Test results from nuclear stimulation of oil and gas reservoirs

Hmmm! Well, the tone of some the comments on my last post--dealing with nuclear development of oil shale, both recently and when I initially posted it on The Oil Drum helps illustrate one of the points that I want to make in this, a continuation in the posts on oil shale. The tone was quite negative, in general, with a number of folk being disturbed at my even bringing it up. It points to the fact that, as a political reality (bearing in mind that I try to stick to technical matters in this series) the use of nuclear adjustment to the local geology is not likely going to be popular.

As tstreet noted after the original post, there is an article in the Colorado Constitution (article XXVI) that he helped put in there.

Section 1. Nuclear detonations prohibited exceptions. No nuclear explosive device may be detonated or placed in the ground for the purpose of detonation in this state except in accordance with this article. (Adopted by the People, November 5, 1974. Effective upon proclamation of the Governor, December 20, 1974.)

Section 2. Election required. Before the emplacement of any nuclear explosive device in the ground in this state, the detonation of that device shall first have been approved by the voters through enactment of an initiated or referred measure authorizing that detonation, such measure having been ordered, proposed, submitted to the voters, and approved as provided in section 1 of article V of this constitution. (Adopted by the People, November 5, 1974 Effective upon proclamation of the Governor, December 20, 1974.)

While I did not know about that as I initially planned this series, I had intended just to point out that the unhappiness of just one Senator with a nuclear program (and I was thinking of Senator Reid and Yucca Mountain) can delay and ultimately kill its implementation. In this case it is likely that there would be at least eight senators opposing, and I think the point is made. However, since I do think it is useful for folk to know these things, I thought I would continue with the rest of the story from a technical point of view. Particularly since the use of nuclear energy for excavation has recently been revisited by WIRED magazine.

Following the debates about the potential benefits that might occur from the use of nuclear explosives, it was decided to see if it would work in three test detonations, that were given the names Gasbuggy, Rulison and Rio Blanco.

The Gasbuggy shot, in 1967, used a 29 KT device at a depth of a 4,240 ft deep shaft, and created a cavity that was 80 ft wide and 335 ft tall, when one included the chimney. It also fractured the light shale around the opening. Anticipated dimensions were 165 ft with a 350 ft chimney.

The Rulison shot, in 1969, used a 43 KT device at a depth of 8,426 ft. It produced a cavity that was 152 ft wide, with a fracture zone that extends some 200 ft into the surrounding sandstone. (Predicted size was 160 ft with a 300 ft chimney). It is interesting to note that contractors have sought to drill near that shot, in order to extract gas from the shale. They were initially restricted to drilling no closer than half a mile. That was back in 2004, but interest in drilling at the site has continued. In the latest development, Noble Energy Production is planning on drilling some 78 wells near the site, with DOE apparently having plans to drill closer than the half-mile imposition, though the wells planned in this case are all more than 1.5 miles from the site. The County Commissioners are not amused. And, lest there be some concern for gas released at the time, let me quote from the article.

All the gas freed by the nuclear blast was produced and burned off at the surface, Bennetts said. The radioactivity at the site wasn't high to begin with, and since has decreased to below background levels, he said.

The blast formed a sealed cavity underground, according to state and federal authorities. "Even if you drilled a well into that cavity again, there's very little radioactivity remaining to be produced," Bennetts said.

There was some measure of the gas produced

Following the blast, in 1970 and 1971, the companies burned off, or "flared," 430 million cubic feet of gas into the open sky. The commission said that the level of radioactivity in the air surrounding the site did not exceed normal background levels.

Rio Blanco, shot in 1973, was made up of a series of 3 30-KT devices stacked up the shaft, at a depth of 7,000 ft, with the devices actually at 5,840; 6,230 and 6,670 ft. Each device created a cavity that was some 120 ft in diameter, and about 250 ft high. (Against predictions of a 140 ft diameter with a 300 ft chimney.) Fractures from the explosions extended about 200 ft into the rock around the shaft.

The production of gas from the shots was reported to be less than had been anticipated and the levels of radiation higher, so that while the volume of gas that could have been collected "would have been commercially viable," that only held true had the gas been uncontaminated. It was not.

Interestingly there have also been tests of this technology in the Former Soviet Union and when I wrote about gas fires in Turkmenistan there was a comment by Syndroma who posted pictures of devices, which I am reposting here. Also noting

As to extinguishing of gas fountains: 1 in Turkmenistan, 2 in Uzbekistan, 1 in Ukraine (objective not achieved). Also in Ukraine, there was 0.3 kt explosion to alter the geology of coal mine, to make it safer for the miners. Objective achieved. Later, coal was extracted up to 70 meters from the chamber. No excess radioactivity detected.

Of ~150 peaceful explosion only 4 turned out "nasty" (contamination of the surface).

Soviet weapons that could be used in gas and oil well stimulation (from Wonderful Russia via Syndroma)

Syndroma also posted pictures of the result of three shots to generate a trench which I am also moving here. This was the model of the crater:

And this was the resulting crater that was achieved.

Results of the excavation when 3 nuclear devices were used to excavate a trench in the Soviet Union (Syndroma) (You can see the site on Google Earth at 61 18 16.93, 56 35 55.77)

There is more information on the Soviet Program here.

However our purpose is to look at the development of reserves and their contribution to the marketplace within the foreseeable future--particularly within the next fifteen years, when we can assume that the shortages of supply will become evident, it can, I think, be realistically assumed that there can be no use of nuclear devices to enhance oil shale recovery out West.

At the same time, the toughness of the rock and its strength and behavior under mechanical attack make machine mining of the shale a likely impracticality on a sufficient scale to produce perhaps much more than 100,000 barrels a day within that time frame. That judgment on my part is based also on the need to regenerate the capital for the program, reconstruct the facilities and get through all the necessary paperwork.

