July 3rd, 2010 at 02:06am
I’ve heard it mentioned a few times that a nuclear explosion could kill off the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, but until today I really hadn’t given it much thought as BP seem to be doing a reasonable job of sealing off the oil leak…a task which is clear extremely difficult given the location of the leak and the sheer pressure at which the oil is being pumped out by natural forces (I think many people forget that the oil is being pushed out by the earth and not being pumped by a machine).
BP are getting there, but they have suffered setbacks and that region is entering its hurricane season, so it’s probably a good time to consider some alternative courses of action just in case the current efforts suffer further setbacks or fail outright.
The nuclear option, at first, seemed silly to me…but I gave it another look after Maritz (whom I have invited to resume her regular columns whenever it suits her) sent me some information about old successful Russian attempts to seal gas leaks with nuclear explosions. It turns out that the method is tried and tested, and even more interestingly the Obama administration (who have done nothing but delay everyone else’s efforts to plug the leak, clean up the oil and protect the coastline) have ruled out the nuclear option. It’s clear to me, especially given the Obama administration’s renewed push for Cap and Trade (aka, the ETS or the “Great Big New Tax on Everything” as Tony Abbott would call it) in the wake of the oil spill, that the Obama administration is loving the oil spill as it gives them the opportunity to berate private industry, and in particular the oil industry, for their “evil and nasty ways”.
So, should we consider the nuclear option? Well former Russian Minister of nuclear energy and veteran Soviet physicist Viktor Mikhailov certainly thinks so, and with good reason:
“A nuclear explosion over the leak,” he says nonchalantly puffing a cigarette as he sits in a conference room at the Institute of Strategic Stability, where he is a director. “I don’t know what BP is waiting for, they are wasting their time. Only about 10 kilotons of nuclear explosion capacity and the problem is solved.”
For some, blasting the problem seems the most logical answer in the world. Mikhailov has had a distinguished career in the nuclear field, helping to close a Soviet Union program that used nuclear explosions to seal gas leaks. Ordinarily he’s an opponent of nuclear blasts, but he says an underwater explosion in the Gulf of Mexico would not be harmful and could cost no more than $10 million. That compares with the $2.35 billion BP has paid out in cleanup and compensation costs so far. “This option is worth the money,” he says.
And it’s not just Soviet boffins. Milo Nordyke, one of the masterminds behind U.S research into peaceful nuclear energy in the 1960s and ’70s says a nuclear explosion is a logical last-resort solution for BP and the government. Matthew Simmons, a former energy adviser to U.S. President George W. Bush and the founder of energy investment-banking firm Simmons & Company International, is another calling for the nuclear option.
Even former U.S. President Bill Clinton has voiced support for the idea of an explosion to stem the flow of oil, albeit one using conventional materials rather than nukes.
The Soviets first used a nuclear blast to seal a gas leak in 1966. Urtabulak, one of its prized gas-fields in Uzbekistan, had caught fire and raged for three years. Desperate to save the cherished reserves, Yefim Slavsky, then Minister of Light Industry, ordered nuclear engineers to use the most powerful weapon in their arsenal.
“The Minister said, ‘Do it. Put it out. Explode it,'” recalls Albert Vasilyev, a young engineer and a rising star in the project who now teaches at the Lenin Technical Institute in Moscow.
Vasilyev remembers the technology behind the program with obvious pride. “The explosion takes place deep underground,” he says. “We pinch the pipe, break it and the pipe collapses.” According to Vasilyev, the blast at Urtabulak sealed the well shut leaving only an empty crater.
Matthew Simmons, energy adviser in the George W. Bush administration, who was mentioned in that article, is in charge of the Ocean Energy Institute these days. The OEA seems to be more interested in “renewable” energy than oil, and even seems to be pushing the “Peak Oil Theory” about the supposed imminent drying up of all the oil wells in the world (a theory which has surely lost credibility given the fact that many experts believe that the oil repository involved in this oil spill alone could keep spewing oil for two years if left open), so one would assume that it would be an organisation which the Obama administration would pay some attention to…but apparently not. Anyway, Matthew explained how the nuclear option would work to Sean Hannity on Sean’s radio show earlier this week:
Matthew Simmons, founder of the Ocean Energy Institute, joined Sean on the show to discuss former President Clinton’s latest comments suggesting that Navy could blow up the oil leak and cover the well with debris. “If we sent a small nuclear device it would turn the rock into glass,” informed Simmons, “President Clinton is absolutely right.” The New York Times reported that the Obama administration has already rejected the idea but the “nuclear” option seems to be growing steam. “What’s the percentage of success,” questioned Hannity. Simmons, without missing a beat replied, “100 percent.” Those are pretty good odds.
It seems to me that if the nuclear option is anywhere near as good as Simmons believes, then there are two main reasons why it hasn’t been deployed already:
1) As previously noted, the Obama administration have no intention of speeding things up as, by twisting the facts, they can use the oil spill for their own political purposes.
2) BP, who have also said that they’re not keen on the nuclear option, want to try to salvage the oil well and re-use it once the leak is plugged. Given their investment in the project to-date, this is a reasonable objective on their behalf.
We need to remember that, if BP had their own way, there is no way known that they would have been drilling so far out and so deep in the ocean; government regulations making it virtually impossible to setup drilling operation on-shore have forced BP out in to the deep ocean. We should also note (and I’m amazed that the Australian media seems to have ignored this fact, I picked it up originally from either The Wall Street Journal This Morning or The Mark Levin Show…don’t remember which one now, but it’s been fairly well reported in the US) that BP, pretty much ever since fishing in the Gulf was banned due to the oil, have been paying the fishermen to get them to use their fishing vessels to assist in the clean-up. They did this of their own accord, long before the government made any pronouncements whatsoever. It is also BP who have been doing everything in regards to slowing and stopping the oil leak.
BP are certainly not blameless in this incident as, by all reports it seems that they may have cut some corners which contributed to the leak…we’ll need to wait for the investigation to publish its findings before we know any of this for sure, however it is BP who have done more than anyone else to try to contain the damage as much as possible.
I’m not surprised at all if BP want to try to reuse the oil well…something which a nuclear explosion would probably prevent…but given the amount of time we have spent waiting for this to be plugged, and the fact that the hurricane season could very well make stopping the leak an even slower process, surely it is time for the nuclear option to be put on standby just in case BP are not able to reach their August deadline for the current efforts to succeed.
Admittedly hurricanes could be of some use in helping to disperse the oil…but that’s only really the case once the leak has been plugged, as there’s not much point in dispersing the oil if more is bubbling up to the surface all the time.
The fact is, the nuclear option is our best option to stop this oil leak if BP’s current efforts do not succeed for one reason or another.