Project Plowshare - The "Peaceful Atom" 1957-75 Nuclear Blasts for Excavation


I came across Project Plowshare reading an interesting article about biodiversity research in the Darien rain forest of Panama in the 1970s. They wanted to use nuclear explosions to create a sea level canal across the isthmus in the 1960s. Is this the kind of “trust the science” we’re supposed to get behind? How many people in the US know this history other than folks like @jenlake.

Project Plowshare - Wikipedia.

I was looking for more use of radio-isotopes in ecosystems @leo, and this article is more straightforward fieldwork documentation, no remote sensing. Still, it provides a good window into what people were thinking in the 1960s. H.T. Odum is referenced and also Frank Golley at UGA. Makes me think about how UGA’s defense contracts / broadcasting / bio-nano work is likely wedded to ecosystem management.
https://esajournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1890/0012-9623-96.1.54

“By mid-1959, several Plowshare smaller-scale plans were developed to demonstrate peaceful uses of nuclear energy, in addition to construction of a sea-level canal in Panama. Once the Limited Test Ban Treaty in 1963 resulted in extending the previous moratorium on atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons, there was increased interest in testing nuclear explosives below ground.”

Odum studied under Hutchinson at Yale. Looking over Hutchinson’s work it seems interspecific competition and niche theory in ecology are probably central to the planned systems modeling / cybernetic feedback loops veering off into social engineering / eugenics. What do you think @leo? https://www.pnas.org/doi/10.1073/pnas.0905137106#:~:text=G.,influence%20birth%20and%20death%20rates.

“Odum later completed his dissertation in 1950 at Yale University under supervision of G. E. Hutchinson on the atmospheric circulation and biogeochemistry of strontium-90 in the global ecosystem.” @jenlake this quote makes me wonder if strontium tracking was the excuse to put in place or at least conceptualize a global remote sensing system.

Given what I have written about refugees and “smart” charter cities, I look at this article and imagine what the plans are for globally disrupted populations. The pinch-point that is the Darien rain forest is unique. I didn’t realize so many people from China and South Asia were moving through Central America, too. A Terrifying Journey Through the World's Most Dangerous Jungle - Outside Online

State of the Union Address, January 6, 1947, President Harry Truman on the mandate of the Atomic Energy Commission:

“…it is my fervent hope that the military significance of atomic energy will steadily decline. We look to the Commission to foster the development of atomic energy for industrial use and scientific and medical research. In the vigorous and effective development of peaceful uses of atomic energy rests our hope that this new force may ultimately be turned into a blessing for all nations.” Harry S Truman on Energy & Oil

For the record, I have a copy of the 1956 government book “Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy”, volume 1** taking the form of a commissioned report to the Congressional Joint Committee on Atomic Energy (JCAE)—though, current information about this history is much more illuminating than most of the Report. There is a volume 2 of this record, providing background and research materials, but unfortunately I don’t have it, however, on the main ‘peaceful use’ topics of atomic energy for medicine and agriculture, the trend of this forum –and Alison’s reading list @AMcD—is far surpassing this 1956 document. ‘Peaceful uses’ came first by a measure of many decades, and the evidence shows that the scientists themselves were advancing the technology toward weapons. Official history maintains that Harry Truman was not told about the Manhattan Project (MED) until after FDR’s death (Apr 12, 1945), and that the discovery of fission occurred in 1939—this late date for fission, at least, is false.

The theoretical basis for fission was described in 1875 by Englishman Samuel Tolver Preston and the first known public presentation on the use of nuclear energy was made by New Zealand’s Ernest Rutherford in 1916, then at the University of Manchester: “he was pressured into a public lecture in the London suburb of Islington. He told his audience, ‘A mere pound of uranium, on the scale we see possible, might liberate the same energy as burning 100 million pounds of coal. Scientists are trying hard to find a way to release this energy at will. Personally, I hope they do not succeed until man has learned how to live with his neighbors in peace,’…[but] his work was edging toward that achievement.”—p52, The Deadly Element: the Story of Uranium by Lennard Bickel, 1979

Note that the United Nations was chartered with a mission statement to oversee atomic energy and that the first known attempt to organize the making of an atomic bomb occurred in Algeria’s Sahara in 1939 under French and Belgian auspices. The project was cancelled and dispersed by the threat of war—a mass of African yellowcake from the Belgian Congo was shipped to the U.S., Staten Island NYC c1939 and sat unattended for more than two years on the loading dock of Archer Daniels Midland until the Manhattan Project purchased it.