There are alternate methods for mining the material, including those that are used in conventional metal mining of large-scale surface and underground deposits. However, the mining of something that can generate high levels of potentially explosive gases, if very large scale fracturing and blasting is undertaken, creates levels of risk that will make development of such plans a lengthy process if carried out underground. The mining of Gilsonite for example, was only realistically achieved when the hydrocarbon was mined using high pressure waterjets. But the strength of the oil shale makes the conventional use of that technique impractical - even if it were allowable, which is conjectural.

With these prospects being diminished, the only likely potential for oil shale to have a significant impact in the next fifteen years is likely to be either through some smaller scale in-situ retorting or possibly through a surface mining approach. I will discuss these in the next two posts on the subject.

I had to Post when i reached this part...

nuclear adjustment to the local geology is not likely going to be popular

no kidding :-)

I'll read the rest now

the use of nuclear adjustment to the local geology population is not likely going to be popular

There --fixed it for ya!

Ha! Good one. Indeed, nuclear *anything* is a hard sell. I'm still wondering why we haven't seen an article on Yankee Nuclear in Vermont here on TOD? Nuclear energy--tough luck for those who live near nuclear plants, waste, 'functional' facilities. Nothing but fun! Whatever it takes to keep my computer running without me having to pedal.

It is interesting that a mere double handfull of Eskimos who just happened to tape record meetings stopped all such nuclear adjustments in their remote homeland. Project Chariot was a little piece of Operation Plowshare. The big idea was a sea level canal through Panama. Chariot was a pilot project set in northwest Alaska--the plan was to nuke excavate a harbor which was supposed to jack up the resource extraction and export business in the region. Data and experience from Chariot were to be used to sell the sea level canal project. Teller was its biggest champion.

'The Firecracker Boys' by Dan O'Neill does a decent job of laying the whole project out from conception to the AEC announcing that Project Chariot would be "held in abeyance." It has never been formally canceled.

So, we're basically talking about super-fracing here, right? I'd be curious to see the EROI...

The US Government lost any possibility for future credibility with regard to above or below ground nuclear detonations after lying to the citizenry of the states of Utah, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado about the safety and possible risks consequent to those blasts conducted in Nevada during the 1950's and early 60's. Thousands died of various cancers related to radiation exposure. For years the Fed's denied any connection between their nuclear testing program and these deaths, but, finally they lost out and agreed to compensation for victims or their survivors in some cases. Uranium Miners were also allowed compensation under this same settlement. Many of the miners were Navajo men and claims have never been made for them (see "Downwinders").

As a youngster, most of the milk I drank had come from cows pastured on grass that had been dusted with radioactive fallout from the Nevada testing. The government knew this, but we were not told. We were all either guinea pigs, or were counted under the column of acceptable loss.

One of the champions for victim compensation was Utah's Governor Scott Matheson. He was born in and grew up in Iron County, in southwestern Utah where it is estimated that well over 10% of the population suffered from radiation related cancers. The county's population during the testing was 9,900. The government, to date has settled some 950 claims from Iron County alone. Governor Matheson died in 1990, the same year the government agreed to claims settlement. He died of a radiation related cancer.

In my opinion, there is no chance that a below ground nuclear detonation will ever take place in our part of the world again. Animosity toward the government is still strong and no one would believe that human life and welfare would not again be at risk. Best from the Fremont

Do you have data on the incidence of cancer in upwinders? Are you familiar with the techniques used by Eugene Sternglass to study downwinders? How do you know what caused Governer Matheson's cancer?

Committee on Environmental Hazards, American Academy of Pediatrics, April 15, 1970

“Significant time and energy have been devoted to evaluating the papers and conclusions of Dr. Sternglass. Evaluation of the data has convinced the committee that his conclusions are completely unfounded and unsubstantiated. The Sternglass hypothesis can be criticized for these reasons:
“He has selected data to prepare his hypothesis without considering the far more extensive data that do not support it. In particular, his conclusions conflict with the results of a sophisticated study concerning the offspring of atomic-bomb survivors in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Several assumptions on which Sternglass’ hypothesis rests have been shown to be erroneous.
“He has misinterpreted some information in seeking support for his thesis from other studies.
“Animal experiments concerned with chronic irradiation delivered at a much higher dose rate than that delivered by fallout radiation, and in some instances for many generations, do not increase fetal or infant mortality.”

“Dr. Sternglass’ concern about nuclear warfare and fallout is shared by all. By misinterpreting the available data and subjecting himself and science in general to ridicule or suspicion, he may inadvertently be hampering the attainment of some of the goals he considers important. The committee shared his concern but not his methodology or conclusions.”
William R. Hendlee, review of the book "Deadly Deceit: Low-Level Radiation, High-Level Cover-Up," Journal of the Health Physics Society, December 1990, 59(6)

“Many of the allegations in this book have been discredited several times over. For example, the National Center for Health Statistics reports that the age-adjusted U.S. mortality rate actually dropped to an all-time low in 1986. The Connecticut Department of Public Health has been unable to identify any cancer increases near the Millstone facility, and the Pennsylvania Department of Health has detected no health effects other than psychological stress resulting from the Three Mile Island accident. But these conclusions do not seem to deter the authors.”

Paul Meier, “Sly Statistics,” review of the book “Deadly Deceit: Low-Level Radiation, High-Level Cover-Up,” The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, September 1990

“In essence, Sternglass followed an old and discredited style of epidemiological analysis, unsystematically selecting data sets and analyses that fit one’s thesis, and ignoring or explaining away other findings. Public health data are so rife with selection biases and other distortions that even the most experienced practitioners often go astray. Epidemiology is not a field for amateurs.”

