The 6 Most Insane Things Ever Done With Nuclear Weapons
When the nuclear bomb put a spectacular end to World War II, the world collectively realized that this whole "apocalyptic explosives" thing might not be so fun after all and dialed way back on the nuke dropping. But, like your first pass through an all-you-can-eat buffet, we got way too excited about nuclear arms at the start and piled our plate too high. Unwilling to let all of this new, possibly civilization-ending technology go to waste, we came up with some novel and incredibly unwise uses for nuclear weapons, such as ...
Nuking Beer, And Then Drinking It
When faced with the threat of a nuclear apocalypse sometime in the immediate future, our first and most pressing question is "what about the beer?" Scientists have been preoccupied with this dire issue since the 1950s, when they conducted Operation Teapot, which, among other things, tested the effects of nuclear fallout on the quality of beer.
The original name was "Operation Plutonium Kegger," but the government was worried
people would think they weren't taking nuclear weapons seriously.
You're familiar with those fake houses they set up in the desert, complete with convenient, blast-proof Harrison Ford storage devices? They were also packed full of food items including canned goods and, of course, beer. This wasn't just last-minute curiosity, either. The experiments were pretty scientifically thorough: Bottles and cans were tested, placed in a wide variety of arrangements such as stacked in batches, lined up along walls, and even buried underground at various sites, ranging from several miles away to right next to the explosion. This was a very important study that fully justified the irradiation of miles of American landscape so as to render it useless to future generations.
The results? Canned beer fares better in a nuclear explosion than bottled beer, as you would probably expect. But, they still needed some poor sap to do the all-important taste test. The name of whoever was given this task is lost to history (and probably unmarked on the hasty grave the scientists dug for him soon afterward), but the evaluation was that the beer closest to the explosion tasted a little strange.
You'll recognize the flavor by its modern name: light beer.
It will still get you buzzed though, which is nice, considering that, if you're tasting it, you've just survived a nuclear detonation and could probably use a drink right about now.
Drilling For Oil With Nuclear Blasts
In 1965, when the Soviets' raging hard-on for nuclear war began to go a bit flaccid, they started exploring alternatives for their nuclear arsenal, which included plans to revitalize the Soviet economy by using nukes to "drill" for oil.
"I'm not sure you understand what nukes are -- or what drills are."
From 1965 to 1989, the Soviet Union ran a program called "Nuclear Explosions For The National Economy." This wasn't just a poorly conceived idea that was immediately shot down, such as Ivan's "what if we make tanks meow, so enemy think they are cats" initiative. Soviets actually began setting off nuclear bombs in established oil fields to "stimulate" production, bombing the crap out of their own country for more than two decades in a desperate attempt to punch the oil out of the Earth and into their economy.
The problem -- well, one of several predictable problems -- was that the oil they produced using this method turned out to be (get ready for this) radioactive, which meant that it couldn't be effectively refined. Oh, also contaminating large swaths of the countryside with fallout had some negative effects on the local populace. But, even then, it wasn't "environmental concerns" or "moral dilemmas" or even "basic common sense" that stopped the program; only the 1989 international moratorium on nuclear testing finally convinced them to cut that shit out.
Using Nuclear Weapons For Construction
Excavation for construction is difficult and time-consuming work, which is why scientists developed dynamite. Well, that and because explosions are rad. That was exactly the mentality behind Project Gnome, an initiative in the '60s that sought to answer the age-old question: "How hard can we fuck nature until she gets pissed about it and fights back?"
An age-old tradition that continues to this day.
To that end, scientists planted a 3.1-kiloton atomic bomb more than 1,000 feet underground, beneath a thick salt deposit. They were hoping to determine whether nukes had plausible applications in the construction industry, as well as to see if detonating a nuke underground would create new elements or at least stir up the mole people. As with most experiments involving the deliberate detonation of a goddamn atom bomb, Project Gnome quickly spiraled out of control. Although the experiment had supposedly been carefully designed so that no radiation would escape to the surface, so much of it blew out through the entry shaft that the government had to close the highways for fear of a sudden cancer epidemic.
Six months later, they sent people down into the blast site to see what they had created, and what they found was a vast underground cavern with walls spectacularly colored yellow, blue, and purple from the irradiated salt, as well as stalactites melted from the ceiling.
At which point, it was passed off as a performance art piece created by Howard Hughes.
The project carried on for another half-dozen tests before the researchers concluded that its destructive power probably didn't make up for the fact that you can't actually build anything there afterward, without risking a very slow and agonizing death. But, at least they made some really pretty rocks (that they also cannot touch for this same reason).
