Nuking The Oil Slick?

A recent interview with Matthew Simmons on Bloomberg discussed the possibility of a nuclear explosion being used to seal the leaking Macondo oil well.

This idea was floated a couple of weeks back by the Russian periodical Pravda, which noted the technique was used 5 times to seal leaking wells in the old Soviet Union (once unsuccessfully in attempt to stop a gas leak in the Ukraine - though the likely environmental damage might cause you to wonder what the definition of "success" is).

The first use of this technique was in Uzbekistan in 1966, with the blast 1.5 times the strength of the Hiroshima bomb and at a depth of 1.5 kilometers.

The following video shows a report regarding how USSR plugged a gas well that was burning and leaking out of control. The current well is an oil well, a mile under water, so it is not clear that the situation is at all similar.

The World Nuclear Association has the following to say about the use of Soviet nukes for gas well fires:

In 1966, a nuclear explosive was detonated at Urtabulak gas field in Southern Uzbekistan in order to extinguish a gas well fire that had been burning for almost three years and had resisted numerous attempts at control. The gas fountain, which formed at pressures of almost 300 atmospheres, had resulted in the loss of over 12 million cubic metres of gas per day through a 200 mm casing – enough to supply a city the size of St Petersburg. Two 445 mm holes were drilled that aimed to come as close as possible to the well at a depth of about 1500 metres in the middle of a 200 metre thick clay zone. One of these came to within about 35 m of the well and was used to emplace the special 30-kiloton charge which had been developed by the Arzamas weapons laboratory. Immediately after the explosion the fire went out and the well was sealed.

This was the first of five PNEs [Peaceful Nuclear Explosions] used for this purpose, and all but one was completely successful in extinguishing the fire and sealing the well. No radioactivity above background levels was detected in subsequent surveys of any of the sites.

The Christian Science Monitor has some words of caution about making any rash decisions to detonate a bomb in the Gulf, noting the Russian experience was with onshore gas wells, not deepwater offshore oil - "Why don’t we just drop a nuclear bomb on the Gulf oil spill?".

The Russians previously used nukes at least five times to seal off gas well fires. … Komsomoloskaya Pravda suggested that the United States might as well take a chance with a nuke, based on the historical 20% failure rate. Still, the Soviet experience with nuking underground gas wells could prove easier in retrospect than trying to seal the Gulf of Mexico’s oil well disaster that’s taking place 5,000 feet below the surface. The Russians were using nukes to extinguish gas well fires in natural gas fields, not sealing oil wells gushing liquid, so there are big differences, and this method has never been tested in such conditions.

The USSR did all sorts of wild and wonderful things and now the Russian Federation is faced with the very dirty consequences.

Using a nuclear device in an attempt to shut down the GOM oil spill seems like using a battleship to cross a river.Success is not guaranteed and the side effects could be horrendous.There are some really mad ideas being floated in the US about this problem.The only hope is to let the drilling rig crews get on with the job.The relief well is probably the closest thing to a sure fix.

This disaster is pertinent to Australia.We have already had a major spill in the Timor Sea.I have yet to hear the result of the investigation into that.The federal government has recently opened up areas in the Great Australian Bight to exploration,I believe,and there will be increasing pressure to open up other areas.I'm sure there will be the usual waffle from the industry and government that it can't happen here because blah blah blah.

One of the factors in the GOM spill is that we are pushing the boundaries of technology,in a big way,when drilling in deep water.This is another example of a situation where a resource is better off left in the ground because of the hazards of extraction or,in the case of coal,it's use.

Here is some footage of the Russians killing a gas leak with a nuclear device (video)

And given the following information, I'd guess the use of a nuclear device is at least being contemplated:
Barack Obama sends nuclear experts to tackle BP's Gulf of Mexico oil leak

I'd imagine for political and practical reasons that BP has to be allowed to exhaust it's conventional methods before more extreme measures are allowed to be undertaken. Presumably under direct control of the US Government.

Meanwhile it appears that BP and the Government's PR/media containment of the disastrous spill is more effective than its physical containment of the oil. And if there are other unaccounted for leaks as Simmons believes then the disaster may be much worse than anyone currently realises.

The scientists may be from 'the complex' (the U.S. DOE nuclear weapons complex), but they were sent to employ their overall science, and engineering critical thinking skills, not to contemplate employing a nuclear device on the BP out-of-control well.

The U.S. national labs, such as Sandia National Labs, conduct a considerable amount of research (and development) which has nothing to do with nuclear explosive devices. Directed energy, conventional explosives, many other areas.

In my estimation, the probability of the U.S. government employing a nuclear explosive device to seal this, or any, well is Zero.

The engineering, safety, and security challenges are legion.

Even if this idea was selected to pursue, in my estimation we would have five relief wells connected to the bottom of the problem well before the preliminary engineering estimate was accomplished for this nuclear bomb idea.

The folks who think we can just pull one of these existing devices off the shelf and lower it down a shaft do not know the first thing about the complexities involved.

I laugh even louder when folks blithely write that we can just whip up a custom-made device in some incredibly brief time and employ it.

I will not enumerate the technical challenges involved, that is above everyone's' pay grade here.

Speculation about using a nuclear explosive device to close this well is not in the realm of productive brain storming, but squarely in the realm of techno-fantasy and fiction.

I would wager all my net worth that this idea was mooted once to the President, the details describing why this never will be done were discussed, and the idea was never, and will never, be mooted again in official U.S. government circles.

It seems to me there are some people with a nuke fetish ... you keep hearing nuke this or that for all kinds of problems.

BTW, IIRC, the scientist was sent because of his experience in undersea containment used during nuke tests.

I watched the provided video, and even to my untrained eye, I could see the shockwave ripple the ground around the well/blast area.

What would a similar event do to ocean floor sediment? Are the correct geological elements in place for such madness to even be contemplated?

Finally, how do I get out of this madhouse and back into Wonderland?

Rest easy Galen and others: This idea was never seriously considered by the adults who have the authority over these matters. Nor will this idea ever be seriously considered.

The World wrt special weapons has changed in the last twenty years. What was done in the past is NOT a template for what can be considered now.


My dad will second your post, I tell him about some of the issues on the site.

He worked on Titan II missiles before He went to Vietnam doing other things. The Titan IIs were in Arkansas at the time.

To many unknowns that would take too long to figure out.

BioWebScape designs for a better fed and housed future.

Your father sounds like a wise man to me!

Here's looking for more voices of reason backed by experience...

Nor will this idea ever be seriously considered.

I remember the same being said about invasion of other nation-states.

Under the 'we need to be seen doing something' clause - such an idea might be tried, no matter how irrational it may (seem) to be.

(And really - I've got no actual qualifications to say the nuke idea is a bad plan OR its a good plan. Do you have actual qualifications to back your position that its a bad plan?)

Would an explosion capable of sealing the well have to be atomic?

From my casual, non-expert reading all kinds of things can be done with shaped charges and conventional explosives in mining, demolition, and armour-piercing/anti-bunker weaponry. Isn't there expertise out there that could engineer a very large blast, or series of blasts, that would do the trick? I don't know if the idea is to bulldoze material over the leak or to crush-and-seal the well and some of the geology around it but either way you'd skip the radiation risks with conventional explosives. Wouldn't a nuke give a blast effect in an undesireable all-around direction as well?

From what I understand the principle of shaped charges was discovered by accident. When miners were setting off dynamite in the 19th century they'd notice that the lettering impressed into dynamite by its manufacturers was somewhat visible in rock surfaces after blasting. So, surely with digital design we could come up with a big explosive package that would suffice. Sure, there would be time issues. But then, an off-the-shelf nuclear weapon might not provide the right kind of explosion and engineering a custom-made one would take time as well. The world's arms industries seem able to come up with plenty of "stuff" so how hard would it be to rush thousands of tons of amatol or TNT or fertilizer or whatever to the Gulf of Mexico? The level of technology available in the 1940s probably would've sufficed?

Again, I ask these questions as a non-expert, non-engineer, non-scientist. The reason I come around here is to listen in on conversations between talented, knowledgeable, sensible people. When y'all get going it can be pretty impressive: I salute thee!


The whole "bomb baby bomb" stuff is just weird - demand for instant gratification and revenge on/assurance of control over nature I guess.

(1) Bombing the well externally will not work.
Nor will building a pile of rubble over the top:

It would take several miles high pile of rubble to resist the pressure.
Then one has to get a pressure tight seal - no way to do this.
This is not a leaking garden hose, this is on the order of 10,000 psi (680 atmospheres) of pressure.

(2) So, to be able to seal the thing, one must drill down to very near the reservoir.

Given that we have the technology to intersect well bores reasonably quickly,
and that bottom kills from intersections have always (eventually) worked,
no need to waste time on things that won't work.

ps - live cam now showing sawing of things off riser bend. (11:20 CST)

The whole "bomb baby bomb" stuff is just weird

Frankly, I think it's from folks who have watched too many cartoons/movies as children or whatever, where often the solution to problems like this is solved by blowing things up (think Transformers, G.I. Joe, Superfriends et al). I am 100% serious about this.

"The whole "bomb baby bomb" stuff is just weird"


Most of you seem to be under the impression that all nuclear weapons are giant "city killers", and that all are going to contaminate the GOM for decades. Many nukes have been produced to be small, low yield/low radiation tactical or "battlefield" weapons. Some are tiny:

The W48 was 846 mm long and weighed 58 kg; it could be fitted in a 155 mm M-45 AFAP (artillery fired atomic projectile) and used in a more standard 155 mm howitzer. The fission warhead was a linear implosion type, consisting of a long cylinder of subcritical mass which is compressed and shaped by explosive into a supercritical sphere. The W48 yielded just 72 tons TNT equivalent.

The W48 went into production from 1963; and 135 examples of the Mod 0 variant were built up to 1968 when it was retired. It was replaced by the Mod 1 which was manufactured from 1965 up until 1969; 925 of this type were made.

Only one type of artillery round other than the W48 was produced in large numbers, the W33 for use in a 203 mm shell. Around 2,000 warheads of this type were manufactured from 1957-65. Each XM422 projectile was 940 mm long and had an as-fired weight of 243 pounds. (the standard HE shell weighed some 90 kg). XM422 were fitted with a triple deck mechanical time base fuze. They were fired from a standard 8-inch (203 mm) howitzer, either the towed M115 or self-propelled M110. In some NATO armies these were in specialist units.

The W33's four yields were greater than the W48's. M422 projectiles were assembled in the field to provide the required yield, three yielding 5 to 10 kilotons and one 40 kilotons.

There have been a huge number of nuclear detonations on or under U.S. soil:

This is not something that is misunderstood by by scientists and engineers.

