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A 1950s proposal to nuke Alaska (2015) (atlasobscura.com)
139 points by yoloswagins 37 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 144 comments



“A-blasts will mine ore now inaccessible, and recover oil locked in shale. Subterranean atomic bombs will drive electric power plants. Underground reservoirs dug with nuclear bombs will make deserts bloom. And the atom’s might power will make child’s play of colossal earth-moving feats, to dig harbors, dredge channels, and build great canals.”

This reminds me of the AI/ML hype.


Seems like a misinterpretation on the electric power part. Very few power plant designs use atomic power resources explosively to make electricity. They probably just meant undergrounded regular old fission nuclear power plants, which Teller also liked.

But maybe not; that's a pretty direct statement. Certainly there were ideas to blow weapons up and then recover energy from the heated walls (often some kind of high heat capacity liquid).


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_PACER:

“The earliest references to the use of nuclear explosions for power generation date to a meeting called by Edward Teller in 1957. Among the many topics covered, the group considered power generation by exploding 1 Mt bombs in a 1,000-foot (300 m) diameter steam-filled cavity dug in granite.

[…]

A series of 50-kiloton bombs would be dropped into the cavern and exploded to heat the water and create steam. The steam would then power a secondary cooling loop for power extraction using a steam turbine. Dropping about two bombs a day would cause the system to reach thermal equilibrium, allowing the continual extraction of about 2 GW of electrical power”

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_Gnome:

“Unlike most nuclear tests, which were focused on weapon development, Shot Gnome was designed to focus on scientific experiments:

- "Study the possibility of converting the heat produced by a nuclear explosion into steam for the production of electric power."“


You're right that fission power plants don't rely on explosions. However, using hydrogen bombs as a heat source is currently the only method we have for a (man-made) fusion power plant. The economics have never made it worthwhile to attempt (H-bombs are expensive!), but from an engineering perspective it would mostly be a construction project.

Hopefully that will change soon, if/when tokamaks, inertial confinement, or some similar technique are able to produce a net gain in power; yet that would require a bunch of basic science problems to be resolved in plasma physics, materials science, etc.


Most of the energy released by the thermonuclear devices we know how to make is from fission.


This is not correct and I'm curious what you're basing it on. The most powerful bomb we ever detonated (Tsar Bomba at 50 Mt) got something on the order of 96-97% of its energy from fusion with its 2-stage test design (tamper replaced with lead). It's true the full power 100 Mt 3-stage with a U-238 tamper would have gotten vastly more from fission (at the cost of terrifying levels of fallout), but it didn't need it. Castle Bravo, the biggest US bomb ever tested, was also heavily fusion (and big thanks to the unexpected lithium 7 tritium bonus), though I think you're right that a lot of ultimate yield was from fission of the natural uranium tamper. It did directly lead to the Mk-21 though, tested in Redwing Navajo at 4.5 Mt and 95% fusion I think?

It's true that placing a fusion bomb in a uranium case can massively boost the yield of any single explosive, and in a full fission-fusion-fission design a good half the energy can come from fission. It's not required to work though, a transparent casing can be chosen too, that's the whole concept behind neutron bombs and "low-yield" weapons after all. I'm no expert for sure, this is just my understanding from reading some of the archives and such, so I'd be curious to read any other sources you have.


I'm very interested in nuclear energy/bombs but don't know where to start. I don't want to get too deep on the physics of it (a bit deep/technical is OK) - you seem to know a lot about the topic, do you know where I could learn more without becoming a Nuclear engineer? I'm especially interested in the history of bombs going beyond info on Wikipedia, basically the stuff you are talking about.

Thank you in advance!


Richard Rhodes books.


>Castle Bravo, the biggest US bomb ever tested, was also heavily fusion (and big thanks to the unexpected lithium 7 tritium bonus), though I think you're right that a lot of ultimate yield was from fission of the natural uranium tamper.

It seems to be generally accepted that 10Mt (two thirds) of the yield in Castle Bravo was indeed from fast fission of the tamper.


That is not true - for example, the Redwing Zuni / Bassoon test in 1956 yielded 3.5Mt, of which 85% was from fusion, due to use of lead for the tamper around the third stage.

On the other hand, if primarily looking to maximize yield for cost, one can use U-238 instead - the higher energy neutrons from the D-T fusion will cause fission (although not a chain reaction) in the tamper as well.