Robert Wilson,

I'm just an "...old broke up cowboy" out here in the weeds. I don't know a Sternglass from a wineglass. I guess Sternglass was a Doctor, but, I sure as hell don't know what the Doctors methods were, although I understand his conclusions favored the claims of the Downwinders. What I do know is in 1990 Congress passed The Radiation Exposure Compensation Act providing $50,000 per person compensation to "Downwinders" who later suffered from a specific radiation related cancer or other related disease.

In 1981 Republican Senator, Orin Hatch introduced an early version of the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act, co-sponsored by Senator Dennis DeConcini of Arizona. Hatch's statement at the time was......"A great wrong was committed by the Federal Government in exposing thousands of Americans to radioactive fallout while simultaneously conducting a massive campaign to assure the public that no danger existed...We must make sure that it does not happen again, and make certain that those who have suffered...will receive just compensation". With passage of the Radiation Exposure Act in 1990, Senator Hatch commented "...The government did lie to them and frankly we proved it". The act was expanded in 1999 and 2000.

About the death of Governor Matheson in 1990. He counted as a victim under the provisions and requirements of the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act, at least that is my understanding and what has been reported in the media.

Best from the Fremont where cool desert breezes waft through the Pinon, Sage, and Rabbit Brush

" 'Mid the Sagebrush and the Cactus,
I'll watch the fellas practise
Dropping bombs in the cool desert breeze;

I'll have on my Sombero,
and of course I'll wear a pair-0
Levi's, over my Lead BVD's ..

.. cuz the Wild West is Where I wanna be!" - Tom Lehrer

--I appreciate your comments. Sternglass was a physicist. I once spent an evening with him over dinner and drinks after a Roentgen Ray Society meeting in Atlanta. I wanted to discuss epidemiology. He wanted to discuss the holocaust. It was an interesting evening.
--Lawsuits are sometimes settled to save money or for other reasons. Settlements do not necessarily prove guilt.
--I do not believe that there are "specific" radiation related cancers or other diseases resulting from low level radiation.
--I do not consider every statement made by a Republican Senator to be a scientifically established fact.
--This remains an important issue as does the future production of oil.

Senator DeConcini, co-sponser with Hatch, was a Democrat. Best from the Fremont

Thanks Robert. As usual in these sorts of things I suspect causation has been dramatically overplayed. Of course the downwinders will almost certainly believe the worst case scenarios proposed by activists, thats simply the way human psychology of fear works. So clearly PR-wise the well has been hopelessly poisoned. It is notable about the nuclear NG in the article, that it was unacceptable to market even the uncontaiminated gas. I think that speaks volumes for the ability to use nuclear explosives to produce anything, the public simply won't accept it, regardless of the facts. A similar thing happened with the Silicon breast implants, Dow Corning was bankrupted, but the epidemiology showed no causation.

So, we're basically talking about super-fracing here, right? I'd be curious to see the EROI...

It would probably be horrible, given the infrastructure and effort involved in concentrating bomb-grade uranium. But that argument doesn't go far anyway, whatever one thinks of nukes - there are thousands of them sitting around already with no good purpose.

Using surplus warheads as reactor fuel — 'Megatons to Megawatts' — seems like the better option.

Using surplus warheads as reactor fuel — 'Megatons to Megawatts' — seems like the better option.

Of course you can't use the fusion booster (which I think accounts for most of the yield) for reactor fuel. But I like the concept anyway, anything to reduce the inventory of N weapons ought to be a win.

The tests listed here were using uranium fission bombs with tiny yields. Put an H bomb down a hole this size, with 1,000 times the yield,
and watch the mushroom cloud from a very large distance...

Well I don't know Amchitka had a few buried blasts, the biggest of which was about 400 times the size of Hiroshima. That one certainly shook things up and produced enough subsidence and faulting to create a new mile plus wide lake, but I have not read anything of a mushroom cloud.

Given that most of the west is essentially desert and gets most its drinking and agricultural water from aquifers, what would happen to the water supply? 78% of South Dakota gets its water from aquifer supplies and the number is even higher in Colorado and Wyoming.

Don't forget the cleanup costs.

The Gasbuggy Site, located approximately 88 kilometers (55 miles) east of Farmington, New Mexico, was the location of a single subsurface nuclear test in December 1967. The purpose of the test was to determine whether or not nuclear explosions would stimulate release of natural gas not recoverable by conventional methods. This test was the first joint government-industry gas stimulation experiment. The Gasbuggy site includes radioactive contamination of the deep bedrock around the shot cavity, contamination of the bedrock from the injection of tritiated water, possible surface contamination from the gas flaring and decontamination activities, and near-surface hazardous waste contamination from the closed mud pits. Ground water was the most likely transport medium for the deep contamination. The cleanup strategy at the Gasbuggy site included characterizing ground-water flow and area of contamination, assessing risk, and modeling contaminant movement away from the shot cavities. The focus was on tritium, since it was the most mobile of the potential radiological contaminants. As for long-term stewardship, DOE will be responsible for maintaining institutional controls over the residual subsurface contamination at the site. In FY 2007, Legacy Management will take responsibility for this site.

I wouldn't worry about deep contamination with Tritium. It has a fairly short half life, and is unlikely to make up to the surface before it dacays. It also has a rather weak decay, with the energy released being only around a thousand electron volts -most radiative decays produce million electron volts, so Tritium decays is several hundreds of times less energetic.

"the use of nuclear adjustment to the local geology is not likely going to be popular."

And would make Kafka blush. Hey, maybe it is time to quit taking things so seriously, as it seems we are the end of this ride.

Isn't 'adjustment' one of the codewords for 'You're Fired'?

What's a better word for 'Euphemism'?

... wah.

It is not difficult to find information on the dangers of coal mining, off shore oil drilling, windmills or even dams. Unfortunately wasted energy provides us with pleasure and comfort. I suspect that energy will continue to be wasted until it is no longer affordable.