Explosives are used daily around the world for many peaceful reasons, by folks mostly concerned with not blowing things up. The only difference here is that this conversation is about non-conventional explosives.

I'm not advocating for the peacful use of nuclear devices. For the record, I wish they didn't exist. Those who object to this conversation for purely emotional/idealogical reasons (most of you, it seems) aren't being very "TOD-like". Those who object for technical or political reasons, post some links and data.

Those who object for technical or political reasons, post some links and data.

Hi Ghung. You're one of my favorite commenters, so take this in that spirit.

The lack of data is a darn good reason for not trying it. What could possibly go wrong in nuke-fracturing the caprock strata of a huge oil reservoir under a mile of ocean?

Heck, Simmons is seemingly claiming that there are other oil outlets spewing just from the original drill hole if I follow what he's saying.

(And there's no way the USSR wouldn't spin ANYthing they tried as a success, even to the extent of imprisoning those who disagreed.)

Nuking the well would be rolling the dice on a situation which is currently difficult-but-probably-fixable, in exchange for we know not what. After it went off, we'd be on terra incognita with no "next plan".

Hi 'nish. Lack of data is why I feel that they shouldn't drill these super-deep wells in the first place. Like I said, I'm not advocating bombing this thing, just the discussion,,,, see what we can learn. If we can, we may provide enough reasons for them to not try this. For us, lack of data is a darn good reason. Not so for many of the decision makers in this world.

Playing the devil's advocate may be the best thing I can do here, considering the subject. Besides, there's always a chance that someone will do the hard work of showing why this idea, in some form, may have a high probability of success, low chance of catastrophe.

Or I could revert to my Grandmother's favorite saying; "Well,, I just don't want to think about that".

Can you feel my frustration??????

If we can, we may provide enough reasons for them to not try this.

The professional corps of scientists, engineers, technicians, and policy gurus whose job it is to maintain stewardship of these devices already know everything they need to know to make this usage determination. Don't expect a 'Yes'/green light.

They honestly are not going to look at TOD for advice on this. The U.S. taxpayers pay a lot of money to pay these people and provide them with the tools and facilities they need to do their jobs right.

Lots of folks are frustrated about the 'BP Corporate' spill, and I would advise everyone to spend their finite time and energy discussing potential options which have a non-Zero probability of being executed.

"The professional corps of scientists, engineers, technicians, and policy gurus whose job it is to maintain stewardship of these devices already know everything they need to know to make this usage determination. Don't expect a 'Yes'/green light.

"They honestly are not going to look at TOD for advice on this. The U.S. taxpayers pay a lot of money to pay these people and provide them with the tools and facilities they need to do their jobs right."

Well ... To continue along a bit with the Devil's advocate thing --

This decision would be made by politicians, not by technocrats or scientists, or even by military leaders. So talking about all the smart people in government who know better and give 'serious consideration' to important technical matters is fundamentally beside the point.

Political pressure has proven to be far more powerful than the advice of scientists and other smart people in shaping the course of events. Something to keep in mind as we go forward, in a non-nuke-discussing world.

I also agree with the other posters who recognize Americans' cartoonish fascination with nuking everything, asteroids and whales, oil wells. I think this comes not only from Bruckheimer movies but from the textbook version of history which we are all fed, in which the glorious nukes rescue the poor innocent Americans just in the nick of time -- perhaps the most successful PR campaign ever. Few Americans realize that nuking two Japanese cities was not a military decision, in fact it was denounced by top military leaders of the time including Ike and Lemay.

"The Japanese were ready to surrender and it wasn't necessary to hit them with that awful thing." -- Ike

But when Ike was President, his administration offered to drop a nuke on the Viet Minh surrounding Dien Bien Phu. Political pressure baby, it'll get ya.

This is my favorite:

From greenish

The lack of data is a darn good reason for not trying it. What could possibly go wrong in nuke-fracturing the caprock strata of a huge oil reservoir under a mile of ocean?

And the answer being: really we just don't know. And the not-so-subtle hint being: therefore, we shouldn't do it.

And I agree completely. To me, the fact that we are in this bizarre situation where really unlikely bad things have happened is a good reason to not take on more risk. And detonating a nuclear weapon to try to stop the leak has to count as risky because we haven't done it before. It's very intriguing to find out that the Russians were able to stop gas leaks this way. But the conditions here are really not so similar.

===============--> The following diatribe/rant/flame is aimed specifically at those who think nuking the Well is a Really Good Idea (I don't) <--=======================================
You wanna try to stop leaking oil wells a mile below the ocean? Ok, fine. You go find yourself a different earth-like planet somewhere out there, replicate these conditions, then go run your nuke experiment. Be sure to publish the results, I'm very curious to know to what extent it succeeds or fails. Oh, but remember, in order for your results to be really meaningful, we'll have to get other people to replicate the experiment on a few more planet Earths.

What's that? You think I'm being over-cautious? Whatever. It's risk-taking people like you that go broke gambling at the casino or in the stock market. It's risk-taking people like you that get us into global economic crisis. It's risk-taking people like you that neglect basic maintenance on your oil rigs cause untold devastation.

What's that you say? You say you've gambled on many things many times and you've come out ahead more often than you've fallen behind? Well, there are two factors at work here. The first is delusion: you haven't come out ahead as often as you believe, it's just your brain edits out the failures so you don't remember them. The second factor is that you're addicted to the rush of the risk-taking itself. It feels dynamic. It feels powerful. It feels like you're Alexander the Great cutting through that Gordian Knot. And so, you're never going to stop.

And that is exactly the reason why you are doomed, inevitably to eventually fail. I mean we all fail sooner or later. The difference that when you fail it tends to be, ya know, CATASTROPHIC.

Epic even.

Furry cows moo and decompress.

I love the story of a visitor to the Los Alamos nuclear testing site. He asked one of the scientists, "Do you have any problems producing low-yield nuclear devices?"

"No problem at all," was the reply. "Around here we call them failures."

Generate a model of effects of proposed blast on unstable formations of crystalline structures (especially parameters of wave distribution and amplification in subaquatic and aquatic environments).Explosives not a good idea down there.
"salt tectonism has resulted in extensive deformation of the sedimentary layers. During the Jurassic, the Gulf became isolated from the oceans, and a thick sequence of salt (Louann Salt) accumulated as the Gulf's water evaporated. As sediments were later deposited in the basin, their weight caused the salt to mobilize, much as toothpaste is squeezed out of a toothpaste tube. Today, salt diapirs, pillows and stocks, and listric faults are all indicators of Louann Salt movement due to overburden stresses. This deformation provides numerous pathways for the migration of thermogenic methane into shallow zones where hydrate is stable. The Sigsbee Escarpment in the western portion of the Gulf marks the southern limit of salt movement within the basin."
"...subsidence has generally been regarded as a near surface effect, being the consequence of shallow sedimentary
processes acting on young deposits, i.e., compaction/compaction, and as the result of
human activities, e.g., oil and gas extraction, drainage practices, groundwater offtake.
The regional tectonic processes that have made it possible for the gulf to accommodate
~20,000 m of sediments since the Jurassic (e.g., Worrall and Snelson, 1989) have rarely
been invoked as important controls by recent workers... Aseismic but protracted interval of strain release
is suggestive of a “slow earthquake” that is not yet complete (period >35 yrs!). Note
also apparent elastic wave generated in area east of fault (amplitude = ~5 cm,
wavelength = ~135 km) during strain release event..."
"The structure of the deep salt has had a major influence on the subsequent evolution of the deepwater
Gulf of Mexico. A model in which a thin-salt fringe lay outboard of a thicker-salt Deep Basin can
explain observed patterns in structural style, seismic data quality, diapir location and orientation,
overridden diapirs, rafted minibasins, and imbricated sutures. It may also provide suggests for areas of
future subcanopy hydrocarbon prospectivity...
We present here a detailed structural and kinematic analysis of the very well known digital
bathymetric map (NOAA) of the northern GoM. This seafloor image displays clear structural
evidence of three types of relative displacements between the minibasins: extension, shortening or
strike-slip. Seismics shows that horizontal displacements are located within the salt ridges that
separate basins. Our structural mapping puts in evidence a NE-SW trending direction of almost
uniaxial elongation at regional-scale. This distributed stretching indicates that the allochtonous salt
layer that underlies the minibasins is flowing toward the Southwest, since at least Neogene times. But
the geometry and kinematics of strike-slip shear zones (in particular in Green Canyon area) show that
blocks of pre-Early Miocene sediments underlying the allochtonous salt have rotated around a vertical
axis. This indicates that even the autochtonous salt layer is involved in the recent deformation
recorded by the seafloor morphology."

Terra infirma: Understanding salt tectonics ,a Bureau of Economic Geology, Jackson School of Geosciences, The University of Texas at Austin,
"Following common usage, we broaden the term “salt” to include all rock bodies composed primarily of halite (NaCl). Salt is mechanically weak and flows like a fluid, even at geologically rapid strain rates. Salt is also relatively incompressible so is less dense than most carbonates and all moderately to fully compacted siliciclastic rocks. Salt's fluid rheology and incompressibility make it inherently unstable under a wide range of geologic conditions..."
"The researchers surmise that such asphalt volcanoes only occur in the Gulf of Mexico, but that they are abundant there, because the conditions required for their formation - deep water, salt diapirs below the seafloor, and the presence of oil deposits - are found only here..." Posters/Wednesday Petroleum case studies/P237-WE Schubotz.pdf
"The mechanisms leading to asphalt volcanism are not fully understood."

I object to this discussion being treated as valid/something that could possibly happen because I am familiar with the subject matter.

Sorry, no can post links or technical data for these topics on this or any other Internet site, or any other non-appropriate media or venue; if you had any idea of the nature of the subject matter you would darn well know that no one is going to post links to or extractions of techical data pertinent to this discussion.

Not unless you are really into the penetentiary scene.

No emotions here, just experience.

"Not unless you are really into the penetentiary scene.

No emotions here, just experience."

Oh, I'm sorry! Was it bad? You seem..........angry.

"if you had any idea of the nature of the subject matter you would darn well know that no one is going to post links to or extractions of techical data pertinent to this discussion."

Where exactly did I suggest anyone post sensitive/classified information? I know better. I find these unsupported insinuations bothersome.

We value accuracy here, especially when attacking another poster.

Apparently few people here have the faintest idea of the firebreak/step function between the use of non-nuclear and nuclear explosive devices.

There are legions of people who take the care and feeding of these devices as serious as a heart attack for their entire careers.

These people are completely unable to discuss in any non-authorized forum or venue the many and various engineering issues/challenges to what is being discussed here.