Redwing Tewa / Bassoon Prime test achieved 5Mt with this change in the same the test series and the design was refined ultimately to the B-41 gravity bomb with 25Mt yield.

We know how to make devices with primarily fusion yield, it's more that they're not as effective as weapons.


That actually bodes reasonably well for AI/ML; a lot of these ideas are borderline practical from a cost/benefit perspective. The cheapest way to move dirt in a mining operation is actually to blast it into it its final location with chemical explosives. But it scales poorly with distance and controlling where the dirt moves is an Interesting Technical Challenge.


Some of these are doable and magical. Project Orion for instance. An actual way to get to a good fraction of the speed of light!


I don't know about practical, it has, er, affordability issues.


Fusion bombs are in massive surplus, build your Orion ship now, before prices go higher!


I live in Eastern Europe and long time ago, before the Internet and Netflix, I used to go to the library and read books for entertainment.

I likes SciFi and at some point I fell on some really weird anthology of Soviet stories from the 50s.

I remember one of them was about time relativity, a cosmonaut went with a rocket close to the speed of light and when he came back, on Earth have passed hundreds of years... jolly joy perfect, because in the meantime communism has become a reality. You know, the idea was socialism is temporary and only a stepping stone towards communism.

Well that's one story.. another one was about using nuclear blasts to level mountains and transform them into fertile plains for growing crops. That has stuck me as particularly idiotic: what the heck people, what sort of crops? Radioactive ones? They didn't know about radioactivity in the 50s?


I believe in the 50s it was still thought radioactivity was healthy for you - couldn't find a good thing on it - but I found this from earlier times https://www.popsci.com/scitech/article/2004-08/healthy-glow-...


Radiation isn't totally black and white. One can apparently exert some measure of control over short-term and long-term radiation effects by picking the right bomb (more fusion and higher neutron efficiency means less fallout) and the right surroundings (water dissipates neutrons without activation, thus preventing activation of the surrounding soil).

ymmv ;)


Bathe yourself in Dr. Roentgen's invigorating rays!

https://link.springer.com/content/pdf/10.1007%2F978-0-387-49...


The 1950's were an interesting time for grand "mad science" engineering projects. Anyone in the Bay area should make an effort to see the Bay Model museum in Sausalito. It contains a huge model of the SF Bay and the local watershed. While this is interesting, it is more interesting to hear the story of why it was made. It was intended to vet a plan to dam the bay to turn it from salt water to a huge freshwater lake. Fortunately they decided it wasn't feasible.


Not exactly "mad". The Netherlands have dammed the sea on that scale.

Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Afsluitdijk

YouTube Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6r6zcMl2Xmw


The inland sea in the netherlands was turned into a fresh water lake using a huge dam. I dont think its very mad science at all.


All ambitious projects that don't come to fruition are mad, and obviously were impossible from the start.


That's quite a sweeping statement! I'm sure there are many ambitious projects that weren't mad but were cut for, say, funding reasons, and many projects that fail for reasons other than being impossible.


(My comment was sarcastic.)


/whooooosh

Sorry!


And a whole province was erected where once was sea!

"God created the earth, but the Dutch created the Netherlands"


How bout turning part of the Sahara into an inland sea?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Qattara_Depression_Project


That‘s still harmless compared to the Atlantropa project...

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atlantropa


More recent variation, building giant reservoir in Czechia: https://ceskaprehrada.cz/en.html


Exciting scale. Some people might come back to the idea now that sea levels are about to start rising dangerously.


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Northern_European_Enclosure_Da...:

“The Northern European Enclosure Dam (NEED) is a proposed solution to the problem of rising ocean levels in Northern Europe. It would be a megaproject, involving the construction of two massive dams in the English Channel and the North Sea; the former between France and England, and the latter between Scotland and Norway.”

The authors know that plan is ‘a bit’ ambitious, though. That page continues:

“The concept was conceived by the oceanographers Sjoerd Groeskamp and Joakim Kjellsson. As of 2020, the scheme is largely a thought experiment intended to demonstrate the extreme cost of engineered solutions to the effects of climate change.”


Indeed, the 1950s saw the beginning of some ambitious projects. One in particular was the US Interstate Highway System, launched in 1956 under president Eisenhower. It wasn't completed until 36 years later in 1992.

The system cost $114 billion, equivalent to $521 billion in 2018.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interstate_Highway_System


Army Core of Engineers had a grand plan to fill most of the bay and build housing on it. People put their foot down and it didn't happen.