This is a little off-topic but how about drilling the deepest hole possible (10-20 miles ??) in a stable geological area, then lower and detonate a nuclear device, and use the resulting chamber as a repository for waste from nuclear power plants? If it is deep enough then you don't have to worry about leaks and container deterioration. I am sure this has been proposed, but what are the arguments against it?

hh -- A couple of factors. Drilling to just 30,000' in rather soft rock can cost $200 million. Drill to 50,000' to 100,000'? Not physically possible. And to drill just 30,000' in the type of hard rock counry you're talking about? Just a very WAG but probably pushing $1 billion. But that's not the real problem. Set a nuke off in hard rock at 50,000' and what type of a chamber might you get? What ever it is it won't last more than a millisecond. At that depth the rock pressure would be 500,000 lbs/sq inch. Or another way of looking at it: how would you contruct a building that would withstand havng a 50,000' tall pile of rocks placed on top of it?

There has been the idea put forth to drill holes roughly 3 miles deep at or near nuke plant sites as a way of disposing of nuke waste. A pipe of 12" diameter could hold over 5000 cubic feet of material. The depleted pellets would by vitrified and lowered to the bottom mile of the hole and 2 miles of concrete poured on top of it. This would place the radio active material far below ground water levels. There would also be no need to transport materials across thousands of miles for storage at a single site.

Thomas -- A 12" hole that's 5280 long has a volume of 4,146 cf if I did the math right. Close enough to your 5,000 cf. A granular material would have porosity around 25% so the available pellet volume would be about 3,100 cf. Now the big question for which I don't have a clue: how much pellet volume would your typical plant produce per year? If the economics work then why not?

Like the Second Law and perpetual motion machines, the nuclear issue has this predicament -- a half life of 250,000 years (or is it 500,000, I can never remember). Where are you going to put this waste? And if you do have a place, why has it taken so long?

--A half life of 500,000 or 250,000 years would indicate that not much of the radiation is given off in any one year. Below is a link to information on half lives including that of the radioactive potassium in your blood. As to the last question; radiation hysteria might be a factor. It will be interesting to see what happens when this hysteria meets energy deprivation hysteria.


So, why do they transport it in lead, if it is so benign, and keep people from being exposed? Do you want it stored in your community?
Inquiring minds want to know---
A few molecules of Plutonium, if inhaled, are fatal.
Don't we need a reality check here?
And it lasts how long? And we still haven't found a place to store tones of this waste?
I'm not opposed to nuclear, but I think we need to solve some problems first-I'm sure they are not insurmountable.
Am I missing something?

Hi, Trekker,

Personally I do recognize the realities of nuclear proliferation and contamination, and if I thought it were politically possible to change our ways,and our lifestyles, and put the nuclear genie back in his bottle, I would be in favor.

As a realist however, I estimate the possibility of doing so approaches zero if not quite in the mathematical sense, at least in the sense of actually being an achievable short term goal.But nuclear power , like religions, is here to stay, and a modest amount of intellectual honesty in discussing the problem will go a long way.

We don't have nuclear storage facilities for the same reason we don't have a lot of other things -a relatively small group of people has been able to manipulate public opinion and the politics of the issue to such an extent that none has been built.Whether such storage might actually be safe and durable for the time frame it needs to last is a seperate question.

A similar argument concerning the costs and desirability of capital punishment is often made by the foes of that practice-they expound endlessly on the cost of executing someone, even to "explaining" that it is cheaper to keep a person locked up in a secure prison for maybe twenty or thirty years or even longer,at an annual cost of several tens of thousands of dollars.

Of course they rather conveniently fail to mention that an actual execution need cost only a pittance-it's thier strategy of keeping the cases in court for decades, with endless appeals, that causes the extraordinary expense.

Incidentally, I am in favor of capital punishment, but only in cases where there is incontrovertible physical evidence of guilt.I am quite aware that more than a few men have paid for with thier lives for crimes they did not commit.

My estimate of day to day reality is that we might as well face up to the fact that nuclear power, like nuclear weapons, is here to stay, and get on with some sort of storage-perhaps the stored materials will have to be dug up some day, and the job done over again, if burial is the choice of storage methods.

As a realist, my personal guess is that the anti nuclear movement has, on balance, put the world in a position of increased net overall danger-Lots of wars that yet will be will be fought over diminishing supplies of fossil fuels.

A country such as France, with a strong nuclear indusrty, has a great deal fewer reasons to start such a war than a country dependent upon such sources of energy.

Of course the nuclear industry itself may prove to be only a stop gap-if some sort of breeder reactors can't be brought into widespread use, we might only postpone the inevitable by a few decades or centuries.

Plutonium-239 has a half-life of 24,100 years, short enough to be significantly radioactive but long enough to be around for a while. It's not "benign" but don't overstate the danger. A physicist once famously challenged Ralph Nader, offering to eat as much plutonium as Nader was willing to eat caffeine.

The right solution to plutonium is to keep it in the reactor till it's consumed. The overwhelming bulk of the resulting fission products have half-lives less than 30 years.

We had a County Commissioner down here when I was a youngster. It was during the height of our uranium boom after Charlie Steen struck it rich over out of Moab. His name was Black, as I recall and he wanted no part of that nonsense that radiation could be harmful. So, he wore a chunk of Yellowcake around his neck as Catholics wear a crucifix, and sprinkled a little high grade ore on his mush every morning at breakfast. The press had a lot of fun with him. He died in his mid fifties, of, you guessed it, cancer. Connection? How the hell should I know.....I'm not an epidemiologist. Best from the Fremont

Fremont-I spent 50 years working in a high radiation environment. Among other things this included handling high gamma radium needles and radioactive isotopes, holding children and uncooperative adults for x-ray and fluroscopic examinations, and some work with primitive equipment. To the best of my knowledge I am cancer free. Did my radiation exposure protect me from cancer. I don't know. I do know that this is not the type of question that an epidemiologist would address. As a general rule they do not deal with anecdotal data.
--My parents died from cancer. Neither worked with radiation

Sorry, anecdotes is all I got. Best from the Fremont

Bill Woods
--The physicist was Bernard Cohen. Nader did not accept his offer. Dr. Cohen was publishing mostly in physics and other general scientific journals. I once spent a Saturday morning in his Pittsburgh office suggesting that he write an article for one of the major peer-reviewed radiology journals. See reference #9 below.
-- If memory serves the number of deaths from inhalation of plutonium in the US during the past 70 years is between 2 and 4. Like many chemicals and biologicals, plutonium should be handled with care.