Ghung, you looked up on the Internet some extremely top-level info on some devices which may have existed at one time and which may or may not still exist in some state of readiness or not. You have no idea when you look at this type of info from Wikipedia or FAS or Global or the Nukes of Hazard blog or or whatever whether the proffered info has any credibility or not, and no one who knows the facts is going to clarify any questions or validate any info for you.

Even if such devices existed at one time or even exist today, what in the world makes you think they were designed for the environment you intend here?

If anyone thinks a few quick MacGyver fixes would do the trick you are living on the third moon of Jupiter.

Has anyone here at the TOD 'Nuke the Well' Amateur Hour thread thought for even a minute about the security and safety issues involved?

Has anyone thought for one darn second about the treaties involved here? How about the arms proliferation implications? Every damn country that wants these devices for prestige and to threaten their foes would claim that they needed these devices to use peacefully to blow out their future wild wells or whatever.

There are other potential negative unintended consequences to this roll of the nuclear dice to attempt to seal the well.

Please...just...stop...this line of inquiry is doing the World and TOD a disservice.

This is scary stuff, guys. Dangerous things to be left to the experts. Trust the priesthood. They know what's going on even though they can never, ever tell you. Your ways are not their ways, speak not of this again, the line you carelessly tread lies dangerously close to heresy.

Sorry, bro, but the genie's already out of the bottle. Apparently you have a hard time comprehending that the horse has already left the barn and locking the gate with quadruple redundancy now sorta defeats the purpose. The multiple veils of secrecy our chosen nuclear priesthood choose to wrap themselves in is likely 95% just to help them sleep at night rather than serving much utilitarian purpose. Any serious contender to the Nuke Club has likely already figured out what would be casually bandied around here. What do I know, though, nobody ever taught me the secret handshake.

From George Ure last week:

Would Nuking The Oil Work?

Interesting input from a reader:

"AF 'bomber guy' here: First, a short tutorial on nuke tactics is in order . . .

For war planning purposes, there are three types of nuclear detonations: - on the surface of land or the ocean - above the surface (air burst of varying altitude -- low to high) - Below the surface (land or water)

Applying these detonation tactics to the Deepwater Horizon rig, the best option is a hybrid undersea 'airburst' (far below the surface of the sea, but just above the sea floor). Using a small yield detonation occurring approx. 100-200' above the damaged well head, this tactic would melt and fuse the sea floor in the immediate blast vicinity, essentially cauterizing the oil well-wound.

To guarantee the drill-wound 'stays shut' after detonation, BP could have tons of debris and concrete standing-by in barges to pump over top of the fused 'well bandage' once the 'all clear' is given.

Your concerns about methane-ice and oil plumes seems legitimate. The intense nuclear detonation temperatures could pose a serious and unknown hazard with this material in the blast area. IMO, this is the most serious danger for such an option, a tough one to model due to the various dynamics of the oil well, methane gas and deep ocean/high pressure environment.

If I were advising BP, the DoD, the DOE and the EPA, I'd ask them to run constant simulations on banks of super computers to model all of the possible blast variables and effects, including their degree of likelihood. Once 'best guess' simulation results are known, the safest and most logical alternative could be approved and employed.

Still, [cue Bob Seger's "Old Time Rock N Roll"] very 'Risky Business!'

That's what I expect is going on right now....simulating everything six-ways-to-Sunday.

Using a small yield detonation occurring approx. 100-200' above the damaged well head, this tactic would melt and fuse the sea floor in the immediate blast vicinity, essentially cauterizing the oil well-wound.

I don't suppose the bomber guy thought about the oil/gas pressure of several thousand psi pushing UP on the molten material?


(1) Any molten material would be blasted right through by the oil/gas pressure (like gases from a volcano erupting through a lava pool, or an incompletely dried metal casting mold). This would leave as big or bigger hole, and NO partially blocking BOP in the way --> an even worse leak.

(2) The crust will be too thin to resist the pressure.
check this picture from the Trinity Test:
the crust is cracked and is only 1 - 2 cm thick.
That will not withstand water seepage, much less several thousand psi.

(3) Even if the crust was thick enough and magically froze instantly, it still WOULD NOT WORK. The crust would be peeled off the seafloor mud by the well pressure.

There - 3 reasons why this hare-brained "bomb baby bomb" scheme will NOT physically work.

Nevermind the considerable contamination in the seawater.

The only plausible use of a nuke that might work is sub-sea, down near the hole, but that would probably take longer than a relief well in any case, and would require favorable geology.

Nevermind the international politics of using nukes.

Argh! - it's scary how thoughtless/technically incompetent all-too-many people are.

What's going on now is effective action per the plan in the May 31st technical briefing:

"The whole "bomb baby bomb" stuff is just weird"


Most of you seem to be under the impression that all nuclear weapons are giant "city killers", and that all are going to contaminate the GOM for decades.

Those who object for technical or political reasons, post some links and data.

This isn't about nukes (for me) - it's about "let's blast that sucker, and that will fix it!"

The 1st link was to a long comment where theguyfromsaturn calculates how big a pile of rubble is needed to provide back pressure to seal the well.
What's weird is (so many) people:
(a) don't/won't read/accept such a careful analysis that shows a bottom-of-seafloor explosion just won't work.
(also Rockman's comments re 1000-2000 feet of mud at the seafloor).
(b) think force always equals effectiveness, thus more force equals more effectiveness. Would your dentist be more effective if they used a jack-hammer instead of a small drill?
(c) apparently just can't fathom that effectively using a nuke requires at least as much drilling as the relief well, so wouldn't be much if any faster, even if a pressure/temperature resistant nuke were available in another 2 months.

Remember the 1st time the Soviets tried nuking a gas well:
* they had been trying to kill the well for 3 years
* it was only 1500 m deep (4900 feet) relief hole (on land)
* the relief holes (they started two too) were 44.5-cm (13.5 inch) in diameter (i.e. far bigger -> slower than a conventional kill well)
* they situated the device in the middle of a 200-m-thick clay zone that was very conveniently there.
* they did NOT have the advanced sensing technology, direction drilling, mud motors,etc. that we have now.

Given those factors, I think the Soviets made a good choice - at that time.
I recommend reading the LLNL report at the link I gave in:

Nowadays, given the history (for example) at:
we can avoid:
* the hassles of finding a nuke that will resist the temps/pressures near the bottom of this hole (the Soviets had to cool the relief hole and 30 kt device).
* issues with the weak, loose, unfavorable formations in the GOM and possible catastrophic blow-out around the well casing or into the rock/mud, leading to a totally uncontrolled situation.
* (edit) the hassles of opening the nuke political can-of-worms, per Heisenberg, et. al. (end-edit)

n.b. sometimes they do use explosives, precisely, in perforating the target pipe, rather than milling. A good example of using the right tool:

What's a bit weird, though I understand, is the impatience to "do something" right now.

Looks like the ROV's are cleaning up the riser pretty good,
though that last little bit of cutting of the choke/kill line is taking a while.
Drat, just missed the view of the sling on the riser, fairly far from the bent spot.

The Mark 48 torpedo has a diameter of 21", so the conventional warhead is less than 21". The warhead has an explosive energy equivalent to about 1200 pounds of TNT. Weather or not it can withstand the temps/pressures of a relief well is another question. How to detonate one (or more) at depth is another question. Use the steel casing to transmit a signal, perhaps. The casing would have to be plugged prior to detonation lest it become a cannon or create a new passage for the oil to exit the formation.

There is a lot of "geology" between the sediment layer and the formation to play with. The relief wells are going deep and have to precisly intersect the casing,,,very time consuming. A shallower well higher up that only needs to get within a few feet may save a lot of time. Pack a few of these warheads next to the casing and attempt to collaspe the well around the midpoint of the bore. Desperate times......Explosives don't just blow things up. They are precision tools for accomplishing work quickly.

The nuke idea is crazy overkill, IMO, but some things to keep in mind:

Modern nuclear devices are much cleaner and more efficient.

This is a very deep well, with a mile of water on top of it.

Many things could go wrong, yet BP has a pretty good picture of the geology.

A lot is known about the effects of subsurface/subterranian nuclear blasts.

There will be one less nuke on the planet.

If they can't stop or greatly reduce the flow of this well, the PTB will be getting more desperate.

(disclaimer: mostly speculation from a generalist)

I for one think Ghung is right on here. And, it is easy for me to say since the chances that we will try to experiment are in my opinion between zero and zero. I don't have to worry about hypothetical consequences since the experiment won't be run. But, compared to nature Nukes are really just small fry firecrackers, greatly exceeded in power by many natural geological phenomena.

Stars in the sky above!

This blather is even worse than me looking over Rockman's shoulder and telling him how to drill/monitor/cement/or whatever his well drilling project.

The cavalier statements being made wrt using these devices in this fashion are beyond Thunderdome ludicrous.

"This blather is even worse than me looking over Rockman's shoulder and telling him how to drill/monitor/cement/or whatever his well drilling project."

Wow, Heisenberg, I don't see Rockman anywhere, or his shoulder, but we sure got you on your stump. I didn't start this post, and sure haven't challenged anything you've posted, until now:

"The cavalier statements being made wrt using these devices in this fashion are beyond Thunderdome ludicrous."

I don't see anything cavalier or ludicrous about having a full informed discussion about suggested ways to end/mitigate what may be the worst single environmental disaster of my lifetime. ALL of the information I have posted is available from multiple open sources and is old news, unclassified history.

Now that the "experts" have arrived, perhaps they can refrain from ranting and give the little people some specific reasons why this is a really bad idea. I wasn't suggesting anyone reveal classified or even priveleged information. I'm more interested in why an explosive device, conventional (as I mentioned above) or nuclear (as suggested by the title of this post), won't collapse this well effectively, or may make things worse from a purely technical perspective.

Speaking of Simmons, do we have any independent source that's making the same claim about a second leak? I'd like to give him the benefit of the doubt, but I need to hear from at least one more reputable person before buying it.

Thad Allen (Press Conference on June 01), and Robert Gibbs (the same), both mentioned uncertainty about the condition of the well bore, and whether it was damaged during the blowout and explosion of gas on the rig. This seems to be a new concern (since nobody mentioned it before), and may be the result of new data from the failed "top kill" procedure.

The image that comes to mind when I hear about Simmons is Dr. Strangelove.

This idea is insane.

The bloke is an investment banker. I guess he might know a bit about creating a disastrous volume of toxic stuff in his own line of work, but why the hell is anyone listening to him?

I am inclined to withhold judgement and give Simmons the benefit of the doubt for a few days in respect to his claims or speculations, based on his long term reputation as a reasonably "sane and sober" businessman.