It wasn't just people disliking it, it was actually a terrible plan AFAIK https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i70wkxmumAw


Awesome that they went through the trouble of building the models and doing the tests. Resources well spent!


Sort of. The CoE + developers wanted to fill in the remaining 2/3 since 1/3 was already being used as trash dumps. [0] And now, large chunks of bay cities are built on top of the former dumps. It's one of the reasons why there are dozens of ships buried under the SF Financial District. [1]

[0]https://blog.savesfbay.org/2013/04/trash-dumps-and-the-hidde...

[1]https://www.ancient-origins.net/ancient-places-americas/ghos...


Reclaimed land does amazing things in earthquakes. The plan coming to nothing may have been for the best.


In the early 50's there was a proposal to detonate a nuclear device in the north of Scotland at Duncansby Head just a few miles from Wick and Thurso. Despite this only being recently reported it was well known within the Scottish Anti-nuclear movement for many years.

Fortunately a combination of technical issues and coming-to-their-senses put paid to that idea. However we did end up having to accommodate the Dounreay nuclear facility located about 20 or so miles west. That site has had a well documented chequered history including the wholesale ruining of local beaches due to radioactive particle contamination.

https://www.sundaypost.com/news/experts-nearly-dropped-atomi...


Thanks! The highlights:

It was about the location of Britain's nuclear bomb tests, considered by those at "Aldermaston, the secretive headquarters of the UK’s nuclear weapons programme."

"Incredibly, the iconic landmarks were only saved because scientist decreed the area was “too wet” to set off the explosion."

"The bomb test was eventually carried out in late 1953 at Emu Field, a desert area in South Australia."


They elected to bomb bits of Australia instead because nobody of any importance lived there.


And various pacific islands - locals and relative locals complaining led to the infamous bombing The Rainbow Warrior by the French when it was docked in Auckland, New Zealand in 1985. With allies like that, who needs enemies? https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sinking_of_the_Rainbow_Warri...


I wonder what modern day ideas are considered utter insanity in 70 years.


Giving your personal data away for free to social media for public exhibition and to be monetized as a weapon against you.


Doesn't have quite the same punch as terraforming earth with nuclear bombs.


Yeah, just wait a couple decades.


CRISPR genengineering of human embryos maybe?

Gain-of-function histological research a close second.

God willing, modern economic theory.


Not even going to be in the top 50.


Although you may be right, something like [1] showing election manipulation very well could end up in the top 10, I would think.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Facebook%E2%80%93Cambridge_Ana...

edit: Change tone to be less snarky/combative. It was unintentional if I came across as rude.


Which had zero long term implications. Some minor and now totally forgotten short term repurcussions.

The policy could be updated "we will sell the creepiest of the creepiest data on you and your friends. Hell your friends don't even need to sign up." And it would hardly change usage patterns.

Cambridge was a tiny distraction of the week that had no lasting effects.


Brexit??? It's going to have massive effects for a long time.


Elections have been fraught with various levels of targeted propaganda for a long time. Cambridge Analytica didn’t really even prove it worked better than previous methods of targeted advertising.


Probably at least one part of our current electrochemical model will be considered hilariously wrong, on the same level of wrongness as the planetary model of the atom is considered today. Perhaps our hopes of the island of stability [0] will be dashed.

Economists and mathematicians will eventually have a conversation which upends all known slogans of economics, forming a new school. It happens every few decades.

The era of antibiotics is drawing to a close, as antibiotic resistance continues to grow. Meanwhile, phage therapy [1] is still being discovered but likely will give us a route to a kind of antibacterial and antibiotic therapy which is not as broad-spectrum as our existing drugs. Similarly, chemotherapy may give way to more targeted ways to deal with cancers, and eventually we might see some of these harsher treatments as akin to the overuse of radiotherapy during the era of radioactive quackery [2].

High fructose corn syrup may yet have its reckoning. Strangely, before 2020, this wouldn't have been thinkable, but we know from history that the Great Depression and World Wars changed the composition of dishes all around the world and even in industrialized recipes. The pandemic may yet change peoples' diets in ways which we won't understand for a decade or two, and the proper nutritional correction may take another few decades after that.

Our children may be sincere about dealing with climate change. If so, then they may fly less, shrink standing armies, forbid the import/export of oil, drive less, set the thermostat a couple degrees hotter, or take many other relatively minor changes to parts of society which we usually imagine not changing at all.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Island_of_stability

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phage_therapy

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radioactive_quackery


> Our children may be sincere about dealing with climate change.

