Q&A with Scott Kirsch: Digging with bombs
It enables earth moving on an unimaginable scale. Economically, and from an engineering perspective, it would only be profitable at the very large scales. You can move an extraordinary amount of dirt and rock and, if it were a large enough amount, it would be cheaper than conventional chemical explosives. Of course, this was only a hypothetical. If you factor in the cleanup costs and the long-term health risks, there would have been virtually no savings.
The quickie-canal scheme and Alaska harbor projects remained hypothetical, but a bomb was detonated.
There was so much pressure about the Alaska harbor plan from Eskimo groups, environmentalists, and scientists that the Lawrence Livermore Labs decided to gather data from a test explosion in the Nevada desert. In 1962, a 104-kiloton, dirty nuclear bomb was shot off as a way to gather scaling information. It is called the Sedan crater. It was used to train the astronauts for work on the moon and to woo potential clients for the earthmoving venture. They could bring them to the site and show them the power of the nuclear bomb. [The Sedan test] was both an experiment and a tool of public relationssomething you could say that about the entire program.
So the dream of nuclear earthmoving is over?
The government thought that Plowshare would reflect well on the nuclear community because they were looking for peaceful uses. In fact, because of the dangers of radioactive fallout and environmental destruction, the whole thing became a liability. -