He may not have much personal expertise in actual drilling operations, but you can safely bet he has a lot of professional acquaintances who do, and who answer when he calls , even at three AM..

It is not likely that he would be so foolish as to chance painting himself as the village idiot without some good reason, unless perhaps he is perhaps suffering from the early stages of an undiagnosed dementia.

Lots of people first become aware of a problem with older friends and relatives because they begin saying things that don't jibe well with reality.

Personally my knowledge of geology is limited to freshman level,but I read a lot of science and nature.It certainly seems possible, if extremely unlikely, that hot high pressure oil and gas could be escaping from the well somewhere between the reservoir and the sea bottom, and that it may have found a circiutous route to the surface, meaning the sea bottom , through the overlying rock strata.There could be cracks or fissures in the area as a result of tectonic plate movements,earthquakes, or even an asteroid strike thousands of years ago.

I hate to think that he has been talking privately to a bunch of capable experts with doctorates AND dirt under their nails who have been telling him PRIVATELY that the situation is infinitely worse than most of us think it is-at least up until the present moment.

But this might be the case, and they might be right.If they know their stuff, and they believe the well cannot be plugged short of chancing the nuclear option, the only rational thing to do is to try to evaluate the risk of making the spill even worse in the short term versus the risk of a long term free flowing well dumping many thousands of barrels a day into the gulf maybe for years to come.

I am reasonably sure of one thing at least;the amount of wieght being given to the POSSIBLE AND POTENTIAL radiation aspect of the nuke solution is vastly overblown, in comparision to absolutely certain consequences of a long continued spill.

Of course I have no way of evaluating whether it would work.My gut feeling is that it probably would;if a column of sticky tacky but still fluid drilling mud can hold down such a gusher, a few hundred thousands of tons of fragmented rock would probably compact itself together tightly enough to work the same trick, under the combined impetus of the blast and gravity.

It even occurs to me that getting started triple time on new production wells nearby might paradoxically be a good idea;every barrel that is brought up through such a well might be one barrel that will not wind up in the water otherwise.

Of course this comment is pure speculation and I freely admit it, so no one need waste their time pointing this out. ;)

Cross-posting my entry on another thread because it's relevant here...

Can't comment about the overall Russian experience shutting off wells with nukes, but there's an interesting vid on YouTube at
that shows film supposedly taken at one of the nuke well kill operations. The relevant footage starts a minute or two into the news story. The surface shock waves appear consistent with detonation of a large explosive device underground.

Re our using a nuke to close off the current GOM spill:

- Our nukes are all (ASFAIK) in the form of weapons. This means none of them is built for subsurface use in the (approximate) 2400 psi pressure environment at the well. They're built to withstand multi-G launch/drop acceleration and shock loads, as well as the vacuum of space and transient re-entry heating, but not high external pressure. Goes for nuclear torpedos as well, which are intended for targets no deeper than submarines, which in the case of the Russian titanium-hulled subs was 1,000 - 1,300 meters. A potential exception might be ground-penetrating nuclear weapons, which are designed for extreme deceleration transients, although I don't know if this implies they have long-term resistance to penetration by high-pressure seawater. Summary is, we don't have nuclear explosives ready to use in a deep marine application.

- Our ability to predict the behavior of subterranean nuclear explosions with respect to unanticipated breakout of radioactive debris isn't perfect, with both us and the Russians having had breakouts at underground tests which were expected to be completely contained. Applied to the GOM oil spill, this suggests that a nuke detonation could blow a very large quantity of vaporized radioactive marine mud into the ocean/atmosphere.

- Finally, given our relative lack of experience in deep water operations in the GOM, it is a non-trivial possibility that a nuke would open up additional leak passages to the formation.

If explosives are under consideration for closing the well, I hope they are conventional. We understand them much better than nuclear explosives, they can be deployed repeatedly if need be, they provide finely controllable energy release, and if they go wrong, they at least do not add radioactivity to the ongoing disaster mix. The last is important. Our nuke test program in the South Pacific showed quite clearly that radioactive materials bioaccumulate up the food chain. This would multiply the economic hit to the Gulf fisheries industry enormously.

Overall, it seems to me that the most effective way to make this situation dramatically worse would be to use nuclear explosives.

IIRC BP damaged the first well they drilled, the current leaking well is the second attempt. Anyone any idea how far the first well is away from the current one? Could it have anything to do with Simmons supposed leak at another location?

I still can't figure out why Simmons would say something which on the face of it seems ridiculous even to a layman.

I don't read Simmons much. As far as science is concerned, he is the layman.

Simmons reminds me of the line by Pacino
"I got ears, ya' know. I hear things."

They did have a stuck pipe that caused them to to have to plug off and drill around it. In these situations it is not necessary to spud a new well. So the leaking well is both the first and second well.

Simmons is the author of "Twilight in the Desert: the Coming Saudi Oil Shock and the World Economy" (Wiley Press, 2006).

You can check out an extensive list of his speeches and papers here. He was also energy advisor to Bush 41, research associate for two years at Harvard Business School, is currently member National Petroleum Council, member Council on Foreign Relations, advisor Oil Depletion Analysis Centre, and Board of Director Houston Technology Center. You can check out more on biography here and here.

I agree. Have the experts completely exhausted all other ideas?
Perhaps a nuke will melt millions of tons of gas hydrates causing other problems.
Also isn't this international waters(3 mile limit?)

"Well, thank you, God, thank you so bloody much." --Basil Fawlty

A friend of mine of Russian extraction used to joke to me that "Russians do everything with an axe."

I guess, metaphorically speaking, nuking a leaking well fits that description pretty well.

He's right. Russia is the only place where I've seen construction workers carry a ruddy great axe as standard, even if they're only installing HVAC units.

The axe may be a personal defensive weapon against mosquitoes...I think they carry then in Minnesota as well.

The only thoughts that I have regarding the nuclear concept are: (i) given the frequency with which the Russians apparently used these on gas wells, if I were in Europe I probably would want to take a Geiger counter to my gas line now; and (ii) I would say that there is about an even chance of a nuclear detonation in the Macondo formation turning into the world's largest frac job...and it would (with our luck) also create innumerable open paths for the oil and gas to start coming up from the formation, rather than just one as we now see.

We do, but we can get away with a relatively dainty hatchet here. I hear the Russians need a good, solid, tree-felling axe for their mosquitos.

I've worked the best part of four years in the Russian oil business. That the Soviets did something is usually not a reliable indicator of it being a good idea.

From the Pravda article referenced: The two giant flames were extinguished with the help of nuclear explosions. They drilled two wells to approach the emergency wells under the ground and lowered nuclear devices into the wells. The troubled wells were blocked as a result of the explosions.

The work was extremely hard, but it was worth it. I took direct participation in the experiment and was personally present there during the explosions. The experiment was a success. The exploitation of the Pamuk oil well was launched again and nothing could remind of the disaster which had been liquidated with the help of nuclear explosions.

The first explosions to shut off a gas well by the Russians were in the mid 60's; about 45 years ago. What have been the **actual** results?

Did the wells stop flowing altogether or is there still some leakage?

Were there radiation leaks ? If so how much, for how long?

Did the wells resume flowing after a time?

Were there any failures? What were the consequences?

The environmental diaster in the Gulf is real and needs to be stopped. What are possible solutions? It appears that use of a nuclear weapon is a possibility. What are its consequences -- physically; short term and long term?


The only reference I saw was unlinked and claimed 20% failure.

Seems like the Russians had more than their share of problems drilling wells, even on land. The time required to attempt such a thing similar to what the Russians did out in the water. You may as well wait for the kill well to be drilled and our drilling industry does have the tech to find the old well bore and do the tie in.

Looking at this film I am sure glad I wouldn't have to drill any water wells anywhere near an area like this. Shocking puts it mildly.

I had an instructor in a wireline school once tell me a story about how hot it was on the surface in an area he had been in, while trying to run a well log in China. He couldn't even set the tool up on surface because the background was so high. When he got finished with that job, he called his supervisors and told them, "get me the hell out of here." He seemed to have a geniune concern about the exposure the natives have had to live with even if the Chinese govt isn't. But then what the heck few million here or there

"It is perfectly obvious that the whole world is going to hell. The only possible chance that it might not is that we do not attempt to prevent it from doing so."

Robert Oppenheimer

I say nuke it. We're Americans. We shoot and blow up things to fix situations. How can we face our grandfathers knowing the Russians had the sack to do this.

Are you feelin' lucky you punk well? Go ahead, make our day.

Well, on 2nd thought...

love it...first laugh i've had over the situation...i'm breaking out the sergio leone and hoping everyone joins me in a collective squint at the well...

"The only possible chance that it might not is that we do not attempt to prevent it from doing so"

So Oppenheimer is suggesting that the world will be OK and it will not go to hell if we do not attempt to prevent it. but
If we attempt to prevent it then it will go to hell.

This makes sense considering that the 'world' and 'hell' are both man made and that the world and earth are two seperate entities.

Mother Earth does not deserve this assault or does Mother Earth equally love her toxin loaded deep hydrocarbon based gue as equal as she does a new born baby or sprouted seedling of any species?

Two more relief wells. That's what to push for. Now. Publicly. Much more likely to shave time off the spill and mitigate the damage. Utterly no reason not to.

I believe I'm correct in noting that the USSR didn't have the tech to fairly reliably intersect the original wellbore at depth with relief wells.

It's about the relief wells. Well, singular, currently. Will it take two months or a year? There's your uncertainty barring a gigantic gooey black swan, and where multiple wells could significantly improve the odds.

If Matt Simmons is right about there being a huge "other" leak, that should probably rate its own comment string here.... but taken together with his call for a nuke, I think - and I'm sorry to think this - that he doesn't know WTF he's talking about.

If there IS evidence for a huge oil gusher nobody is paying attention to, lets discuss it!

[new] greenish on May 31, 2010 - 11:51am Permalink | Subthread | Comments top Two more relief wells. That's what to push for. Now. Publicly. Much more likely to shave time off the spill and mitigate the damage. Utterly no reason not to.

Care to elaborate how this will save time?

But then what the hell, BP's buying, lets back up, what 3 or 4 more big drill ships,
and go to work. Might as well since most of the Gulf seems to be shut down now in the deepwater drilling dept.
Got to keep the idle rigs working somewhere, don't we? Might as well be drilling more relief wells, even if it is just for jollies at about a half a mill/day each.
Punish BP good for what they did.

Care to elaborate how this will save time?

Punish BP good for what they did.

The aggregate probability of an extended spill is lessened.