Indeed they may. And we can either teach them to encourage it or ignore them and not even do that small part.


Chemistry is all about good-enough approximations, of which the planetary model is one, for simple organic reactions at least. Doubt it's going away


For simple organic reactions, the shape of benzene [0] matters. Benzene has its quirky ring shape thanks to pi bonds [1], which only make sense in a 3D orbital model. The planetary model already has trouble with benzene formation and reactions. Another good example is water, whose hydrogen atoms are physically positioned almost entirely within the oxygen atom, according to the planetary model. Water's actual orbitals [2] have massive "echo" interactions on the hydrogen sides, which "push" the electrons onto one side of the molecule. Doing this with orbital mechanics alone would be, at a minimum, a headache.

The essential main problem with the planetary model is in the word "planetes" or "wanderer"; electrons are not exactly point charges whizzing about the nucleus at high speed (although they kind of are, because of gold's color and other properties) but more like smeared-out across an orbital. Think of soft electron-butter being spread by a galactic butter knife.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Benzene

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pi_bond

[2] http://www1.lsbu.ac.uk/water/h2o_orbitals.html


> If so, then they may fly less, shrink standing armies, forbid the import/export of oil, drive less, set the thermostat a couple degrees hotter,

It would be sad if their reaction is this pathetic. We need much more drastic changes than that right now, let alone 18 years from now.

The thermostat matters fuck-all compared to modernizing the insulation and getting renewable power to the house.


And I’m not sure why the “import and export” of oil is mentioned here. I guess there are some marginal reductions in emissions if you move it around, but the big supertankers are pretty efficient.

Really it sounds more like some ploy to keep America using less oil, without outright saying that, and, well... the idea must date to before we became one of the top producers in the world. I guess it could work for Europeans if they’re really, really willing to suffer for it (and it does spite Russia, which isn’t nothing in terms of European geopolitics)


I mention oil because it's a genuine part of the political window today (Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Tom Steyer all supported banning oil exports, but I'm having trouble finding primary sources; Biden also may limit oil exports). What people discuss today, they may do tomorrow.

I understand what you're reading into, but the main reasons to limit oil exports and imports are simpler than that. First, as you say, the USA is a massive oil producer. We compete directly with OPEC. We are also one of the largest oil consumers. Unsurprisingly, politicians like Bernie therefore have reasoned that it would be a sane protectionist and mercantile move to limit oil exports, keeping USA oil in the USA and thus limiting the need for oil imports. It's just cheaper that way; while not all oil is alike, crude oil is fungible enough to make this feasible.

Also like you say, spiting Russia is important, although OPEC may fall apart before too long. There's a lot of handwaving here and anything could happen.


> It's just cheaper that way; while not all oil is alike, crude oil is fungible enough to make this feasible.

If it really was cheaper that way, there would be no need to intervene.

But maybe some of the expense is caused by regulations which don't make sense. Could I get you to consider repealing the Jones Act so that it's legal to ship oil between different ports in the US using tankers? (Technically it doesn't make the tankers illegal on the face of it. It just requires them to be US built, owned, and crewed by citizens, like all other use of boats in the US. There are no tankers built in the US today; there aren't many boats built at all. Puerto Rico and Hawaii suffer in particular as a result must import key supplies from outside the US.) Yeah, you'd still be burning oil to move oil, but it's not like sending it in trains and pipelines is free either.


climate change denial, it will have probably become obvious by then.


There are corona denialists out there still to this date. So I'm a pessimist on that one :(.


It seems like this is partially because (in the US at least) covid is a largely political thing, as stupid as that is.

Once we are 50 years in the future I think both of these will be regarded as stupid/backward.


On a fragment of a stele recovered from Atlantis, this was inscribed and translated:

“Daddy, why do we live under water if we breathe air?”

“Darling, it’s just because of natural variability.”


Even if coronavirus actually exists I would still consider COVID-19 epidemic to be mostly a social experiment, basically the extended version of War of the Worlds [1]

Governments are testing how many idiotic rules can they make us follow, preparing for the switch from democracy to surveillance-based totalitarism.

The actual mortality rates are not enough to justify all those limitations - most people infected by coronavirus don't even have any symptoms, majority of those who have symptoms will get through them as they would through a normal flu. If anything, we should order the old people (say 70+) to stay home, as they seem to be the only real risk group.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_War_of_the_Worlds_(radio_d...


