Reuters Special Report: Should BP Nuke Its Leaking Well?

Tyler Durden's picture

Finally Matt Simmons' unorthodox theory is gaining some significant mainstream interest. Full article from Reuters.

Should BP nuke its leaking well?

His face wracked
by age and his voice rasping after decades of chain-smoking coarse
tobacco, the former long-time Russian Minister of nuclear energy and
veteran Soviet physicist Viktor Mikhailov knows just how to fix BP's oil
leak in the Gulf of Mexico.

"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."

A nuclear fix
to the leaking well has been touted online and in the occasional
newspaper op-ed for weeks now. Washington has repeatedly dismissed the
idea and BP execs say they are not considering an explosion -- nuclear
or otherwise. But as a series of efforts to plug the 60,000 barrels of
oil a day gushing from the sea floor have failed, talk of an extreme
solution refuses to die.

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. "Unless we
send the Navy down deep to blow up the well and cover the leak with
piles and piles and piles of rock and debris, which may become necessary
... unless we are going to do that, we are dependent on the technical
expertise of these people from BP," Clinton told the Fortune/Time/CNN
Global Forum in South Africa on June 29.

Clinton
was picking up on an idea mooted by Christopher Brownfield in June.
Brownfield is a one-time nuclear submarine officer, a veteran of the
Iraq war (he volunteered in 2006) and now a nuclear policy researcher at
Columbia University. He is also one of a number of scientists whose
theories rely not on nuclear bombs -- he did toy with that thought for a
while -- but on conventional explosives that would implode the well
and, if not completely plug it with crushed rock, at least bring the
flow of oil under control. "It's kind of like stepping on a garden hose
to kink it," Brownfield says. "You may not cut off the flow entirely but
it would greatly reduce the flow."

BLASTS
FROM THE PAST

Using nuclear blasts
for peaceful ends was a key plank of Cold War policy in both the United
States and the Soviet Union. In the middle of last century, both
countries were motivated by a desire to soften the image of the era's
weapon of choice.

Washington had
big plans to use peaceful nuclear explosions to build an additional
Panama Canal, carve a path for an inter-state highway through mountains
in the Mojave Desert and connect underwater aquifers in Arizona. But the
experimental plans were dropped as authorities learned more about the
ecological dangers of surface explosions.

The
Soviet program, known as Nuclear Explosions for the National Economy,
was launched in 1958. The project saw 124 nuclear explosions for such
tasks as digging canals and reservoirs, creating underground storage
caverns for natural gas and toxic waste, exploiting oil and gas deposits
and sealing gas leaks. It was finally mothballed by Mikhail Gorbachev
in 1989.

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.

JUST
DOING A JOB

In all, the Soviets
detonated five nuclear devices to seal off runaway gas wells --
succeeding three or four times, depending on who you talk to. "It worked
quite well for them," says Nordyke, who authored a detailed account of
Soviet explosions in a 2000 paper. "There is no reason to think it
wouldn't be fine (for the United States)."

But
not everything went smoothly. Vasilyev admits the program "had two
misfires". The final blast in 1979 was conducted near the Ukrainian city
of Kharkov. "The closest houses were just about 400 meters away,"
Vasilyev recalls. "So this was ordered to be the weakest of the
explosions. Even the buildings and the street lamps survived."
Unfortunately, the low capacity of the device failed to seal the well
and the gas resurfaced.

Alexander
Koldobsky, a fellow nuclear physicist from the Moscow Engineering and
Physics Institute, insists the peaceful nuclear explosions were safe.
The people who worked on the program "were brilliant professionals", he
says. "They had a culture of safety, which did not accept the word
'maybe', but only accepted the words 'obligation' and 'instruction.' Any
derivation from these in nuclear technologies is a crime."

Still, he concedes, "there were different
scenarios of what happened after an explosion." At his first blast in a
Turkmen gas field in 1972, "the stench was unbearable," he says. "And
the wind was blowing toward a nearby town." He closes his narrow lips
into a smile as if refusing to say more.

Koldobsky
shrugs off any suggestion of fear or emotion when the bomb exploded. "I
felt nothing. I was just doing my job."