IIRC, small amounts of plutonium are used in smoke detectors outside of the US, just as Americium 241 is used in smoke detectors here - both work and save lives. Outside of the court of public opinion, when only the facts are weighed, there are worse things, toxicity wise, than plutonium. Interestingly, it is theoretically possible to make a nuclear bomb out of Americium 241, critical mass is supposed to be something like 200 lbs., it is quite radioactive. I'm surprised no one has thought of what happens when a smoke detector is burned at a trash incinerator.

What would give you the idea that no-one thinks of that? People DO think about the small radioactive waste products in consumer goods.. but their time is usually taken up worrying about the BIG sources of Nuclear Waste, and the power-players who are pushing hard today to get more of them going again. First things first.

Small, contained Identified components that hold a known compound are hardly the same as proposing an energy extraction method that involves regular nuclear detonations underground, with the obscured siting of the resulting effects, and mixed motives of the parties who might be engaged in these ventures, trying to contain the byproducts of these explosions in an environment far too large for us to have any real control over.

Handwaving these worries away because of some Glow-in-the-dark watches and Smoke detectors is not going to win many converts, I have to say.

A large amount of people make the individual choice to place what essentially is high level waste within their home. That is a salient point I would say. The amount of high level waste is a political issue, not a physical issue. After 40 years of nuclear power the amount of high level waste is still, relative to the amount of toxic waste out there, quite small. Spent fuel rods are still stored at the site of the reactors after decades of operation and I can tell you first hand they do not take up all that much space. I have worked beside dry casks of spent rods and felt a whole lot more comfortable than I have when working at toxic waste dumps that receive a whole lot less attention from the public. Peoples' time would be better spent worrying about what is really poisoning them.
I do find it curious that a tritium leak is targeted when nothing is said about the lack of an effective disposal program for smoke detectors. Most are tossed into the trash at the end of their life and regulators know this. I feel incinerated smoke detectors are more of a risk than stored fuel rods, which will be reburned at some point anyway - 95% of the rods power potential is still there. current plants burn fuel inefficiently.

Speaking of glow in the dark watches--anecdotally the mother of a friend of mine worked in a Chicago area factory where they dabbed luminous paint on clock dials with little paint brushes. The girls were having trouble getting the brushes to work right unless they were first moistened. The simple solution--have the girls lick the paint brushes in between dips into the luminous paint. My friend's mother died from cancer before any of her daughters were ten.

Because the the Radium Girls tended to lick their paintbrushes while painting radium on the dials on the watches, they developed a condition known as radium jaw , which included osteonecrosis of the jaw, bleeding of the gums, and bone tumors. Many of them died.

It's similar to phossy jaw , which the Match Girls developed from putting white phosphorus on match heads. Occupational health standards were not high in those days.

Luke H
As you are probably aware this occurred during the 1920's The chronic localized concentration of radium produced extraordinary doses.

The 1920s wasn't the end of it. Regulation tended to be local and didn't move west quickly. In 1917 Radium Dial Company started in Chicago. It moved to Peru IL in 1920 and then to Ottawa IL in 1922. Its luminous paint called 'Luna' was made of phosphorus and radium and painted onto Westclox clock dials. Radium Dial had to pay damages on several personal injury suits in the mid 1930s and went bankrupt, but its former president Joseph Kelly Jr. opened Luminous Processes Inc. a couple blocks away in 1934 and took over Radium's business and employees. The new company employed most of the same work and manufacturing practices the belly up company had used. Finally in 1978 after the NRC shut the facility down, Luminous Processes packed all their gear and shipped it to Georgia immediately. By that time I don't think radium was any longer used, but the company still was sloppy with its radioactive materials. Here is a link to some Superfund info on the former factory sites.

There is a chance that the licking paint brushes part had melded into my friend's memory by the time she told me about her mother near 20 years after she had lost her. The practice might not have been part of the work regimen by then, but then again it may have persisted. The girls were told until the end that radium was not dangerous. Standards for handling the materials didn't appear until the early 1940s and they were quite liberal, the Navy was setting the standards and threatened their radium expert, Robley Evans, with induction if he didn't produce a 'tolerance level' . The military needed lots of luminous instrument faces. There are even persistent rumors that some materials for the Manhattan Project were handled by that Luminous.

Keep up the good work on technology. Don't be discouraged by ignorant emotional objections to your posts. Ignorance can surely not be the best policy.

Thank you.

I don't see any objections to HO's posts in these forum comments. I think all agree HO's work has always been informative and well done.
Best from the Fremont

...there is an article in the Colorado Constitution (article XXVI)...

So? I live in Colorado, and am pleased that the article is there, but there's a legal pecking order and any federal statute that passes US constitutional muster trumps any provision in a state constitution. Suppose enough of the rest of the states decide that oil shale is the answer and in-situ nuclear retorting the preferred method. Congress passes the bill, exempts it from review by lower courts, the President signs it, the DOE drills the well and prepares to detonate the device.

For simplicity, let's assume that the whole thing is happening on federal land (plenty of federal land with oil shale up in that corner of the state). Colorado sues in the US Supreme Court. What provision of the US Constitution does the explosion violate? Seriously -- I don't see the Supreme Court getting gung ho about states' rights to control actions taken by the federal government on federal land.