“According to NIOSH (p. 183) the ore stored in this location “from 1939 through 1942” was ‘from the Belgian Congo’ and belonged initially to Union Minière du Haut Katanga …Unlike “the material stored at the Baker and Williams Warehouses”, the material stored in Staten Island was “was not government controlled or owned” until the MED bought it in 1942… In 1980 Oak Ridge National Laboratory conducted a preliminary radiological survey of the site… gamma radiation levels were found…indicating the presence of contamination” Former Archer Daniels Midland Company Warehouse, Remediation Under Consideration | International Disarmament Institute News

The UN charter documents were allegedly prepared in 1939 and secretly deliberated at two wartime meetings between FDR and Winston Churchill; the shipboard Quebec meeting of August 17, 1943, and the Hyde Park Agreement, signed 9-19-1944. The aim of these meetings was postwar global nuclear policing. The first ever United Nations meeting, following its charter of June 26 1945 was the preparatory conference held November 27, 1945 at Church House (Westminster) London . https://www.britishpathe.com/video/VLVA6ZSVP2JPWW5N067WW83WE5SI-UNITED-NATIONS-PREPARATORY-COMMISSION-HOLDS-ITS-FIRST-MEETING-AT/query/wildcard

The Joint Committee on Atomic Energy was established by the Atomic Energy Act of 1946 and existed from 1946 to 1977. It was created to ‘make continuing studies of the activities of the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) and of problems relating to the development, use, and control of atomic energy.’ Through hearings and other public informational activities, the committee played a significant role in encouraging peaceful uses of atomic energy, dealing with subjects such as budget authorization bills for the Atomic Energy Commission, international agreements regarding atomic energy (stemming from President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s “Atoms-For-Peace” speech of December 1953), and various mutual defense agreements. Examples of other matters the Joint Committee covered include: developments at the national energy labs; health impacts of nuclear energy; nuclear waste management…” https://exhibits.stanford.edu/atomic-energy

“…For its broad powers, it is described as one of the most powerful congressional committees in U.S. history…[with] legislative powers [and] exclusive access to the [classified] information upon which its highly secretive deliberations were based. In particular its relations with the U.S. Department of Defense and the individual armed services…” [click the ‘Historical Membership” bar in the wikipedia link for the full list of members from 1946-1977; the list includes senators Lyndon B. Johnson, Clare Booth Luce, Prescott Bush, e.g.] United States Congressional Joint Committee on Atomic Energy - Wikipedia

“In its July 22, 2004, final report, the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United
States (also known as the “9/11 Commission”) proposed a five-part plan to build unity of effort
across the U.S. government in fighting terrorism. The commission’s report includes specific
recommendations for “centralizing and strengthening congressional oversight of intelligence and
homeland security issues” including a recommendation that Congress consider creating a joint
committee for intelligence, using the Joint Atomic Energy Committee as its model… Congress gave the JCAE exclusive jurisdiction over “all bills, resolutions, and other matters” relating to civilian and military aspects of nuclear power, and made it the only permanent joint committee in modern times to have legislative authority. The panel coupled these legislative powers with exclusive access to the information… ” https://crsreports.congress.gov/product/pdf/RL/RL32538/2 ; the 1977 dissolution of the JCAE included a judicial ruling that its powers were unconstitutional.

The Atomic Energy Act of 1946 authorized the creation of the Atomic Energy Commission and designated the FBI, under J. Edgar Hoover, as the AEC’s supervising security and police force. Among other things, this empowered a vital expansion of FBI activities overseas in global operations, such as arms trafficking. Incidentally, I’ve read three recent vintage best-selling biographies of J. Edgar Hoover and not one of them mentions the FBI’s responsibility to AEC programs. Among FBI’s first “atomic agents” (1947-48 liaison to AEC) was William C. Sullivan, a legendary FBI executive who commanded the assassination investigations of JFK, MLK, and RFK and was himself murdered by ‘hunting accident’ on 11-9-1977 outside his home. https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/local/1977/11/10/william-c-sullivan-once-high-fbi-aide-killed-by-hunter/9d6295ad-cf1b-461c-a110-4d1db4ef6613/

An amended Atomic Energy Act of 1954 opened the field of nuclear industry to private contractors and “made it possible for the government to allow private companies to gain technical information (Restricted Data) about nuclear energy production and the production of fissile materials, allowing for greater exchange of information with foreign nations as part of President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Atoms for Peace program, and reversed certain provisions in the 1946 law which had made it impossible to patent processes for generating nuclear energy or fissile materials.” Atomic Energy Act of 1954 - Wikipedia