Strapping Nukes To Soldiers' Backs
Nuclear bombs are still kind of unwieldy today, but were much more so back in the 1950s. This was unfortunate, since right after the U.S. dropped a couple of 4-ton nukes on Japan, we immediately started wondering how to put the bastards everywhere -- including in your JanSport. After much research, the military developed the Special Atomic Demolition Munition (SADM), which was basically a nuke in a backpack. The idea was to allow Special Forces to hike into enemy territory, detonate a nuclear weapon and then ... outrun it, we guess? Why this is more convenient than dropping it from a plane, we're not quite sure.
"WHAT DO YOU MEAN THERE'S NO REMOTE CONTROL?!"
Despite some successful efforts to make it light enough to carry into battle, it was still a goddamn nuclear bomb, and soldiers were less than enthused about their deadly new accessory. Part of that might be the fact that "light enough to carry" was a relevant term: The SADM still weighed 80 to 100 pounds, so it was like carrying a small teenager into battle, if a small teenager was ready, willing, and able to obliterate a small town with the touch of a button. Reportedly, it required two other guys to support the solder carrying the nuke if he was going to move at anything faster than walking pace.
"One-hundred pounds is too heavy for a 180-pound soldier to carry, sir."
"Very well, then we'll have two soldiers carry 280 pounds!"
Thankfully, the military eventually decided that backpack nukes were not just unfeasible but also, like, such an obviously bad idea that it was incredible anyone even entertained it, so the project was scrapped.
Launching A Manhole Cover Into Space With A Nuclear Detonation
Back in the 1950s, scientists were conducting nuclear tests with all the enthusiasm of a teenager who found a crate of illegal fireworks behind a defunct local warehouse. For example, Operation Plumbbob was a series of nuclear tests conducted between May and October of 1957 in the Nevada desert, for no particular reason, save for that even scientists get bored.
Hey, don't knock it, that's how we discovered anesthesia.
One test purportedly launched a manhole cover right the hell into outer space, though it's probable that never really happened. Oh, the manhole cover thing totally happened, but the more likely scenario is that it fell back to Earth so far away that it was never seen again.
According to physicist Dr. Robert Brownlee, who worked on the project, the idea was to detonate a nuclear bomb at the base of a 500-foot shaft, which was covered by the now legendary 900-kilogram metal cap. The intention was to see what would happen when a projectile was blown spaceward by an atomic explosion, with the hope that the outcome would be "pretty cool looking." Brownlee wasn't given all the details he needed to make the proper equations, so he had to improvise, which is why he initially predicted the cap would reach six times the escape velocity of the Earth and confuse the holy shit out of some aliens someday.
Earth's Dumbest Science is the #1 reality show on the outer Milky Way planets.
But, Brownlee has retracted his initial assessment and speculated that atmospheric drag most likely brought the cap back to Earth. Still, nobody has ever located it, so we like to think that's how we make first contact: With a spinning, irradiated manhole cover, just whipping through space heedlessly and clanging into some poor alien's ship. You gotta admit: It's a pretty accurate first impression of humanity.
Using Nuclear Bombs To Put Out Oil Fires
There was once a time when people thought the best solution to major natural disasters was to nuke them until they got better. Case in point: the Soviets' experiment with extinguishing runaway oil and gas fires by detonating nukes on top of them.
The Soviets needed to find some nonwarfare uses for their impressive arsenal of nuclear weapons, and they also needed to deal with all of their out-of-control gas and oil fires. So, wouldn't you know it? They came up with a novel solution to both problems! Just drop said nukes on said fires.
"Look, we're just going to keep mixing nukes with oil until
we die or get superpowers. Deal."
Shockingly, the method worked ... in the sense that it put out the fire. Although it also doused the surrounding countryside with years of crippling radiation, so we guess that's pretty much a wash. Nevertheless, the Soviets used it four more times, all the way up until 1981, when their first failure put an end to the project. Still, a 4/5 success rate meant that BP briefly considered the technique as a solution to their 2010 oil disaster. Though the idea was presumably scrapped when some brave soul stood up and said, "Seriously, guys? Seriously?"
"The oil is already in water, so it would be like double fire prevention!"
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Ready for more terrifying idiocy with nuclear weapons? Then check out 7 Nuclear Weapon Screw-Ups You Won't Believe We Survived and 5 Things You Won't (Want to) Believe I Saw Guarding U.S. Nukes.
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