I reckon trying to grow all our food in smart greenhouses will seem silly in hindsight.


Tell that to the Martian colonies. Maybe if you're considering feed the population of Earth it might seem silly, but for off-world populations that will be the only way to grow food.


The idea that we can even have Martian colonies is ludicrous given our current skills.

Getting there is the easy part. Building a self-sustaining ecology on Mars is harder - much harder. And if you look into the research, you'll see there's much less than you'd think.


Legacy systems in Go and Rust.


If that's going to pan out somehow, you can get a bit of sneak peek into what future developer will feel like by looking into k8s code today...


Large scale meat farming practices.


I think meat production, inorganic fertilizers, and pesticides likely.

Also read an essay where the author claims the biggest mistake of the last 10,000 years was basing our food crops on grasses.


What was the suggested alternative to grasses?

Guns, Germs, and Steel goes into this a great deal and the conclusion there is that in many ways precursors to today’s wheat is the miracle that gave birth to modern civilization.

Potential alternatives would need to provide similar nutrition (esp protein), be easily amenable to “naturally” providing selective breeding for choice traits, be easy to sow and harvest for hunter gatherers to become farmers, and be resilient enough to provide a model for civilizations around the globe.


I can try and dig for the original source, though google search has turned to shit in the last few years.

What I remember is the advantage of grasses is as annuals you can selectively breed productive strains quickly. And that's true of other annual crops. Downside is they require a lot of nutrients and water because the whole plant needs to regrow from seed every year and they have shallow roots. That leads to energy and environmentally damaging agriculture.

Potential solution is perennial shrubs and trees. Perennials have deeper roots and require less water and fertilizer. And don't require the land to be plowed every year.

The latter is a real problem. People talk about global warming, less well known is the world is very quickly losing topsoil.


Is there a link to the article?


The reduction of CAFE standards and other decisions not to reduce harmful emissions.


CAFE isn’t an emission reduction program.


Fingers-crossed: Chemotherapies.

I'm soooo hoping that CRIPSR and the like help out with cancer and other diseases that use chemo as treatment.

Seriously, fuck cancer.


Politicizing wearing masks. Oh wait, that's utter insanity even today


That burning wood is a really neat idea.


Critical theory.


It’s utter insanity now


It's also the mainstream, now that millennial graduates are seeping into the institutions. I'm sure some important people knew phrenology was dumb when it was big, didn't make it less dumb 70+ years later.


This has been kind of a content-free thread. Could you explain more? Critical theory itself is almost a century old, in terms of who originally talked about it, and today the idea of critical thinking and critical reading is not just mainstream, but part of public education; meanwhile, nothing bad seems to have actually happened as a result of critical theory.

Edit: I don't like the phrasing I used in this first paragraph. To be more clear: The fact that the government publically funds an effort to teach children to examine the government's official declarations, question their authorities, and study the power structures which control them, is a surprising success of critical theory.

Phrenology is roundly countered by basic genetics; pedigree collapse directly implies that humanity forms one single race. Similarly, we have studied skulls enough to be confident that phrenology has no predictive power. What sorts of similar "showstopper" evidence do you have against critical theory?

The best criticisms against critical theory are listed on Wikipedia [0], but I don't think that you are talking about either of them. (Those criticisms are that critical theory is insufficiently Marxist, and that it lacks praxis.)

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Critical_theory#Criticism


> ...and today the idea of critical thinking and critical reading is not just mainstream, but part of public education...

Critical theory is not critical thinking

> The best criticisms against critical theory are listed on Wikipedia

That's quite a bold claim, how often are the best criticisms of anything listed on Wikipedia?

> What sorts of similar "showstopper" evidence do you have against critical theory

Well, it is explicitly not concerned with evidence, the thing you are attempting to appeal to in this question.

Hacker News calls upon us to assume good faith, so I'll stop here.


Modern critical thinking definitely owes a lot to critical theory. The ability to look at statements from the government and think about the ways in which the statement might mislead or outright lie is directly tied to the original climate of the Frankfurt School.

Typically, we refute philosophical positions by some sort of evidence. Without evidence, there's only opinions, and those are cheap and limitless. Indeed, in this very thread, basically all of the links and evidence have come from only one side. The only claims you've made with any substance are about phrenology and "millenials" in "institutions". I tackled the former; the latter is easily handled by remembering that critical theory started as an academic endeavor, and never really has been foreign to higher education. Although, as I describe this latter position, I'm reminded of the belief in the Cultural Marxism conspiracy theory. I don't know why people believe this; Marxists are pretty open about studying labor and power, and the fact that critical theory is a decades-long multidisciplinary research movement rather than a single meeting would suggest that it is not hiding some cryptic agenda.