I admit to being a pessimist on this subject -- I expect the 14 states from the Rockies to the Pacific will eventually get screwed by the states east of them over energy resources, it's only a matter of which resources and the timing. Harry Reid's battle against opening Yucca Mountain has been largely based on keeping enough Senators together with the argument that "if they can screw Nevada, they can screw your state too." I expect that tactic to eventually fail.

States rights are getting brought to the forefront in more ways than one. In reality, States rights will eventually be the downfall of the criminal federal gov. as we know it.

Sooner the better !!......


""" HB95 includes this principle, and if passed, would impose penalties for violations of the law:

Any official, agent or employee of the United States government who enforces or attempts to enforce any act, order, law, statute, rule or regulation of the United States government upon a personal firearm, a firearm accessory or ammunition that is manufactured commercially or privately in Wyoming and that remains exclusively within the borders of Wyoming shall be guilty of a felony and, upon conviction, shall be subject to imprisonment for not more than two (2) years, a fine of not more than ten thousand dollars ($10,000.00), or both.

All across the country, activists and state-legislators are pressing for similar legislation, to nullify specific federal laws within their states.

A proposed Constitutional Amendment to effectively ban national health care will go to a vote in Arizona in 2010, and the Virginia Senate recently passed a similar bill, which now awaits action from the state house."""

sounds like you can't wait for another Civil War. The last one sure was fun.


What about neutron explosions?

A pure fusion device (or as close as can be created) would be the cleanest way to go about it - but we still have to deal with radiation hysteria. Facts don't seem to matter much to people who don't understand either epidemiology or physics! Or don't want to take the time to understand the subjects - it takes a while.

Facts seemed pretty unimportant to the owners of Vermont Yankee, too, until they ultimately had to admit that there WERE underground pipes that were leaking.

Yes. It takes a while.

Vermont Yankee's issues have been known for a long time. Tritium is not a big deal, I've worn it on my wrist. The issue is whether anything else is being released with the tritium. The larger issue is that the public does not understand that even Vermont Yankee displaces an equivalent amount of coal power that has been repeatedly proven to release a whole lot more radioactivity, release a lot of particulate pollutants that kill a lot of people yearly, release mercury that has been associated with developmental issues in our children, cause environmental destruction from mining far in excess of that of uranium mining, and has been strongly implicated in the global CO2 rise. Physics and epidemiology - study them.

In this case, my point was that Entergy was continually denying that they even HAD underground piping, when they DID, and it was the source of the leaks..

If they're lying about that.. what else is going on with them? Did they or their supporters help create the studies that proved their 'cleanliness' ? Exxon hasn't been above such pranks to disprove climate change ..

Entergy executives testified under oath that they had no underground pipes. And then I discovered—in my role as a contractor to the state legislature, I discovered that there really were underground pipes. I wrote to Entergy, and I said, “Do we have a misunderstanding here?” And they wrote back, “No, there’s no underground pipes.” That was last year; that was in August of last year.

Then I testified twice to the legislature in October. I told them there’s really underground pipes here, and we were mistaken when we wrote to you. And again, Entergy did nothing. And then, of course, in January, the pipe leaked, and it was obvious that there really were underground pipes.


Corporate Ethics. Study that.

??? How can you not have underground pipes when your reactor vessel is 55 feet underground??? Something is not making sense here. The containment dome everyone looks at just contains a polar crane, steam generators, etc.
Anyway, I agree re corporate ethics.

GreenPlease is curious for EROEI So am I

Any chance HO? For any and all of the extraction techniques of oil from shale.

PO deniers keep saying there's billions of barrels of oil in The States.

But is there? It's no good to us if we can't get it out economically (in an energy sense) or it will cost $1,000 pb to extract.

I wouldn't expect there to be any EROEI analysis available on this particular technique - as EROEI analysis is conceptually recent. However, to the extant that EROEI is reflected in economic feasibility (and to some extant it is), HO provided some support in his last post that this method was considered economically viable back in the 60's. Since then fuel enrichment has become orders of magnitude more efficient. Politics, environmental and global warming issues aside, it appears to me that this is the most cost effective way to produce shale oil conceivable.

I don't believe you can use the data from the 60s as regards feasibility. One question I haven't seen addressed is where are all the nuclear devices going to come from?? Currently the USA has around 4,500 nuclear devices.


with no plans or easily feasible method of making more. In fact the US is in the last stage of phasing out most all of it's nuclear devices.

The reason for no longer being able to use the 1960s data is back then the US had more than 32,000 nuclear warheads and bombs.

We simply don't seem to have the capacity or capability to use this technique to get at shale oil.

Next idea???!!

with no plans or easily feasible method of making more

So... b/c we currently don't have "plans" to make more, it's impossible? I don't get the logic here. If it was "feasible" with 1950s and 60's era technology, it's clearly feasible today. The reason our nuclear stockpiles have diminished today is b/c of test ban and weapons treaties we signed with the old Soviet Unions and the other nuclear powers in past decades. There's nothing physically stopping us --or our allies-- from making more if we choose to do so.

I said "easily feasible".

Sure the technology is well known but the US after a lot of discussion stopped making nuclear weapons in 1989.

"Much of the original nuclear weapons manufacturing infrastructure has been dismantled, and the focus of the remaining nuclear infrastructure has shifted to maintaining and extending the life of the remaining weapons, as well as dismantling surplus weapons."


The days of making nuclear weapons is over. Even if someone wanted to start making nuclear warheads for getting oil out of shale, it's not going to happen for decades, if ever.

Next idea??

PO deniers keep saying there's billions of barrels of oil in The States.

The US produces about 5million barrels per day, so in less then thirty weeks we use up a billion barrels of domestic reserves. So obviously there are many many billions. To make a real dent in the situations we would have to find hundreds of billions. The denialists simply play to the innumeracy of the population (and the fact that many discoveries of mainly natural gas are reported as barrels of oil equivalent).

EROEI What will it be?

I meant to infer the US has billions of barrels of oil in shale oil. In other words the PO deniers feel our oil security is guaranteed for a hundred years or more.

Add in the 170 bbl in Canadian tar sands and the argument looks OK.

It just seems to me that the shale play will be prohibitive in energy and dollar costs. But I aint paying for it (unless I am still driving my 5.4 kw V8, and by then I won't be) and neither will private companies (Exon etc). But the US government will.

If EROEI is too negative, then future governments (and future could be in 10 years) have to decide how vital oil is to national security and eat the negative EROEI and EROI. I am convinced that future governments will do this, IF they can afford it.

PO deniers keep saying there's billions of barrels of oil in The States.

But is there?

There is. In fact, the US has over 19 billion barrels of proven reserves remaining. Unfortunately, the US is burning through more than 5 billion barrels of oil per year.

Most of the oil the US consumes is imported, but there's no real guarantee that the rest of the world can continue to provide the 3+ billion barrels of oil the US cannot supply itself.

US oil production is currently about 2 billion barrels per year, but at that rate its proven reserves will last less than 10 years.

Fortunately, new oil is being found every year, but unfortunately not nearly at the rate it is being consumed.

Nice concise clarification--it seems one needs to be posted at fairly regular intervals--thanks for putting this one out there. By the way I read Sarah was down Calgary way bad mouthing Canadian health care--now that is rich.

I read Sarah was down Calgary way bad mouthing Canadian health care--now that is rich.

Interestingly, she revealed that when she lived in Skagway, Alaska, her family used to take the train to Whitehorse, Yukon, to get services from that inferior Canadian health care system she scoffs at.

That's 'our' girl, amazing you let her into your country ?- ) I wish you'd have kept her once you had her though. I actually voted for her in the gubernatorial primary. I was pretty mad at Gov. Murkowski for having appointed his daughter Lisa to fill the US Senate seat he had vacated-the Republican legislature-many of whom have since done or are doing time or are still under investigation long after having been turned out of office (it was an arrogant bunch and they were damned mad about one of them not going to DC as well)--had changed the law so the sitting Gov. Knowles wouldn't be able to make the appointment--term limits hadn't allowed him to run for another consecutive term. I really wish a bunch of us hadn't done that because our former Gov. Knowles would likely have beat sitting Gov. Murkowski and Sarah might now be running that horribly ugly little strip mall town of Wasilla again.

She really showed me her stuff answering questions during the gubernatorial candidate debates. They were all given the simple little question 'if you were to live anywhere else in Alaska besides where you live now where might that be?' That of course is just an opening so they candidates can reach out and connect with some of the diverse and far flung regions of the state. Sarah's answer 'Well I would just stay right here in the valley, its got everything you could ever want' or something to that effect. Now that expressed a broad world view :- (

Actually, she was quite popular. She has this tendency to start her mouth in motion without putting her brain in gear, and what comes out can be quite amusing. She isn't running for office here and none of the political parties have to pay any attention to her, so we can take it all with light hearted amusement.

However, if you are a politician this is not a good thing. In the US, I'm surprised the Republicans let her near a microphone, but I suppose they don't have a lot of choice.

Amusing and angering, and terrifying in one fell swoop is what you get when watching that whole scene play out this side of the border--'we' elected gw TWICE!!!

This would also be the fastest way to bring large amounts of shale oil capacity online, I would think.
The issue is not energy efficiency ie "lets burn the nuclear fuel in a reactor to make electricity" but rather the form the energy takes. We lack the infrastructure to power much of our civilization with electricity and will for quite some time. There is nothing available at this time that can replace the portability and power density of fossil fuel. My electric chainsaw doesn't cut it out in my back lot. So the choice may come down to shale oil or coal liquification. Pick one or the other, or do without. I'm working on the "do without" - it is not easy.
Also - fracturing rock by explosive is quite efficient - compare what 5 gallons of diesel can accomplish - well, actually it might get your heavy equipment to the work site. Then 20 gallons to do the work - to what 5 gallons of ANFO can accomplish. Same logic re nuclear explosives VS running mining equipment vie a nuclear power plant.

Geographically, the Green River Formation, where the "oil shales" are located, (Wyoming, Utah, and Colorado) is the watershed for the Green River, the Yampa River, and the Colorado River. There are smaller feeders, but not many. The Yampa joins the Green in Ladore Canyon and the Green joins the Colorado above Cataract Canyon. First stop is Lake Powell, then on through the Grand Canyon, to Lake Mead, and then, on to the deserts where the Colorado essentially disappears into the sand. The reason the mighty Colorado disappears is because there is little water left after it's waters have quenched the thirst of folks all along it's course and then waters the fields of California Vegetable Farmers. How are you going to tell all of these folks, we'd like to set nukes off in their watershed...., thousands of nukes?

Best Wishes from the Fremont, headed for the Muddy, Dirty Devil and then the Colorado.

Fremont, this is a good description of why this will probably never be done - what is politically possible can change quite a lot as the decades go by, but the importance of the watershed won't. I wonder what opinion will be in 15 years, though.

That's the key Seagatherer "the form the energy takes"

We will burn nuclear or hydroelectric or geothermal, whatever, to get oil.

Negative EROEI won't matter, at least for a while. Cost will eventually rule everybody out except the military, but well before this time the economy will have tanked completely

The worse the EROEI, the quicker it happens I suppose.

Seagatherer, given that this is true, as evidenced by the mining industry's widespread use of ANFO type explosives, could conventional explosives not be used for the shale?

Drill down deep, create a cavity at the bottom by some mechanical means, load with ANFO, plug, and fire. Then drill down the same hole, pull out as much spoil as possible, reload and repeat. After the first couple of anfo blasts, when you have a decent sized cavity, you could extract some gas, and then before the gas depletes completely, inject oxygen to mix with gas, and fire again. I'm sure the gas blast would not have the same flame speed and pressure as the ANFO, but eventually, your cavity would be too big to fill with anfo. But injecting oxygen would be cheap.

You have to remove spoil, but once your cavity is big enough, you then move your next anfo charge just above the top of the cavity, so the spoil is blasted into the open cavity below , and work your way up to the top of the oil shale formation. A similar technique is used for some hard rock metal mining, where they fill the bottom of the cavity with processed rock, drill up, blast, remove the ore and replace with processed rock and repeat.

Wouldn't have the power of a nuke but is totally clean. I have no idea about the economics of this though. But then our discussion here is about the technical side :)

If anyone asks for evidence that (a) the human race has lost its collective mind and (b) it has lost its collective responsibility to keep good stewardship of the only place known in the universe that said humans can inhabit I will offer this post.

Lessee ... take (thermo-) nuclear 'devices' (weapons) and use them to gain some gas/oil. For what, exactly? So fat people can slob their way to the corner store in their bloatmobiles in order to stuff their faces with some more sugary garbage for another year or two? So some billionaires can make some more money? So the current Glenn Beck/Sarah Palin/Newt Gingrich/Rush Limbaugh political system can perfect public corruption to an even unimaginable higher level than currently exists? So our darling economy can lurch a small step sideways around the edge of the tomb?

Good grief!

Better come up with some better answers to 'What for' before anything more ruinous is done. I suspect all this is to be done in the name of 'progress'. Right?

Enough reality -- lets talk about nuking shale deposits.
Last man standing wins.

Thank you, Steve.

Formulations like "nuclear adjustment to the local geology" make me wonder if I'm still on my home planet Earth. Some things are seriously out of place here.

Of course we can discuss anything, theoretically, but in case you really really consider using nuclear technology to get at some more oil or gas, there is no doubt you have a unsurmountable, unhealthy addiction to fossil energy. We all already have had too much of it.

Get human, please!

Hi, Steve,
I generally read your posts with great interest and seldom have any faults to find with them, but surely-

You don't actually think the human species actually HAS a collective mind ,do you? ;)


Thanks, Mac!

Explosions (nukes and others) are sort of uncontrolled, heavily entropic. Lasers are the opposite. Why not use all that nuclear energy to power super lasers to very precisely cook the shale. Probably a waste of energy as every housewife could use nuclear battery powered appliances for 100s of years and hand cutting tools based on nuclear laser principle would save battery recharging on the construcion site, etc. Anyway "If looks could kill they probably will" and all that jazz.

I spent some time in the mid 1990's in Rifle, Colorado, which is near the last nuclear detonation to try to stimulate natural gas production (May, 1973). The locals still talked about that detonation, like I imaging people in Chile will be talking about this earthquake. You'd be hard pressed to find a more conservative, pro energy demographic, but those folks would not be very keen on seeing that happen again. Wikipedia has some interesting figures on monetary return on the Plowshares program, but is a bit weak on citations http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Plowshare. Looks like the conclusion was it didn't work geologically and the gas was unacceptably radioactive.

One other issue is that of the Wasatch Fault. which runs from Logan in the north, through the cities of Ogden, Salt Lake City, Provo, Spanish Fork, and on to Nephi. Guessing, but 98% of Utah's population lives along this corridor. The Wasatch Fault is a serious fault, comparable to the San Andreas. No way the good people of Utah will allow underground nuclear blasts anywhere around here for fear of what they might do to the Wasatch Fault.

Yep, this one is a "no-go" for sure.

By the way, I think one of our more serious failings as humans is we tend to believe our own BS.

Best from the Fremont

I just want to clarify the trench pictures. They were taken from the document describing Telkem-2 crater located at 49°42'46", 78°27'38" within Semipalatinsk test range, Kazakhstan. The model shows the concentration of radioactive isotopes measured in July 2000.

The trench at 61 18 16.93, 56 35 55.77 in Perm Krai is much bigger.

Another take.

The Nevada Nuclear tests were done in an area considered worthless (geological search for ore showed little). Today, Las Vegas cannot use the deep aquifers of the site for water (next best source after Lake Mead I was told). So, within one human lifetime, a resource valued as worthless that was destroyed by nuclear testing may result in the depopulation of a major city.

Such are our forecasts of the future implications of what we do, especially when we try something new and large scale. And more oil just means more BAU for a little longer.

I have no doubt that future generations will rue the good farmland we covered with subdivisions and the coal that we burned. A conservative approach in responding to our problems seems best. I doubt that putting in more insulation and double honeycomb blinds will have the same effect as burning more coal and NG would.

Best Hopes for Efficiency,


I could see nukes to blast a canal through the Isthmus of Kra (Thailand just north of Malaysia), a shortcut for shipping that bypasses Singapore. Long term benefit. One section of canal should be conventional (easier to cross with highways & rail). Only viable use of nukes that I can see.

3rd locks on Panama Canal (open 2014) should resolve issues there.

Best Hopes,


I mentioned Project Chariot upthread some (though hours after you posted). As it has been held in abeyance, as opposed to all out canceled, since 1962 someone must want to keep the canal blasting idea alive. You might find 'The Firecracker Boys' by O'Neill interesting. If I recall the initial plan to blast a big harbor and entrance in NW Alaska with something like three fusion bombs eventually degenerated into popping a couple fission devices and then the whole project kind of faded away. It was to be the pilot for a sea level Panama canal. Even the fusion devices needed fission detonators so the idea was always to time the winds and let the fallout drop in the sea. You can see how the local populace might not have been too enamored of the whole prospect.