**Book (cover text): “Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy” -Joint Committee Report, 84th Congress, 2d Session- “Report of the Panel on the Impact of the Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy to the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy, Volume 1, January 1956”

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1971 Amchitka ‘harbor’ cover (?) story detonation:

“On Nov. 6, 1971, the United States conducted its most powerful underground nuclear test to date. The massive, five-megaton blast detonated more than a mile below remote, windswept Amchitka Island in Alaska. The Cannikin shot tested a huge warhead the Pentagon planned to fit to a controversial anti-ballistic missile system. Its novel design drew from an equally controversial civilian nuclear explosive program [Plowshare]…

"Here’s What You Need to Remember: One last controversy rose up from the aftershocks of Cannikin. The success of the W-71 weapon design later inspired weaponeers to consider another nuclear-powered X-ray anti-missile idea. They concluded that the energy of a small nuclear bomb could turn special rods into X-ray lasers and zap Soviet missiles in space…

“In the 1950s, the Atomic Energy Commission investigated Amchitka as a potential nuclear test site but found it wanting. Later developments renewed government interest in the remote uninhabited island. After a successful 1965 underground test there, the Pentagon prepared to hammer the island with a really big blast…

…”the U.S. government seriously considered included blasting out a deep-water harbor in Alaska, blowing up a mountain in southern California for a railroad cut and digging a new canal across Central America…

“Amchitka is one of the most tectonically unstable places in America. Scientists worried the island might not handle the huge underground nuke shot. A preliminary test in late 1969 code-named Milrow exploded a one-megaton device at the bottom of a 4,000-foot shaft engineers had drilled into Amchitka’s tundra. Milrow’s purpose, a Department of Defense documentary film claimed, was ‘to test an island, not a weapon.’

“A few days after the Milrow shot, anti-war and environmental activists formed a committee in Vancouver to oppose the Aleutian nuclear tests. They feared the explosions could trigger tsunamis, earthquakes and environmental contamination. This meeting led to the establishment of Greenpeace, whose first major action was to protest the Cannikin nuclear test…

“Cannikin generated a seismic shock measuring 7.0 on the Richter scale. Ponds, lakes and dirt soared into the air as 15-foot ground waves rippled through Amchitka’s rock. The instrumentation trailers bounced around like kid’s toys on a shaken carpet. Cliffsides fell into the sea and the ocean boiled like foam. Thousands of seabirds and as many as 1,000 sea otters died in the shock wave. Technologically and politically, Cannikin succeeded brilliantly…

Greenpeace would eventually challenge nuclear testing around the world, and arms-control activists helped defeat the deployment of the Spartan missile and its ABM system. Project Plowshare died a quiet death in the mid-1970s, perhaps hastened by the uproar over the Cannikin test. One last controversy rose up from the aftershocks of Cannikin. The success of the W-71 weapon design later inspired weaponeers to consider another nuclear-powered X-ray anti-missile idea… Underground tests at the Nevada Test Site between 1978 and 1983 investigated the nuclear-pumped X-ray laser concept, apparently with some success. The concept so excited Pres. Ronald Reagan that he announced a massive new anti-ballistic-missile program…”

In 1971, America Dropped a Nuclear Weapon on Alaska | The National Interest.

Milrow test 1969 The Milrow Event (1969) - YouTube

Declassified film of Amchitka 11-6-71 (ground motion effects at minute 5) Declassified U.S. Nuclear Test Film #41 - YouTube

How To Change The World

“In 1971, a group of friends sail into a nuclear test zone, and their protest captures the world’s imagination. Using never before seen archive that brings their extraordinary world to life, How To Change The World is the story of the pioneers who founded Greenpeace and defined the modern green movement.” How to Change the World (2015) - IMDb

“Here was a group going out and confronting some of the greatest forces on the planet, exposing environmental abuse where it was happening, packaging up those stories for the medium of the day, television, and hurling them into the zeitgeist like cultural hand grenades full of dandelion seeds… It’s the story of a rag-tag mission to stop an American nuclear weapon test in Vancouver’s backyard and how it became one of the world’s most powerful environmental organisations. One which was forged in the oppositional politics of the North American anti-war movement, tempered with the social upheaval of a global youth rebellion, and infused with the mystic hippy conviction that alternate realities co-exist with and can sometimes overtake the monolithic consensual hallucination we call ‘the way things are.’….[author of this review] Brian Fitzgerald worked for Greenpeace for 35 years. Today he’s the founder and director of the creative agency Dancing Fox where he helps changemakers tell their story, and storytellers change the world. ” Film review: The story of Greenpeace and the story Greenpeace tells - Greenpeace Aotearoa