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Obama's Oil Gusher Science Team Has "One Good Idea"

By       Message Andrew Kishner     Permalink    (# of views)   9 comments

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Earlier this month, a team of scientists was chosen by our Energy Secretary, Dr. Steven Chu, at the behest of President Obama to brainstorm ideas of how to deal with the worsening oil catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico. Two of the team's five members have backgrounds in nuclear weapons design or underground weapons testing - and it doesn't matter about the other three because their areas of expertise apparently aren't important! The U.K. newspaper The Daily Telegraph, which has kept track of Chu's team's activities, described the grouping as literally one of 'nuclear scientists' and even BP's CEO did too! Last week, James Quinn, a journalist with the Telegraph, interviewed BP's CEO Tony Hayward who told Quinn that the government team and BP's scientists met at the corporation's main 'Crisis Center' and had a five-hour meeting that had "lots of nuclear physicists and all sorts of people coming up with some quite good ideas actually." The end result, according to Hayward, was "one good idea," but he declined to elaborate on what the heck that was.

Well, I once thought it was a "good" idea if I put a firecracker in my obstinately clogged bathroom sink drain to unclog it. It was just an idea and thankfully my frustrated, rash thinking didn't get the best of me. Later I found out a way to unclog the drain that didn't require destroying other parts of the plumbing, or worse.

I've learned through a week of web-scouring on the esoteric topic of nuking underwater oil wells that if there is a cardinal rule for how to resolve an underwater oil disaster with a nuclear bomb, it is this: if anyone offers any insight or expertise on whether it would work or not, they don't know what the heck they're talking about. Why? Because no one knows what would happen and (because) nothing of the sort has ever remotely been attempted in reality. Not even the best atomic scientists would know the end result. But that doesn't stop every other person in the comment forums and discussion sections of news and social networking websites all over the internet from offering their own rationale as to why a nuke would, or would not, work. Most of them have argued - based on facts passed along the Web 2.0 grapevine - that if the Russians stopped four out of five underground (not underwater) runaway oil calamities with nukes, then we can do the same at 5,000 feet underwater! The Russian newspaper that gave a forum to the Cold War-era nuclear scientist who floated this 'nuke the Gulf gusher' idea several weeks ago failed to mention the radioactive mess those underground tests created: one of the five attempts failed to stop a blowout and even let out a plume or two of radioactive gas and debris. This all shouldn't come as a surprise to us Americans, but as atomic amnesiacs it does: we set off nukes underground in the gas fields of western Colorado in 1969 and 1973 to 'free' trapped gas but instead created two radioactive messes that are still haunting local communities. So, why would trying to stop a gas-and-oil-spewing volcano 5,000 feet underwater with a nuke come off without a hitch?

A few comments, however, in those many forums I had perused gained my appreciation for their artful depiction of the insane idea of using a nuke on the gusher. One poster simply paraphrased a famous utterance by Robert Oppenheimer upon witnessing the atomic flash of Trinity in the New Mexico desert in 1945: "Now I am become Death, destroyer of jumbo shrimp." Another wrote: "Question: What's worse than a hole in the ocean floor spewing oil? Answer: A radioactive hole in the ocean floor spewing oil."

After slowly coming to terms with the dreadful truth that our peace-prize winning President might nuke the gusher on the floor of the Gulf of Mexico, I realized cardinal rule number two. If no one can offer any insight or expertise on the 'nuclear option' because they haven't a clue - that includes those in the ranks of Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) who probably would jump at the chance to carry out a 'truth test' (a real nuke test to ensure their 'aging' and retrofitted warheads still work), even in the great depths of the ocean - then 'they' would need to do a 'trial test.' This was the next thing that bothered me greatly, naturally, since the problem now had doubled: they might do a trial test somewhere in the remote Pacific before the 'real deal' in the more monitored and more populated Gulf of Mexico (with an actual gusher that could get larger if they mess up!). Then I pondered the location, settling on one of the Pacific Proving Ground sites where we tested nukes in the 1940s through the 1960s, and then found that I was guilty of speculating on things I have no idea about, a violation - in spirit - of cardinal rule numero uno.

But the idea does hold some water (pun not intended). Wouldn't 'they' find some area of the remote ocean with rock composition 5,000 feet under the water that resembles that of the Gulf and drill a long shaft, put in a nuke, and see what happens before actually nuking the Gulf gusher? After announcing an unequivocally successful test, they would say that the trial test was a small price to pay for the protection of our ocean ecology and that the radioactivity from the blast was perfectly contained - in perpetuity - in a glassed-capped underground chamber. Finally, several experts from Columbia Medical School will say that they dined over a pan-seared wild blue marlin that was in the blast zone and none of them feel any adverse health effects. You get the idea.

If recent news reports on the disintegration of BP's credibility and also the environmental situation of the ocean eddy- and loop-affected slick are any sign of what's to come, I'm guessing Chu's team's 'good idea' is quickly becoming a 'great idea.' But wait...maybe I'm way off. Maybe their 'good idea' is actually like a firecracker: a non-nuclear inducing mechanism for collapsing rock. Then again, this is a team of 'nuclear scientists,' right? The only idea - good or, more often, bad - that has ever come from the minds of a bunch of nuclear scientists is a nuclear one! And that's why although I keep hoping the worst won't happen, like the spill itself, I can't ignore the signs that the worst WILL happen.