Still don't get it? Well, you could discuss with Rockman, one of the most experienced commenters here, who says he would be drilling 3 relief wells just out of professionalism and good sense.

But since you have been posting here on the theme of saving BP money and will probably reply snarkily to this, I'll expand on it in concept.

Instead of drilling only the "B" hole as a relief well, one could add a "C" hole and a "D" hole. That way when the "B" hole comes up against tech problems, holes "C" and "D" would already be most of the way there, and "A" holes worried primarily about BP's profits would have a bigger incentive in the future to not cut corners.

Yessir, and if these don't work BP can try using their "P" hole.
Isn't this whole drilling thing one big phallic exercise?
"I got me a BIG rig baby, an' I can drill harder, deeper, an' to hell with that blowout pre-venter, cuz when I drill a gushers gar-ran-teed."

PB could complete both relief wells and stop this thing from the bottom long before a nuke could be prepared for the conditions at these depths.

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I think it's "Nuke the Baby Whales"
Has a little more bite.

Nuclear devices CAN be useful.

Small nuclear devices in particular can pack a punch with little radiological risk.

No amount of Dr Strangelove rhetoric can change that.

Whether a nuclear device could be used to contain this well is purely a technical issue. (The kill mechanism - if any - would be the key factor).

Whether a nuclear device SHOULD be used is a political issue.

In the unlikely event of this well still leaking in say a years time, and the US coast is polluted to hell and beyond, will all the sarcastic naysayers still be mocking the idea?

As for engineering issues and time-scales, I wonder how long it would take to design, build and launch an nuclear rocket to deal with an incoming asteroid? Nobody would be whining that 'It can't be done' ... they WOULD make sure it WAS done .. or (literally) die trying.

The nuclear option is just that - an option. It should be looked at in parallel with all the other options being tried & reviewed.

As for engineering issues and time-scales, I wonder how long it would take to design, build and launch an nuclear rocket to deal with an incoming asteroid? Nobody would be whining that 'It can't be done' ... they WOULD make sure it WAS done .. or (literally) die trying.

Now this is something I have seen discussed before in other venues, however, what you wind up with, instead of just one chunk of rock flying at you, you get to have several. But it is a lot more spectacular in the end.

There's this techno-copian presumption in some of these arguments that the use of 'Super Big Power' has some kind of inherent ability to solve problems, when it's really an exaggeration of our inclination to start swinging at things that scare us, instead of stopping to think about truly effective countermeasures.

MetaMeme says that the decision is 'purely a technical issue..' .. while in fact it's numerous overlapping technical issues, PLUS relevant political and social issues. Calling it "A technical Issue" makes it sound disarmingly straightforward to resolve, when it is no such thing.

I have no idea if there is a safe kill mechanism using a nuclear device.

However it wouldn't hurt for some engineers to look at just in case.

Sub-sea nuclear weapons have been used more than once - and we are all still here!

All I'm saying is that it's an option worth looking at.

That's incorrect. It is very unlikely that it would break up an object several miles or several tens of miles in diameter. But it just might alter its trajectory by a little bit, resulting in avoiding the collision.

I see that Blackvoid already beat me to the correction.

Not true... it depends upon how far away from Earth the asteroid is hit.

If it is hit sufficiently far away, all those pieces that are deflected by even a small degree from their collision path with Earth will miss hitting Earth.

Given that apparently way to deal with an asteroid is to nudge it off course without fracturing it (anything else is requires much, much more energy) which requires much more finesse than any previous deployments, so I think it's pretty clear no-one doing engineering would say it'd be feasible to do the all the development only once you've discovered an oncoming asteroid. Sometimes there's a limit to what a POSITIVE MENTAL ATITUDE can acheive.

If one really thinks nuclear is important for solving these sort of problems, one ought to be doing the experimental groundwork now so nuclear explosives can be used on the next undersea drilling disaster that will happen.

Oh for crying out loud, the safety engineering and analysis alone would take years.

Believe me.

Gotta put the burgers on the grill...

It is far more than political challenges...

The anti-nuclear spasm is quite absurd. These people are worried about radiation from a low yield device detonated thousands of feet under the GOM seafloor (where there is rock and it is sufficiently deep to form a seal) but say nothing about the thousands of varieties of carcinogens spewed along with the oil. The chemical carcinogens are no less of a threat than any ground level release of radioactive cesium and strontium and they will be in the system for decades.

The only legitimate concern is that the low yield device does fractures the bedrock too much making the well permanently unsealable. But this would mean that there was way too much force applied to the problem. This is an engineering problem and we have the data on the rock strata.


Go read Ridgecritter's and Joseph Palmer's posts above.

Read and heed.

You do not know what you are talking about and therefore you have no business characterizing the deadly serious comments here about how this idea is a non-starter as 'absurd anti-nuclear spasm'.

I do find it interesting that it is the people who understand nukes best who are saying that nuking the well is a bad idea.

Almost like there is a clue to be had here.

Reminds me of the recent talk on this site of using nuclear detonations to free the oil from the Green River Shale Formation; 5,000 underground nukes per 10 square miles (as I recall), all in the water shed for the Western United States. Cartoon World for sure. Best from the Fremont

Yes ... this option seems to be doing the rounds of media and blog sites at the moment. Here's one additional source that has percolated to the top. Interview with Vladimir Gubarev (Science Editor, Pravda) and Vyacheslav Klishin (Physicist, Nuclear Gas-Well Fire Fighter) on operation in Russia to use nuclear weapon to stop gas leak.

Anybody looking for detailed information on GOM basin geology (shallow and deepwater) can probably find some useful information here: Weimer, P., M. G. Rowan, B. C. McBride, and R. M. Kligfield, 1998, Evaluating the petroleum systems of the northern deep Gulf of Mexico through integrated basin analysis: an overview: AAPG Bulletin, v. 82, p. 865-877. I have a university account, but my library doesn't currently allow me access to this article.

Another short review paper (requiring log-in account): "Northern Gulf of Mexico continental slope," Geo-Marine Letters, 1990, 10(4):177-181. Paper describes a "range of phenomena about which we are just becoming aware. The combination of diapiric tectonism, faulting, relative sea level fluctuations, sediment input, and hydrocarbon seepage results in gas hydrates, mud volcanoes, chemosynthetic communities, authigenic carbonates, gassy sediments, seafloor erosion, and other phenomena investigators are starting to recognize from this complex province" (p. 180).

Anybody else with helpful overview articles on GOM geology? ... might be worth it to have a look.

I find it hard to beleive this is being seriously contemplated. They could quite easily drill 6 relief wells and suck the top reservoir dry. Start injecting water into the top reservoir and so on.


b is for bat and c is for crazy

calling international rescue

Tsar Tomba

"Mein Fuhrer, I can walk!"

"We'll meet again on sunny day."

does anyone know...

would / could a nuclear class explosion disrupt / 'break' / or / otherwise set into motion some structural geological event?

could the normal planetary geological shifts - normally occurring over millions of years... be set into motion in some radically time-collapsed event?

oh... this thing will NOT get anywhere near three years... regardless of the solution... this will NOT gush uncontrolled for three years...

"would / could a nuclear class explosion disrupt / 'break' / or / otherwise set into motion some structural geological event?"

Other than the probable tsunami? Would that count as a geological event or just a disaster?

I think you folks have problems with scale. No continents drifting off or unstoppable giant cracks in the earth. No tsunamis.

long before a nuke could be prepared for the conditions at these depths.

Already available off the shelf.

It's called a nuclear depth charge.

Looks like you should be in charge of this operation. Make sure you take the model that's designed to plow through hundreds of feet of muck and mud on its way to the point in the rock where fracturing is guaranteed not to occur. I think it's model# 2stupid4words.

Check with the Chinese first: they'll have a better price.

Does anyone else think that the geniuses promoting this nonsense are holding BP stock? And are looking for a way to shift liability from BP to someone, anyone, else.

Man o' man, I am glad that adults are minding the store.

Hmmm, any naval experience to back that up? The USN has not deployed nuclear warheads for ASW for over 20 years -- all ASROCs are retired and the replacement vertical launch VL-ASROC is conventional only.

The other issue here is that ASROC was not designed to operate below some depth, which I guess is still classified. (If anyone has an unclassified source, I'd like to see it.) I would personally be dubious of any depth below the crush depth of a Soviet Alfa...which is way less than the depth of the well.

Let's ignore the pressure and depth issues for a moment. The W44 warhead fits into a 13.75 inch missile, but I don't know that it could be sized to fit into the 9-7/8" pipe at the bottom. No personal knowledge, just opinion. So I think a separate well is still mandatory.

A standard joke about nuclear ASW weapons is that they have the highest kill probability of any weapon in the arsenal, 2.0 - they sink both the sub and the ship that fired them.

There may be some other warhead with a smaller diameter, but it will not be optimized for underwater use.

The relief well still sounds like the best option if the ongoing efforts to stop or capture the leak on the sea bed do not eventually yield some success. But that's a separate debate.

From my link above:

W48 = 155mm = .075 kiloton

W33 = 203mm = 5-10 kiloton to 40 kiloton

I'm sure that they could adapt one of these little guys:

The U.S. has 460 AGM-129 Advanced Cruise Missiles (ACMs) with a W80 nuclear warhead (5 kt or 150 kt selectable yield) for B-52 Stratofortress (B-52H) external carriage. Also there are approximately 350 sea-launched cruise missiles with the same nuclear warhead. The range of the missile is 3000 km. These missiles have been "mothballed" and placed in storage.

I think the objection that none of these weapons were designed to operate in anything like the hydrostatic pressures needed is valid. Even an eart penetrating bunkerbuster (which I think was never given permission to design), is designed for a totally different and very transient mechanical challenge. So unless the weapon was designed to be fluid filled -at the same pressure as the outside envirnoment, it might be a serious issue. I doubt any nuclear depth charge would have been designed for such depths -as there are no targets that deep.

But you certainly right about scale. Compared to geological events such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and even small (think meteor crater sized) asteroids our puny bombs really are just puny toys.

Ghung, pay rapt attention to what Enemy of State and Yet Another Reader are saying.

This would not be an 'off-the -shelf' job.

As far as a custom design....the relief wells will be drilled and the BP well would be plugged way sooner than a 'custom design' could be brought to bear.

(keeps stirring, holds his nose)

Very little of the debacle of trying to stop this thing has been "off-the-shelf". It seems they are going to try yet another "custom design" soon. But, as you said above, this discussion is "way above my paygrade" (thankfully).

Paying rapt attention, SIR!

Let me you use your Vice Grips to pound nails?

Put pennies in the fuze box?