UNANSWERED
QUESTIONS

Not everybody is so
sanguine about the Soviet experience. Speaking on condition of
anonymity, an expert from Russia's largest oil
exporter Rosneft, urges the United States to ignore calls for the atomic
option. "That would bring Chernobyl to America," he says.

Vladimir Chuprov from Greenpeace's Moscow
office is even more insistent that BP not heed the advice of the veteran
Soviet physicists. Chuprov disputes the veterans' accounts of the
peaceful explosions and says several of the gas leaks reappeared later.
"What was praised as a success and a breakthrough by the Soviet Union is
in essence a lie," he says. "I would recommend that the international
community not listen to the Russians.
Especially those of them that offer crazy ideas. Russians are keen on
offering things, especially insane things."

Former
Minister Mikhailov agrees that the USSR had to give up its program
because of problems it presented. "I ended the program because I knew
how worthless this all was," he says with a sigh. "Radioactive material
was still seeping through cracks in the ground and spreading into the
air. It wasn't worth it."

"Still,"
he says, momentarily hard to see through a cloud of smoke from his
cigarettes, "I see no other solution for sealing leaks like the one in
the Gulf of Mexico."

The problem, he goes on, is that "Americans
just don't know enough about nuclear explosions to solve this problem
... But they should ask us -- we have institutes, we have professionals
who can help them solve this. Otherwise BP are just torturing the people
and themselves."

RADIATION RISKS

Nordyke too believes the nuclear option
should be on the table. After seeing nine U.S. nuclear explosions and
standing behind the control board of one, he estimates that a nuclear
bomb would have roughly an 80 to 90 percent chance of successfully
blocking the oil. According to his estimates, it would have to be an
explosion of around 30 kilotons, equivalent to roughly two Hiroshima
bombs or three times as big as Mikhailov's estimate. The explosion would
also need to remain at least 3 to 4 miles away from other offshore
wells in the area.

The bomb, says
Nordyke, would be dropped in a secondary well approximately 60-70 feet
away from the leaking shaft. There it would create a large cavity filled
with gas. The gas would melt the surrounding rock, crush it and press
it into the leaking well to close it shut.

Although
the BP well is thousands of feet deeper than those closed in the Soviet
Union, Nordyke says the extra depth shouldn't make a difference. He
also says that so far below the ground, not much difference exists in
onshore or underwater explosions -- even though the latter have never
been tried.

Nordyke says fears
that radiation could escape after the explosion are unfounded. The hole
would be about 8 inches in diameter and, despite the shockwave, the
radiation should remain captured. Even in the case of radiation escape,
he says, its dispersed effect would be less than that of floating oil
patches.

A LAST RESORT

But don't expect an explosion under the Gulf of Mexico any time
soon. Even a conventional blast could backfire and cause more problems.
There is a chance any blast could fracture the seabed and cause an
underground blowout, according to Andy Radford, petroleum engineer and
American Petroleum Institute senior policy adviser on offshore issues.
The U.S. Department of Energy has no plans to use explosives "due to the
obvious risks involved," according to a DOE spokeswoman.

There's also the question of time.
Preparations for a nuclear explosion could take up to half-a-year; BP
has said it will have a relief well in place to stop the leak by August.
"I think it has to be considered as only the last resort," Nordyke
says. But "they ought to be thinking about it."

Would he be willing to work on such an
operation? "I'd be happy to help," he says.

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.
bugs_'s picture

He'd be happy to help make it a lot lot worse for us.

Whizbang's picture

Yeah, a tsunami along the entire coast would go really well...

"In soviet russia...."

Ragnarok's picture

In Soviet Russia well bomb you.

BorisTheBlade's picture

You need to explode a whole lot more than 30 kilotons to cause a tsunami, especially at this depth. Risk of fracturing seabed is the real reason why this option is not on the table.

Chicago_CTA's picture

+1.

 

We should have a CONVENTIONAL DYNAMITE plan in place if BP's relief wells are not successful in early August.

 

It's an obvious solution.

 

BP = Brown Poison

Problem Is's picture

BP = Black Plague

Mad Max Keiser...

thesapein's picture

Waiting for the problem to go away...

Let's kick the oil can down the road some more, see how big it can get first.

 

Divided States of America's picture

If they nuke it, then basically they writing off the value of this asset, no?

BorisTheBlade's picture

The moment platform exploded and drowned and oil started gushing out @ whatever thousands barrel per hour, this asset turned into liability for BP. So, to be precise, they would be writing off a liability, one of the worst places to be these days after the Gulf itself is BP's balance sheet.

downwiththebanks's picture

"This asset" = The Gulf of Mexico

Capitalism commodifies everything; then it destroys it.

King_of_simpletons's picture

Either way we get a dead zone in the gulf. It is just a matter of choice of 'slow death' versus 'quick painless death'

tmosley's picture

A lot of people seem to have trouble keeping things in perspective.  The oil will make most or all of the gulf a dead zone eventually.  A nuclear explosion will kill a bunch of dead fish within it's three hundred meter blast radius, and the fallout will be diluted to background levels within a week.  

CPL's picture

Cute.  From the era of duck and cover.

downrodeo's picture

HAHA!! too funny;

Here, hold this stick of dynamite. You'd better squint your eyes though, it will get a little bright...

CPL's picture

Sure...why not.  It's either contain it or let it bleed out.  At this point it doesn't really matter what they do.  Fuck'ed is fucked.  What isn't being mentioned is the Russians did it 5 times ON LAND.  Easier to dig a hole, no hurricanes, people see what they are drilling, etc.

 

I'm trying to figure out how they are going to get the nuke down that deep without it collapsing like a tin can with the water pressure on it.  The ROV's they are using are built pretty well, but at that pressure they are like tinker toys.  Best of luck to them.

tmosley's picture

Nukes don't need air, unlike submarines.  You can't crush one any more than you could crush a ball of lead.  You also don't necessarily have to bury it t do the job.  The water will contain the blast almost as well as the ground beneath (being an incompressible liquid).

CPL's picture

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CpPNQoTlacU&feature

 

Sort of, to kill the well they have to dig to non-porous depths and (as George Clinton would say) Drop Da Bomb! 

knukles's picture

'Bout that time ta make a decision. 

Ever so seriously, as we've transited into a new era of global governance, peace, human dignity, ecological and astrological harmony, love and prosperity, we should ask others for their input as to the Next Right Thing to Do. 

Why not ask the Taliban and Ajdimaninutjob for their opinions, stretching for the return of our generous outreach for their Hearts and Minds? Or bring it to the UN and allow that organization to display it's boundless foresight, knowledge, care and Altruism?  After all, it is One World Now. (Separate from as in airline miles.) Branch out to our Fellow Travellers.  Place our hearts, minds and future in the hands of the Benevolent Others, the Omnipotent "Them". 

But alas, Fucked is as Fucked does.  
As Joe said to the fellow's "Lower taxes" response when asked what he wanted for a piece of pie; "Don't be a smart ass."  

   

downwiththebanks's picture

You could also ask Avgidor Lieberman or Benjamin Netanyahoooo for advice.

But I don't know how ethnic cleansing would help BP here.

(Now maybe off the shores of occupied Palestine . . . )

Mako's picture

If the relief well does not work by September BP = BK.   A nuke might or might not work, if it will not work... this thing could bleed for 30-50 years.

The UK will have to temporarily backstop loses until the day the rest of the system collapses and they will just wipe their hands clean of the mess at that point.

butchee's picture

Awesome....william banzai could redo the logo!!

megatoxic's picture

This kind of stuff makes my bear-sense tingle.

Edmon Plume's picture

Chris Matthews, is that you?

Problem Is's picture

Douch Bag Matthews is hiding under his desk urinating all over himself afraid militia members and tea baggers are coming to get him...

Matthews: "Oh no people with guns!" <pee>

Village Idiot's picture

"Only about 10 kilotons of nuclear explosion capacity and the problem is solved."

 

Russian efficiency - love it!

DosZap's picture

I have advocated the same thing, this is not NEW science........

The Rooskies have done this before, and with sucess.

You nuke it, your melt the surrounding sand/gravel formations, collapse it in on itself..Should equal plug..........

What's the risk ratio, compared to a friggin geyser, killing the entire Gulf and beyond for decades?.

