the timed seismic source. Only the last objective was considered a complete success. The blast unintentionally vented radioactive steam while the press watched. The partly developed Project Coach detonation experiment that was to follow adjacent to the Gnome test was then canceled.
Over the next 11 years 26 more nuclear explosion tests were conducted under the U.S. PNE program. Funding quietly ended in 1977. Costs for the program have been estimated at more than (US) $770 million.
The final PNE blast took place on 17 May 1973, under Fawn Creek, 76.4 km north of Grand Junction, Colorado. Three 30 kiloton detonations took place simultaneously at depths of 1,758, 1,875, and 2,015 meters. It was the third nuclear explosion experiment intended to stimulate the flow of natural gas from "tight" formation gas fields. Industrial participants included the El Paso Natural Gas Company for the Gasbuggy test; Austral Oil Company; CER Geonuclear Corporation for the Rulison test; and CER Geonuclear Corporation for the Rio Blanco test.
If it was successful, plans called for the use of hundreds of specialized nuclear explosives in the western Rockies gas fields. The previous two tests had indicated that the produced natural gas would be tooradioactive for safe use. After the test it was found that the blast cavities had not connected as hoped, and the resulting gas still contained unacceptable levels of radionuclides.
By 1974, approximately $82 million had been invested in the nuclear gas stimulation technology program. It was estimated that even after 25 years of gas production of all the natural gas deemed recoverable, that only 15 to 40 percent of the investment could be recovered.
Also, the concept that stove burners in California might soon emit trace amounts of blast radionuclides into family homes did not sit well with the general public. The contaminated well gas was never channeled into commercial supply lines.
The radioactive blast debris from 839 U.S. underground nuclear test explosions remains buried in-place and has been judged impractical to remove by the DOE's Nevada Site Office.
The situation remained so for the next three decades, but a resurgence in Colorado Western slope natural gas drilling has brought resource development closer and closer to the original underground detonations. By mid-2009, 84 drilling permits had been issued within a 3-mile radius, with 11 permits within one mile of the site.
The U.S. conducted 27 PNE shots in conjunction with other, weapons-related, test series.
|Test name||Date||Location||Yield||Test series|
|Gnome||10 December 1961||Carlsbad, New Mexico||3 kilotons||Nougat|
|Sedan||6 July 1962||Nevada Test Site||104 kilotons||Storax|
|Anacostia||27 November 1962||Nevada Test Site||5.2 kilotons||Dominic I and II|
|Kaweah||21 February 1963||Nevada Test Site||3 kilotons||Dominic I and II|
|Tornillo||11 October 1963||Nevada Test Site||0.38 kilotons||Niblick|
|Klickitat||20 February 1964||Nevada Test Site||70 kilotons||Niblick|
|Ace||11 June 1964||Nevada Test Site||3 kilotons||Niblick|
|Dub||30 June 1964||Nevada Test Site||11.7 kilotons||Niblick|
|Par||9 October 1964||Nevada Test Site||38 kilotons||Whetstone|
|Handcar||5 November 1964||Nevada Test Site||12 kilotons||Whetstone|
|Sulky||5 November 1964||Nevada Test Site||0.9 kilotons||Whetstone|
|Palanquin||14 April 1965||Nevada Test Site||4.3 kilotons||Whetstone|
|Templar||24 March 1966||Nevada Test Site||0.37 kilotons||Flintlock|
|Vulcan||25 June 1966||Nevada Test Site||25 kilotons||Flintlock|
|Saxon||11 July 1966||Nevada Test Site||1.2 kilotons||Latchkey|
|Simms||6 November 1966||Nevada Test Site||2.3 kilotons||Latchkey|
|Switch||22 June 1967||Nevada Test Site||3.1 kilotons||Latchkey|
|Marvel||21 September 1967||Nevada Test Site||2.2 kilotons||Crosstie|
|Gasbuggy||10 December 1967||Farmington, New Mexico||29 kilotons||Crosstie|
|Cabriolet||26 January 1968||Nevada Test Site||2.3 kilotons||Crosstie|
|Buggy||12 March 1968||Nevada Test Site||5 at 1.1 kilotons each||Crosstie|
|Stoddard||17 September 1968||Nevada Test Site||31 kilotons||Bowline|
|Schooner||8 December 1968||Nevada Test Site||30 kilotons||Bowline|
|Rulison||10 September 1969||Grand Valley, Colorado||43 kilotons||Mandrel|
|Flask||26 May 1970||Nevada Test Site||105 kilotons||Mandrel|
|Miniata||8 July 1971||Nevada Test Site||83 kilotons||Grommet|
|Rio Blanco||17 May 1973||Rifle, Colorado||3 at 33 kilotons each||Toggle|
Operation Plowshare "started with great expectations and high hopes". Planners believed that the projects could be completed safely, but there was less confidence that they could be completed more economically than conventional methods. Moreover, there was insufficient public and Congressional support for the projects. Projects Chariot and Coach were two examples where technical problems and environmental concerns prompted further feasibility studies which took several years, and each project was eventually canceled.
Citizen groups voiced concerns and opposition to some of the Plowshare tests. There were concerns that the blast effects from the Schooner explosion could dry up active wells or trigger an earthquake. There was opposition to both Rulison and Rio Blanco tests because of possible radioactive gas flaring operations and other environmental hazards. In a 1973 article, Time used the term "Project Dubious" to describe Operation Plowshare.
There were many negative impacts from Project Plowshare’s 27 nuclear explosions:
Project Gnome vented radioactive steam over the very press gallery that was called to confirm its safety. The next blast, a 104-kiloton detonation at Yucca Flat, Nevada, displaced 12 million tons of soil and resulted in a radioactive dust cloud that rose 12,000 feet and plumed toward the Mississippi River. Other consequences – blighted land, relocated communities, tritium-contaminated water, radioactivity, and fallout from debris being hurled high into the atmosphere – were ignored and downplayed until the program was terminated in 1977, due in large part to public opposition.
Project Plowshare shows how something intended to improve national security can unwittingly do the opposite if it fails to fully consider the social, political, and environmental consequences. It also “underscores that public resentment and opposition can stop projects in their tracks”.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Operation Plowshare|
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