Forget this 'off the shelf' idea...Attention K-Mart shoppers, we are running a Blue-Light Special on nuclear demolition devices in the Yard and Garden section...on sale, no warranties expressed or refunds or rain checks...

I wonder if the Soviets told western powers that this was going to happen? It seems like a very provocative act without prior notification.


Prior to circa 1992 it was a different World wrt to your question.

After then it would be and is a big fraking hairy deal.

Everything can be solved with a big bang, apparently.

The well is, as I understand it, at the drop off from the shelf to the deeper regions of the Gulf. Seems like a good place to set off a nuke - Obama will one-up Truman by nuking the USA, that's got to count for something. A rockslide could get interesting.

Will probably require some discussions with the other Gulf nations, and the U.S. might find itself in the somewhat strange position of having to ask Cuba if it's OK.
Those negotiations should last a while.

And Obama could find discussing non-proliferation with potential (and actual) rogue nations tricky. "But Mr. Obama president sir, you yourself have demonstrated the importance of having this option available in a national emergency."

Yes, a very likely scenario. I say go for it, Simmons.

Why aren't we hearing things from Academia? I don't hear things from the PetE departments. Why isn't the media taping into that resource to discuss the problem/solution sets?

Why isn't the media taping into that resource to discuss the problem/solution sets?

Dave, get yourself into a laboratory quickly. Enquiring minds want to know how a guy born yesterday has managed to master language in one day.

When I take a break from pulling out my hair I'll pick up my jaw, so I can gnash my teeth: I'm hearing a guy on BBC radio news (Christopher Brownfield of Colombia Univ) assert, with cheerful confidence, that using a nuclear bomb to stop this blowout WOULD work, and that the main reason that this "solution" is being resisted is to preserve BP's opportunity to eventually profit from this well. He did allow that using "an array of conventional explosives on the ocean floor" (ON?) might be preferable to using nukes. He mainly seemed anxious to bomb the whole mess to smithereens just to make sure that BP could never make a dollar selling this oil. (My mother used to call this "cutting off your nose to spite your face.") It certainly would be emotionally satisfying to send a nuke in BP's direction, but that doesn't make it a good idea.

The BBC presenter expressed little skepticism; no contrary opinion was presented.

I'll leave all the technical objections to you experts. What appalls me is the irresponsible journalism. A few days ago, the NYT (et al) told us that the leak (such a puny little word for such a monstrous event) was stopped, and we just had to wait a few days to see if the cement would hold. Few people seemed to care much or notice that this "information" had not the slightest acquaintance with reality. Further erosion of media credibility will be another consequence of this blowout. When the media finally start talking about peak oil, people won't believe a word.

Some questions:
1. Could a relief well be used for production later? I did read in a comment on another thread that it definitely could not, but I don't understand the details.
2. Why is this thread listed under "Australia and New Zealand"?
3. What's a smithereen?

THANKS for great site--sending $.

Hi Bedlam,

I'll try to answer, others will correct me if I'm wrong.

1. Yes, they can use the relief well by drilling a hole through the side of the casing and continuing on. Would look like an upside down Y with one leg going to kill the well and the other to produce from the oil formation. (Hope I'm right on this one)

2. Big Gav is a member of the Australia and New Zealand TOD contingent. Since he is the author, the article shows up here.

3. Smithereens. Kinda boring actually, just means small pieces.

From the textbooks I have seen, Petroleum Engineering is about memorizing a bunch of formulas. Very few PE departments exist in major universities away from oil producing regions in the USA. In some sense they may work better as trade schools.

I try to rationalize why this occurs in the context of them doing no research on oil depletion, or any real fundamental research. Like this on dispersion:

Try a geophysics department or an environmental engineering department.

I was with you until you said environmental engineering. Know to many of those guys.

At least the environmental engineers may have some laudable objectives?

I read a couple of very interesting papers recently that I placed in my recent blog post:

  1. D.Haag and M.Kaupenjohann, Biogeochemical Models in the Environmental Sciences: The Dynamical System Paradigm and the Role of Simulation Modeling
  2. H. Lange, Are Ecosystems Dynamical Systems?

The authors of these papers have mixed feelings about the applicability of modeling biogeochemical systems and speculate whether we should use any kinds of models for "ecological risk assessment". They point out that ecological systems obviously can adapt under certain circumstances and no amount of physical modeling can predict which way the system will go. I would ask will spilled oil decompose faster as the environment adapts around it? Will that make dispersion less relevant? Who knows? At least they think about this stuff.

I agree WRT petroleum engineers. All they know is how to drill holes. Do not ask them questions about any other subject. The people to ask are physicists, geophysicists and chemists etc.

The Russians weren't the only ones:
USA circa 1961 --

I have been reading this site for years and for the last month or so it has been by far one of the best reads on the web... the level headed oilfield experts have done much to help keep the faith in humanity.

curious about the mechanics of drilling a relief well. If you don't hit the original well the first time do you have to drill a completely new well to try again or do you back it up a bit and try again. So on the next try you only have to drill several hundred feet. If so why wouldn't you ultimately be guaranteed success?

In the case of a miss the procedure is to backup a short length (involves cementing etc.) and trying again. As you say intersection will eventually occur - but the time line may be longer than BP is telling us right now.

The real problems may occur when the relief intersects. There are some unknowns and care needs to be taken.

"Subterranean Tunneling Machines" Would be nice if they existed and had an advance version that could drill relief wells underwater using a GPs guidance system

GPS won't work underground.

So they use gyros and other things for directional drilling.

This stuff is done all the time now.
It's what makes the shale gas plays possible - long horizontal wells (with fracturing).

For final approach to the blown-out well's casing, they'll use
some electromagnetic sensing systems.

I have been reading this site for years and for the last month or so it has been by far one of the best reads on the web

You think?

I have found the abuse heaped by the 'regulars' on the 'newbies' dreadful.

I want to hear about the true technical issues and to be frank any posts containing such nuggets have been swamped by an ocean of rudeness, arrogance and the like.

There is a sort of bitter nastiness in the air here currently.

I look forward to the TOD getting back to normal.

"I look forward to the TOD getting back to normal."


I found otherwise. They considered and responded to my questions and politely referred me back to a prior thread which I should have read before posting. Very good of them too.
They don't mind newbies so much as idiots that a) can't be bothered to read (*cough*) and b) don't recognise that the extra three zeroes at the end of a number actually change things just a bit.
It's the same with me in my own field. I get narked by fools who will loudly opine on X without feeling the need to get a clue first. Only they were nicer than I'd be (although if someone does try and still gets it wrong I'm more than happy with that).
Separately, someone mentioned landslides. FWIW it brough this to mind
I appreciate your answers, gents, time for me to sign off permanently I think. Best of luck.

The responses to the nonsense posts have been pretty restrained. How many times would you have to explain that attaching a battleship to a giant brass screw using JB Weld and then sinking it directly on the borehole is not a practical solution. Or the suggestion that a number of large ships begin processing the water in the GOM plumes to remove the entrained oil molecules. It makes as much sense as calling for fans to be set up on the beaches to blow the slick back out to sea. But, as one commentator wrote "At least they could try" which is just nonsense.


You have no right to complain:

TOD is a reality-based, technically oriented blog.

If you have questions ask them--knowledgeable people will often notice your post and answer your questions.

If, instead, you refuse to read and learn but merely promote blatantly stupid ideas, then of course you will be slapped down--that is as it should be!

Honestly I don't have the time to look at the Oil Spill threads so I can't say one way or another how new people to the Site are being treated. I am one of the old timers, in August it'll be 5 years. I try to be polite and civil to people who might not understand that their idea is not going to work. But I rarely stand for people being rude to others, and tend to post something about it, ( happened in the recent Campfire keypost thread ).

I would hope that everyone takes a calm deep breath and tries to be calm in thier dealings with new and old alike.

I too would like the traffic to slow down a bit, but I don't think we can hope for that until the sensory overload kicks in with the Spill news, or the spill ends.

I know that the people who are in the area of the spill are the hottest about the issues facing them, And to them I'd like to offer a big hug and a beer (You'll have to email me to arrange that one)

BioWebScape designs for a better fed and housed future.

The Soviets didn't just try using nukes to plug gas wells. They also experimented with using them to fracture formations and increase production of both oil and gas. These experiments sometimes worked too, if you didn't mind finding fission products in your fuel.

Who knows which effect would happen in the Gulf.

"curious about the mechanics of drilling a relief well. If you don't hit the original well the first time do you have to drill a completely new well to try again or do you back it up a bit and try again. So on the next try you only have to drill several hundred feet. If so why wouldn't you ultimately be guaranteed success?"

It might take a half dozen tries, but they will hit eventually.

The reason it might not be a success is that according to what I read elsewhere ( and I thought the person got their info here but I might be wrong) there is evidence that the casing failed at the bottom and so there is oil and gas coming up outside the pipe as well as inside the pipe. I don't know much about plugging holes down there with cement, but if there is a hole opened up in the reservoir rock cap outside the pipe, this is why a bomb to crimp the rock and pipe shut would be the only answer. You can't cement a hole in the rock.

If the experts here would like to correct me, please do, it is hard to know what is true in all the internet supposed facts being tossed around.

By the way we have a fallout shelter,and I read all 800 pages of Richard Rhoads book on the Making of the Atomic Bomb (fantastic read) and his second book on the making of the thermonuclear bomb. One of my hobbies is civil defense. I have zero worries about a nuke down there and fully support Simmons. I think most people have an exaggerated fear of nukes as far as radiation from this goes...although if it did sublimate ( melt, but from solid to gas) methane hydrates, I can see that it might be apocalyptic.....

..and I don't think Simmons speaks from any dementia, but from wisdom and concern.....

"If you don't hit the original well the first time do you have to drill a completely new well to try again or do you back it up a bit and try again."

The experts seem to be shell shocked by all the crazy talk here, so I'll answer.

The answer is You back it up a bit and try again.
I think Rockman has said that sometimes you don't get it right until the third time. I would imagine that it you don't get a hit by the fifth or sixth try, your out of a job and someone else is placed in charge. Sort of like the coach for a losing team.

The Soviets didn't just try using nukes to plug gas wells.

The rumor was 4 of 5 leaks were 'stopped' with nukes.

No idea of the truth.

"Rumor" seems a bit unfair - these blasts seem to be reasonably credibly documented.

Why would you need a nuke to do this job?

When the oil wells in Iraq were set on fire, most of them were closed by having a small bomb place on each side of the pipe and setting them off, pinching the well pipe. This was very successful.

You could drill two shallow wells on each side of the main well and place a conventional explosive charge on each side and set it off, pinching the main well.