Underwater nukes have been set off probably a 100 times over the past 50yrs.

 

CPL's picture

Yeah, it's been done.  Bikini Atoll is currently unhabitable and Hiroshima still has the highest cancer rates in Japan, but it should be all right.

 

And it's not under water: it's underwater, then drill another hole, shovel the nuke into the hole, then blow up the hole hoping that the area the core hits isn't molten lava because the area called Mexico sits on the fault lines.

 

If it all goes well, we should be drilling again in no time.

Treeplanter's picture

Screw Mexico.  Go for it.

CPL's picture

Yeah but we hit Jamacia, Haiti, Cuba...there are a couple more places in the area than Florida contrary to what the news would make people believe.  Where will we ever go for our two week long all inclusive vacations???

 

They eat out of that water, so do we.  Then again, the optics of today is food comes from grocery stores and 7-11.  Nuke it.  Won't bug me any.  I'm in Northern Ontario on a farm, if it gets me to the point where the zones change enough i can grow oranges, who needs Florida then?

spekulatn's picture

"Give us da money Labofski"

"We take its all"

Eternal Student's picture

My vote is that we just nuke BP. These clowns belong in jail.

Problem Is's picture

If you mean yachting off of Martha's Vineyard, slurping Dom Perignon and caviar from Anna Chapman's snatch...

...with Jamie, Lloyd and Obummer celebrating $$$Billions in naked shorts and CDS profits from the gulf disaster...

Then yes they are in prison...

bugs_'s picture

I got a crazy teacher he wears dark glasses.

wafflehead's picture

they should just call the russians and let them come and nuke it. That way if anything goes wrong Obama can blame the russian to distract attention from his incompetence.

Scooby Dooby Doo's picture

Waffle,
I was going to say something similar. I was talking with my moms sisters father and I said "why don't the Russians just nuke the well without permissions?"

My moms sisters father said "Why you dumb canine, that would be an act of wa-wa-war".

Then my aunts cousin Thelma said "No it wouldn't".

And I said "Scooby Dooby Doo"!

Problem Is's picture

Here is a scooby snack... If you leave one more of those mondo piles in the drive way or piss on my rims one more time...

Scooby Dooby Doo's picture

If you get a chance give me a call:
800-654-3550 code:ACLANT

Problem Is's picture

If I call... will I step in a mondo pile of scooby dog doo?

Llike the time I caught you peeing right on my newspaper...

And I chased you out of the front yard with a broom and right before I could swat you in the nut sack...

I slid on a scooby dog doo mondo pile in the drive way...

And Marla went: "Slide..."

Scooby Dooby Doo's picture

Maybe the problem is...

1) You forgot to add an S to the code that I gave you? (A common mistake).

2) You do not have our modulator to enter the code? It has to be our modulator.

3) I was very wrong about your ability to communicate with us.

Rogerwilco's picture

Shouldn't we let them finish the relief well first? If the relief well doesn't stop the flow, then the other options are active. I wish people would stop the drama-queen nonsense about the dangers of using a nuke. We're talking about a tiny (kilotons - it has to fit in an 8" diameter pipe) weapon placed a mile below the seabed. There would be no tsunami or radioactive shrimp.

carbonmutant's picture

Stuffing a tactical nuke down the pipe with a 70000 psi backflow might be a little challenging...

Rogerwilco's picture

The nuke goes in the relief well (or similar), not the one that's flowing.

carbonmutant's picture

While I agree with what you've said I would be concerned about the potential "Gas land" problem in which you end up with thousands of small leaks through fissures in the fractured rock.

It would be like the Russians not to mention that little problem.

thesapein's picture

But that is why the nuke option looks to be the best. Set the explosion(s) around areas of the sea floor that you want to be solidified, kind of like turning leaking sand into solid glass, yo.

That little problem is exactly the whole reason behind the plan.

carbonmutant's picture

How many of these nuclear explosions are you proposing?

thesapein's picture

Oh, that's just me thinking that smaller ones spread out is better than one big one for getting the same sized area. But how many depends on how thorough you want to be. Leaving some amount of "natural" seepage might be okay.

I really hate the idea of doing this, but I hate it less than what we're allowing to continue.

I'm going to go now.