It sounds like you think that critical theory ought not exist at all, but we would have to remove an entire score of history and philosophy from our discourse in order to do so; you'd have to prevent the First World War somehow. See [0] for a reasonable introduction to the Frankfurt School and critical theory. You might also like the second and third videos from the playlist [1].

[0] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6g5_tuXwOUg

[1] https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLJA_jUddXvY7v0VkYRbAN...


The low bar for most of the social science publications and subsequently most of the findings from these fields so far. Entire branches of science make sweeping claims about races/classes of people based on one study in a small college town with 20 participants.

Now that the reproducibility crisis is shining light on this modern tea leave reading, hopefully the groundwork is being laid for overhauls of these fields.


Alaska was in fact nuked three times; from 1965 to 1971 three underground tests were conducted on Amchitka in the Aleutian Islands, including the largest underground detonation ever conducted by the US.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amchitka#Nuclear_testing


Edward Teller is an interesting person to read up on. I'm not surprised he was leading this. He seemed to have been extremely unscrupulous and obsessed with everything nuclear. Dr strangelove was loosely based on him. The way he treated Oppenheimer and some others is quite telling.


My wife’s grandmother worked for him for a long time and wrote his memoirs if anyone wants to read about him: https://g.co/kgs/KpuXzs


As I have detailed here before as a schoolchild in Detroit our class visited the Enrico Fermi nuclear power plant. In a movie that we saw at the plant in the early sixties they envisioned nuclear powered automobiles.

Ford even created a concept car called the Nucleon as a demonstration of what a nuclear powered car would look like.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ford_Nucleon


I remember reading the foundation trilogy, and they used the word nuclear the way that modern sf uses the word quantum. Need a watch you don't need to wind, its nuclear! Need a shield generator for your space ship? Nuclear!


The Nucleon was a gag. Nobody serious thought there would be nuclear-powered cars even in the 1950s. There are even intros to textbooks that dismiss the idea as "not within the bounds of reality", as Glasstone did in 1956 [1]

[1] https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=mdp.39015003994194&vi...

Of course today there are literal nuclear-powered cars all over the place. They're electric cars charged by nearby nuclear power stations. But I guess that's semantics.


Nuclear reactors almost small enough to make it feasible (but not a good idea) have been created before. TOPAZ and SNAP-10A from the 60s and 70s come to mind. A TOPAZ-I reactor weighing 320kg and could produce 5kW for 3-5 years. That's not good enough for a car, but I think it's impressive nevertheless.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SNAP-10A#/media/File:SNAP_10A_...

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/TOPAZ_nuclear_reactor


Things are either forbidden by the laws of physics or possible, so yeah it is physically feasible. But it is not within the bounds of reality because the cores for those two reactors are millions of dollars and the weights don't include the shielding necessary to operate without dying.

Those space reactors are indeed awesome. Nuclear has a rich future in space in almost all possible scenarios where humans continue to exist.


No based on what I saw at the time it was taken seriously. Some of these guys were dreamers in the nuclear industry. They made a push and it flopped.

All I know as a 10 year old boy when I asked about what would happen in an auto accident to the cars reactor they didn't have a very good answer.


If they didn’t have a good answer, they weren’t taking it seriously.


In the 50s Chrysler's tank division proposed a truly bizarre nuclear powered tank: http://www.diseno-art.com/encyclopedia/strange_vehicles/chry...


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Big_Bus

Movie about a nuclear powered bus.


They also had plans to nuke the moon: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_A119


When I was in high school, I had to read a novel called "The Ice People". In it, the Moon's current appearance was explained as the result of an old nuclear war between two human factions on the satellite body.



Yep!


And to nuke the Van Allen belts -- that one actually went forward: https://www.npr.org/sections/krulwich/2010/07/01/128170775/a...


Very cool, thanks for sharing.


The Russians were keen to use Nukes for "construction" too, and actually went ahead with "building" a lake [1]

This [2] Document goes into all the details of what else they wanted to do.

I think it would be a great idea to use nukes for construction, if only it wasn't for all that pesky radiation. I can only imagine how often we'd be using them for mining and what-not.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lake_Chagan

[2] https://web.archive.org/web/20161223024850/http://e-reports-...


Thank you for giving the link. Never knew about Lake Chagan, and it was very interesting to dive into stories about it.

Apparently, they intended to use such nuclear explosions across the whole country, but they learned quickly. What's even more interesting, they had a bio lab that would add new aquatic species into the atomic lake (as Lake Chagan is known to locals) and see what happens. Most of them died, some of them had mutated across several generations, including "positive" mutations, like increased size.

Source (in Russian): https://ru.wikipedia.org/wiki/%D0%9F%D1%80%D0%BE%D0%B5%D0%BA...


People did similar things with land plants https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atomic_gardening


Lake Chagan: 400 m (1,300 ft) across and 100 m (330 ft) deep

Sedan Crater: 390 m (1,280 ft) across an 98 m (320 ft) deep

I was under the impression the Sedan Crater was the largest manmade crater, but Lake Chagan seems to win by a hair. I'm surprised I never heard of Lake Chagan before.


Maybe if pure-fusion weapons become a thing it could be reality.


I don't think so. Nuclear fusion releases tons of neutron radiation; neutron radiation induces radioactivity in things it hits. It's a common misconception that a fusion power plant wouldn't create radioactive waste; in truth the neutron radiation would turn the reactor itself into radioactive waste. One of the hard engineering problems of fusion power is creating a reactor that can be serviced using robotics since it would be too dangerous for humans technicians.

If you used a pure fusion bomb to dig out a harbor, much of the the rock and soil the bomb threw into the air would be radioactive.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neutron_activation


Of course. However neutron activation of soil is generally much smaller compared to radioactive fallout.

Indeed, even fallout of nuclear weapons of the scale required for engineering project is overstated. Hiroshima, despite receiving much more fallout that a pure-fusion weapon of the same yield, became habitable quite rapidly thereafter.

Another possible design could be to encase the pure fusion weapon in water, absorbing most of the neutrons and turning them into pressure and heat.


Note that there are some fusion designs that do not result in radioactive waste. They're not the easiest to build though, so are unlikely to be what we use for first or second generation plants. For example, neutrons hitting lithium shielding produce tritium and helium, which can be fed back into the fusion reaction as fuel.


To what degree is mining limited by explosive power?


For a more in-depth look at Project Chariot and the general strangeness that surrounded it, find yourself a copy of The Firecracker Boys: https://www.amazon.com/Firecracker-Boys-Dan-ONeill/dp/046500...


That the current hedonist lifestyle based on consumerism is sustainable in the long term.


The 1950's were beyond the Wild West for atomic research (no rules to speak of).

While on the other side of the US at the same time, they were leaving time capsules (which may explain global or atmospheric changes over the decades). Its strange hearing it in their own words.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RVz8iCkdsSo&t=52


I wonder if thermonuclear would be a cheap method to break up valuable asteroids into safer sized chunks to be routed into an orbit around Earth where they could be further processed or even decelerated before being crashed into remote areas where they could be conventionally mined. Dust from such an event could be a regional issue, perhaps shallow water body landing instead?


Not radiated material because mostly fusion explosion with a small fission spark so if you really wanted a clean "catch" you would just leave out the area where the charge was placed.


> Not radiated material because mostly fusion explosion

Neutron flux is radiation, so things exposed to it are (ir)radiated.

It also induces radioactivity, which is probably the actual concern with (ir)radiated material.

OTOH, the actual reaction products themselves aren't radioactive, unlike fission reactions.


The surface of the chunk of rock facing such a radioactive blast could be shaved off before it somehow has its trajectory changed towards where heavier processing equipment is orbiting. Such a "harbor" would have to "speed up" to match this incoming new orbital body of rock, with supply launches necessary along this planned path (pre fired before new heavy tonnage arrives). Fuel shipments necessary to slow the entire rock shipment (constant thruster firing for days or weeks, affixed to the surface of the decontaminated asteroid slice).

How far does radiation penetrate through rock? Some YouTube video virtually demonstrated using regolith as automated 3D printed habitat above ground structure protection from radiation in a place with no ionosphere.


My old gig was at Lawerence Livermore (home of Edward teller); there’s a photo of the sedan test with a few lab engineers posed next to it in the building that they interview new comp sci hires in. One of the senior engineers I was on an interview panel with told me all about Plowshare; weird to hear it from someone who wasn’t on the project.


tl;dr: In the 1950s, scientists and engineers had yet to understand the long-term effects of radiation, and looked at nuclear weapons as just super-powerful conventional explosives.

Thus, Project Plowshare, in which we investigated using nukes to create harbors, dig mines, etc.

Let this serve as a reminder to exercise a degree of caution with any revolutionarily new technology, lest you look a catastrophic moron in the eyes of history. :)


> In the 1950s, scientists and engineers had yet to understand the long-term effects of radiation

Marie Curie died in 1934. And there was that little experiment in Japan in 1945 that was 13 years old by the time this Alaska thing was being discussed

And Operation Plowshare didn’t end until the 1970s.

I think everyone knew very well about radiation risks in the 1950s.


I think also in the modern context we overstate the danger of nuclear fallout from nuclear bombs because we think of plant meltdowns like Chernobyl and not actual nuclear bombs (which to be very clear, nukes are still terrifying)


Yeah, you actually get more fallout from an uncontained meltdown than a nuke at ground level, by a really high margin. (Which should make sense - modern thermonuclear warheads are in the hundreds of kilogram range including explosives, electronics, and casings while a reactor at a power plant will generally contain a hundred tons of uranium alone.)

For example, you can visit the Trinity test site with no protective equipment, and the glass the ground turned into isn't incredibly radioactive. Compare to the area around Chernobyl's reactor #4.


Hiroshima and Nagasaki are also very much populated today.


People just came from a global war that eradicated 3% of the global population. The danger of radiation seemed very tiny in comparison.


WW2 was 13 years before. And some of those 3% were in fact killed by nukes and radiation and fallout.

I have to ask gramps for the truth.


> WW2 was 13 years before.

9/11 was 19 years ago which killed "only" a few thousand yet the event's influence is still felt. In fact, we still feel WW2's influence today. Or the influence of the US civil war if I look at current conflicts :/.


If by "some of" you mean "~0.025% of that 3%", sure.


If you work off estimates of around 75 million people killed in WWII and 150,000 deaths in Hiroshima and Nagasaki it's 0.2% of the dead were due to atomic bombings. Basically 1 in 500.


Compared to estimated 100.000 deaths in a single conventional incident (operation Meetinghouse, the bombing of Tokyo in March 1945), this didn't stand out particularly.


I think I misplaced a decimal point...


At least you tried to do some basic math unlike 99% percent of the people on HN.


Some of those investigations were more than theoretical, as the Jicarilla Apache well know: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_Gasbuggy


Ah there it is. If someone hadn't linked to the fracking-with-nuclear-weapons project I was going to post it.

Fun pic of it here: https://twitter.com/whatisnuclear/status/1107498549074264065...

Source: This 370-page book called Plowshare; a selected, annotated bibliography of the civil, industrial, and scientific uses for nuclear explosions, compiled by Robert G. West [and] Robert C. Kelly.

https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=mdp.39015095076132&vi...


Straight out of the fallout universe


Think of all the insanely stupid decisions that were actually made in the 1950’s. Things probably wouldn’t be that much different today if they went through with this one.


"While ultimately nuclear weapons were never used for construction projects"

That's arguably untrue. Nuclear bombs were secretly placed under several high profile US skyscrapers for eventual demolition. Chicago Sears Tower, World Trade Towers 1 + 2 and such. Times were different then.


What? Do you have any source for that?


I said secretly, so the sources are of course hidden. They will never show you the cellar blueprints, and will never confirm why they demolished the three WTC towers this way. But it started with Sears, and worked for WTC. Question is if they would demand it for future such skyscrapers, as they saw the radiation problems with the WTC. Could not touch it for 10 years. A more conventional destruction would be better nowadays, but those were the days in the construction business.


Do you have a source for that?


> “A-blasts will mine ore now inaccessible, and recover oil locked in shale. Subterranean atomic bombs will drive electric power plants. Underground reservoirs dug with nuclear bombs will make deserts bloom. And the atom’s might power will make child’s play of colossal earth-moving feats, to dig harbors, dredge channels, and build great canals.”

How exactly is the State not evil?

There are/were Aboriginal/Indigenous [1] people there for millennia and they knew that, then again that didn't stop them from destroying the lives of the People of the Marshall Islands [2], either with this headlong pursuit to use this technology if given the chance.

1: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alaska_Natives

2: https://www.latimes.com/projects/marshall-islands-nuclear-te...


Well to the credit of the US and USSR they did get stopped eventually. Total madness while it lasted though.




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