I'm sure that there are plenty of high explosive that could handle the job. You would need to design a bomb that would handle the pressures at those levels, but it should be a straight forward engineering job.

If memory serves, the explosive charges were placed to put out the raging fires, the wildcatters then used other apparatus to cap the wells.

Traditionally explosives are used to extinguish well fires, not stopping the blow out. Bye the way, there were other -- more creative -- methods used in Kuwait, e.g. using set engine to blow out the fires as a candle.

"Why would you need a nuke to do this job?"

You don't. This discussion is crazy. If someone proposes using nukes, they are crazy and in capable of hearing reasoned discourse. Read more here to see that this statement is true, or just take my word for it and move on.

A nuke is just another explosive device, though perhaps one that is controllable. It produces radiation, but if it were somehow detonated thousands of feet below the ocean floor, that would not be much of an issue in and of itself. Folks talking about nukes are really just talking about big explosions. It may be that using a big explosion to collapse a very deep well is a stupid idea (although it does not defy common sense), but whether that is so seems to me to have not much to do with whether the explosion is nuclear or conventional. Obviously, if such an idea were to turn out to be viable in some very general sense (I'm not competent to say, but then neither are drilling experts who don't know jack about explosives and physics) one would have to consider the pros and cons of the different ways of producing a large explosion.

At any rate, what seems clear is that one has to drill new wells whatever one plans to do with them. In the meantime, one should also look for ways to mitigate the obvious negative effects of the continuing escape. It seems this is basically what is being done, and, unless some Fermi working for the DOE has a brilliant better idea that's implementable in the space of a few weeks, it's what will eventually work.

Why would you need a nuke to do this job?

The impulse energy to move earth was the original proposal I remember reading - the idea was drill a hole, put a nuke down the hole and the BOOM would move the earth to close the hole.

Reports of another leak from the seafloor 6 or 7 miles away surface occasionally.
Is there any confirmation of this ?
Is it just a confusion stemming from calling the huge underwater slick a 'plume'
thanks, Pete

There has been no confirmation of any other 'Leak points" than at the well site. A source of the confusion is that a research vessle reported a area of low oxygen in a plume some miles away. I believe the scientist who was quoted later made clear that he was not implicating the oil leak. The problem with this leak is that the oil that is escaping is alos full of dissolved NG. When the mix passes the escape point the pressure is reduced but only to about 2500 psia. Lots of unusual reactions occur as the gas comes out of solution and the hydrates are formed when the gas combines with the water. The various components of the oil are also fractionated. The result is far different from having dead oil on the surface as in the Exxon Valdez incident. I expect that there will be lots of reports from the different monitoring groups that they never expected XXXX or had not seen YYYY before.

Discussion from another site. See especially the excerpt at #6 and the link from the Federation of American Scientists

[ghung] "I think you folks have problems with scale. No continents drifting off or unstoppable giant cracks in the earth. No tsunamis."

Wrong, look up subsidence. Note that a nuke will instantly vaporize rock, mud, water anything else in the neighborhood. My father worked for the atomic energy commission in the US and was responsible for underground testing. I personally saw the craters that were created. An instant crater under 5K feet of water will cause the water to move above, guaranteed. The only thing I can't guarantee is where it will end up. No "unstoppable giant cracks" needed, but giant cranks are here aplenty on this site, yourself included?

If you read all of my comments above you would understand:

1. I think this is a crazy idea, I'm just participating in the discussion, trying to dispell some myths.

2. I suggested that conventional explosives would be the prefered choice.

3. I pointed out that all nuclear devices are not huge "city killers". The yield of the smallest nuke referenced, 72 tons (.072 kiloton), TNT equivalent, surely won't create the type of damage you suggest. We have used (combined yield) conventional weapons much larger.

I suggest you need to revisit the "problem of scale" question.

I don't take offense at your suggesting that I'm a crank. It seems I'm in good company here ;-)

Note that a nuke will instantly vaporize rock, mud, water anything else in the neighborhood.

Beyond the obvious heat of a fission reaction - how big are you thinking the explosion would be and where?

Nixon: I still think we ought to take the North Vietnamese dikes out now. Will that drown people?
Kissinger: About two hundred thousand people.
Nixon: No, no, no, I'd rather use the nuclear bomb. Have you got that, Henry?
Kissinger: That, I think, would just be too much.
Nixon: The nuclear bomb, does that bother you?...I just want you to think big, Henry, for Christsakes.

* In conversation with Henry Kissinger regarding Vietnam, as quoted in Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers. (2002) by Daniel Ellsberg ISBN 0-670-03030-9

"Nuking the oil slick" isn't going to do shit. The bombs gotta be stuffed down the hole aways to be effective.

We need to shut this thing off. So far, a complete junk show by BP. Lots and lots of masturbation.

Many years age, tests were proposed to be done at a remote pacific island, to detonate nuclear bombs.
One of the objectives was to see effects on the sea floor below the test site.

1st nuclear explosion was to be a certain distance in the air.
2nd was to be at the sea level.
3rd was to be below the sea level.

At the test at sea level, the explosion was much larger.
The reason was that there was an included hydrogen bomb explosion reaction caused by the hydrogen in the sea water.

The 3rd test of detonating a bomb below sea level was aborted as it could produce a huge hydrogen explosion with all the sea water.

This is one very major problem of exploding nuclear bombs beneath sea level, or under water.


It doesn't work that way. That would imply a chain reaction. Neither the ocean nor the atmosphere contain any material in sufficient quantities to sustain a chain reaction.

That's not quite accurate. Fusion bombs don't work based on chain reactions. They use the heat of a fission explosion to compress and heat a quantity of fusionable material, specifically: tritium+deuterium. If this fuel is raised to sufficiently high density and temperature, it fuses to helium-4, releasing a large amount of energy mostly in the form of fast neutrons. It's a form of burning: the neutrons are not required for the fusion reaction to continue, they just carry away the energy from the reaction.

There's plenty of material in the atmosphere and the oceans that could in principle also fuse with the release of energy: oxygen and nitrogen in the air / oxygen and hydrogen in the ocean (though not much tritium and deuterium which are the critical isotopes of hydrogen in a fusion bomb, since the d+t reaction is the one which goes at the the lowest pressures and temperatures).

Still, you're absolutely correct: a hydrogen bomb can't ignite any self-sustaining fusion reaction in the oceans or the atmosphere, because once the initial fireball passes out of the bomb casing and into the surrounding material, be it rock, air or seawater, the pressures and temperatures drop far too quickly due to thermal and other radiation from the initial fireball.

Igniting the atmosphere was something that some of the bomb physicists did worry about before the test of the first hydrogen bomb, but it was shown by Hans Bethe that it wasn't a possibility, and in fact it didn't happen, of course!

I still love how the scientists measured the yield of the Trinity blast on the spot: checking the scatter of pieces of paper from the shock wave.

Yes! the man who did that was Enrico Fermi if I remember? Very, very clever, and a very practical man, and he came pretty close to getting the yield of the Trinity test correct as the story goes :)

In Operation Crossroads two roughly Hiroshima sized weapons (duplicates of the Fat Man bomb) were detonated in the Bikini atoll testing area to see the effect of nuclear weapons on naval ships. The Alpha test was an airburst at 528 feet, and the Bravo test was detonated at 90 m below sea level, not at sea level.

They stopped the program not because of a difference in the yield of the underwater explosion and the airburst, which were essentially the same, but because the ships in the Bravo test became very highly radioactive and virtually impossible to clean. An airburst disperses fallout over a huge area so that the effects are to some extent mitigated. But an explosion below but near the surface produces localized radioactive fallout, whose effects are considerably worse.

Strata of shale are what keep oil and gas below ground. If fractured, the oil and gas will begin percolating upwards through cracks. The entire reservoir could end up in the Gulf. Along with fission products.

To me it makes as much sense as carrying a .50 rifle into an operating room and cranking 500 rounds into the patient to cure his diarrhea.

I want to summarize what I've read here, since I believe both Heisenberg and Ghung are correct, but I don't think the points have been collected together clearly enough.

  1. Nuking the well is theoretically possible, but it would take many months to adequately model its effects. You can see this in the Soviet video: the gas fire was burning for 3 years, and only at the very end of a long process was the nuke used.
  2. In this sense, hopefully some DOE or other scientists are at least doing some modeling to determine whether this might work and if so, what equipment would be needed and/or is available.
  3. NUKING IS A LAST RESORT. Because it would take LONGER to prepare than drilling relief wells, it is irresponsible and wrong to suggest it's an option NOW. It's at the bottom of a long list of possibilities, hopefully including conventional explosives.
  4. NUKING IS THE HIGHEST-ADDED RISK OPTION. All lower-risk options must be considered first. That is also clear from the 3 years the Soviets let the gas fire burn before they nuked it. So it has to go after everything else.
  5. THE RELIEF WELLS ARE LIKELY TO WORK. Therefore a high-risk, untested option like nuking can't even be considered until a high-probability, low-risk (other than the spill continuing) option is explored.

Now with that out of the way, I have a couple of questions, none of them about the feasibility of nuking.

  1. Why does the media focus on this option as though it is a replacement for drilling the relief wells and could be done quickly, while in fact the one conceivably "open" fact about nukes is that they are complicated and (other than bombing to kill) require tons of preparation?
  2. On TOD in several places I've read that BP has abandoned the second relief well and is drilling only one. Yet I hear and read in the media, even right now, that there are two wells being drilled simultaneously. Does anyone know if it is really 2 or 1?
  3. A much lower-risk procedure, one that it seems to me can only help and only serve as a supplement to everything else, is using supertankers to "vacuum up" oily water from right near the spill. There is a claim that this approach was used with a Saudi spill to great effect. It is also very LOW-RISK from what I can tell; it would not impede or replace anything else being done. I have searched and searched on TOD and been hard-pressed to find discussion of it. Is this idea reasonable at all? Ref:

About #3, Worried: IIRC, the Saudi spill was much shallower and most of the oil was sufacing in a small area. This deepwater GOM spill is different in that the oil that is reaching the surface is doing so over a large area. Much of it isn't rising to the surface at all.....yet.

Wow, this post was bound to lead to some crazy threads and it did. Someone said that those who know the most about nuclear weapons are the most set against it. I haven't seen any substantiation that anyone posting here is an expert, nuclear physicist, etc., nor have I seen any posts that lead me to believe they are. Too bad. Very few links to substantiate some of your claims. I was hoping for some posts/links regarding (general info) the possible peaceful uses of these devices. I understand that it is a "no starter" subject, and the likelyhood of one being used on this spill is near to zero. So is the likelyhood of humans settling on a planet around some other star in the foreseeable future. We still discuss it. What gives?

I admire the passion of some of you who object to this "proposal". I detest any suggestion that it shouldn't be discussed. Very un-TOD.

This has been an enjoyable exercise. Thanks all!

the possible peaceful uses of these devices

This was explored back in the 1950s and 60s. There aren't any, and that is why you haven't heard about them.

People with classified knowledge are not going to comment, obviously. You take their word for it or you don't. But a knowledge of basic physics, including nuclear physics and health physics, is all you really need, and that is NOT classified. You can read and learn for yourself if you are at all inclined.

Health physics tells you that on a human scale, radiological by-products last forever. An exception: Some such as iodine, are measured in decades. In a few decades, the biosphere will have dealt with all the oil one way or another, but radioactive debris is never dealt with because nothing CAN deal with it. For humans, we simply dump it somewhere and let it be somebody else's problem, which surely it is or soon becomes.

But what is the big explosion supposed to accomplish? Squeeze the well shut AND seal it. The Soviet clip we have been watching has a totally different geology in which once the well was mashed in, it sealed itself. Presumably--Soviet propaganda is notoriously short on real-world follow-up. And presumably the clay layer played a key role in sealing the well.

The Gulf of Mexico does not have a clay layer. The rock layers are easily shattered--which we gather is why BP's first attempt in this formation failed and was abandoned. The well cannot be expected to self-seal. Rather the expectation is the opposite: The formation will more likely fracture and dump the entire reservoir quickly and directly into the Gulf waters.

This would be worse than what we have now.

And this is why the whole idea is properly described as stupid.

One suspects this entire thread is motivated by a puerile fascination with blowing things up. Any excuse will do as long as a loud boom is created.

I can just imagine a nuke fracturing the rock so that the oil underneath leaks through millions of cracks, rather than just one hole. Utterly impossible to stop, and guaranteeing the doom of the GOM ecosystem for decades to come.

Yeah, that'll "fix it", all right.

Please try to listen to the video more carefully, and understand why your comment (repeated so, so many times above) doesn't make sense. The Soviets chose a plastic strata to detonate in, not a brittle one. They mention this. A plastic media will deform under stress rather than fracture. Are there plastic strata in the seabed at any depth between the seafloor and the reservoir top depth, and if so, is one of them deep enough to sufficiently contain the stress produced by the explosion without creating any other channels? Only some competent geologists with specific area knowledge should answer this.

Thanks for the sensible comment.

While I think the nuclear option is a bad one, people do seem to be making a few baseless criticisms of it (however I would hope drilling relief wells could be done faster than actually attempting this).

We cannot control the crust on land.
No, this is not a Photoshop job or a Fantastic 4 : Rise of the Silver Surfer promo.


Hell, we can't control the crust on bread.
Man, that's a big hole!

Notice the foundation for the structure overhanging the hole. I had to look at it very closely to be sure it was not a paste job. The AP credit for the photo also helps authenticity.

That hole swallowed an entire three story building.

Let's pass on all the "The World Will Split Open Like a Rotten Egg" rhetoric.

Techies may care to take a look at this on-line book, "The Effects Of Nuclear Weapons".

The sections on underwater explosion are of main interest.

The information makes it clear why you have to drill a shaft to place the nuclear device ... the effects of nuclear explosions underground or underwater are VERY limited, so you have to be VERY close to what you want to zap.

This rather poor performance does limit the options.

So technically maybe a nuclear devices isn't a Silver Bullet ... but that is no justification for the high rant factor evident in this thread.

"the effects of nuclear explosions underground or underwater are VERY limited" <- this is a good thing and works against the idea of not using it.

"so you have to be VERY close to what you want to zap." <- No problem, the technology to drill "VERY" close exists. By VERY I assume you mean within, say 50 meters.

I have to say that Ghung's posts are the most scientific that I have read here.

Lot of unscientific ranting, all the way from "the Earth will split open", to "this is top secret stuff and I can write about it being top secret on the internet, but you should not even be thinking about it". Hmmmm... is that a black helicopter I see outside my window?

I think those who oppose the nuclear solution do so for emotional reasons. Sure there may be the risk of the release of some radiation. It is also quite likely that the radiation will not even have 0.01% negative impact that the unsealed well is having. This is pretty much the anti-nuclear religion.

It is easy to be sitting comfortably in some faraway city and proclaim the nuclear option should not be tried, however for the people in Louisiana who are going to suffer the consequences it is a different story.

Some comments.
[these are assuming that the proposed blast is in the 10's of kiloton size, i.e. no more than say 50 kt or so. Not megaton level for obvious reasons]. Names in capitals refer to past nuclear tests. Google them if needed.
1) A nuclear explosion would likely have to be in a bore hole, as it is not clear that a seafloor event would seal the hole and to reduce radiation release. Also, I believe that there is substantial seafloor infrastructure in the area including a pipeline(s) from Thunderhorse which might be damaged by the shock, not to mention any nearby marine mammals. Effects of a seafloor event might resemble that of WIGWAM (offshore San Diego).
2) Geology of Mississippi Canyon block, like most of the northern GOM, is is mixture of young (Tertiary) clastics and salt. Clastics are generally alternating layers of sandstone and shales. No (or little) carbonate. Shallow depths are poorly consolidated (sands and clays). I am not sure how much salt is in the MC 252 block but I suspect the Macondo prospect is in a salt-related trap (turbidite sands?)(maybe even sub-salt???). Salt structure can be very complex. It originated in the Jurassic Louann (sp?) but has become mobile due overlying sediments and now forms diapirs, sheets, and a variety of other structures. Salt is less dense and will flow (slowly) under differential pressure.
3) Faults are either normal faults related to salt tectonics or growth faults.
4) A sub-surface explosion generally creates a cavity from vaporization surrounded by shattered (non-elastic deformation) and crushed material. Fractures extend past that. Past a certain distance the shock wave travels elastically. Usually the cavity collapses shortly after the blast and forms a "chimney" of shattered rock. Effect vary depending on the water table and surrounding rock type. As this would be in saturated material, the effects might vary significantly from an NTS shot where the ground water is much deeper. As far as I know no-one has ever detonated in an underwater borehole. See for examples of explosion effects in rock.
5) The Soviets tried nuclear tests to 'frac' gas reservoirs to increase flow as well as for long-range seismic sources. This was also done in the US at Rio Blanco Colorado (3 simultaneous) and at Rulison - Rulison was part of the Plowshare program. They produced more gas but was deemed too radioactive to produce (in the US at least). Also an event in New Mexico to generate heat and steam.
6) My own suspicion was that the use of Soviet nuclear devices to stop their well was primarily to frac and stopping the blow-out was a secondary effect (but planned). It would be interesting to see if the uncontrolled Soviet wells were cased or not. I suspect that might make a significant difference, as an uncased well would likely be more likely to collapse. My guess is that they were uncased and that they blew out while drilling (unlike Macondo, in which drilling was completed). It may be possible to tell from the video of the Urta-Bulak test.
7) Effects on geology would likely be minimal more than a 1000 meters or away from the blast. SALMON and STERLING were detonated in a salt dome not too far away (Hattiesburg, MS) and did not have catastrophic effects on the Gulf Coast (these were done to test the effects of a explosion in a cavity [decoupling]). At any rate, fractures at depth close up unless held open by fluid. The seal on Macondo is likely shale, possibly evaporites, and there are many thousands of feet of shale layers above that and so the chances of allowing the reservoir (at 18 k feet) to seep are exceedingly slim, in my opinion, for a reasonable size event. Nuclear explosions do sometimes have associated slight tectonic release (detectable on a seismogram or nearby fault slip). Possibly it might trigger landslides on the seafloor which might endanger nearby pipelines. The energy release would be roughly equivalent to a magnitude 4 or 5 earthquake. An M 5.8 earthquake in the GOM a few years (Sept 2006) ago did not cause any damage that I know of.
8) Close enough to the hole it would likely collapse it and the casing. I am not sure how close "close enough" is. It would need to be at some depth to reduce radiation emission. Too far might just break whatever cement is left between the casing and rock in the well.
9) NTS (Nevada Test Sites) boreholes were typically much wider in diameter than an standard oil well (big enough to fall down, as happened at least once). It is not clear to me whether it is possible to drill this size borehole in deepwater with available rigs. Perhaps devices exist that can fit down a narrower hole. The question is whether these devices would be capable of functioning under these pressures and seawater as well. I have no idea. The last US test was in 1992 and the capability to test is likely much diminished. My own guess is that this is a show-stopper. Even it was decided to go nuclear tomorrow it seems unlikely to me that it could be accomplished faster than the relief wells [and a LOT more expensive].
10) Not obvious to me that it would work with a high likelihood of success. Might make it worse, if energy release is unexpectedly asymmetric and it only breaks the cement/casing. Or breaks a nearby pipeline.

Why Is Every One Who Suggests Using A nuclear Device Being Demonized???

From my (rather casual) research into the plausibility of the effects of subterranean nuclear blasts, mostly in connection with reports of the feasibility of using nuclear bombs to destroy underground bunkers, the range of subterranean destructive force of such devices is quite limited. This is a function of both the depth and size of the blast. Even with relatively deep penetration, very generously at 20 feet, and with a relatively large bomb (on the order of 2X the Hiroshima bomb), the range of significant destruction (through rock) would be about one to three thousand feet.

Here's the Macondo blow-out situation: The sea floor is about 5,000 feet (0.95 mi.) deep. The rock covering the oil and gas lake is about 18,000 feet (3.4 miles) thick (Mt Everest, for comparison, is 5.5 miles high). And the destructive range of a small blast would be far less. In fact, it is reported that to disrupt the vertical shaft at all, a small nuclear device would need to be within about 150 feet of it.

What I am suggesting is that in order to have the option to use such a device at all, we need to begin drilling a parallel shaft right now, since doing this would take perhaps one or two months. Doing this would not mean that we would be obliged to go ahead and set off a blast; it just gives us that option. The only other real option is to wait until August and hope that the relief shafts will reduce the pressure, but that would probably take at least another month to begin to be effective; or if the oil and gas lake is very large it could take years. Imagine the oil and gas gushing up for years! (Standard good practice is to have relief shafts in place before the main shaft is completed, by the way.) Meanwhile, the sand in the uncontrolled gusher will sand blast the main pipe away, and the shaft will continue to become larger every day, and there is literally no limit on how large it could become.

So we should be demanding that a parallel shaft for placing a nuclear device be drilled immediately. This method worked for the Russians four times in a row. They tried it a fifth time by "inexplicably" setting off a blast at the surface, and that failed. Given the dire future possibilities, we should be drilling the parallel shaft right now!

This is how the Russians did it: