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2010-06-04

An Open Letter to Keith Olbermann on being misled by Political Scientists

(Regarding his 6/03 #4 story on Countdown).

Dear Keith:

You've been misled.

Obama's Energy Advisor Carol Browner (an English major and lawyer) is not well read in nuclear devices, and neither is Michio Kaku (a theoretical physicist, not a weapons effect physicist, and a very political scientist with a pronounced hysterical anti-nuclear bias). I wish you had chosen a credible source, such as an academic from the mining schools in Colorado or New Mexico, if no weapons effect expert (e.g., Cary Sublette, easily found by checking WHOIS.NET for the owner data for nuclearweaponarchive.org) was available.

Our atomic tests http://www.nuclearweaponarchive.org/Library/Effects/UndergroundEffects.html show that drilling below 400' the ocean floor, emplacing a 100 kiloton device and exploding it would not result in a crater, and below 1,200' the surface of the ocean floor would not even create a surface bubble. See http://www.nuclearweaponarchive.org/Library/Effects/sm_crater_depth.gif (scaled in feet, not meters) for a visual depiction of depth vs results.

With the dampening effect of the higher pressure of the water above the ocean floor, the containment depth for the bomb would be even less; at 5,000' ocean depth, the water pressure is approximately 2,000 psi (or 136 times normal atmospheric pressure) (calculated using the mass of 1.025 kg/cubic meter of Gulf of Mexico seawater), and that would serve as a 'damper' to press down on the shock from the explosion much more efficiently than air at sea level does.

Water is a factor: Please allow me to quote the formula to calculate the proper depth (op cit.):
In planning subsurface shots at the Nevada Test Site, attention was paid to limiting the release of volatile radioisotopes from the shot. Placing the shot deep enough so that the chimney is guaranteed to never reach the surface would be sufficient to achieve this, but deep shafts are costly to construct and a compromise approach was reached for ensuring that a sufficiently deep rubble cap would exist if a subsidence crater was formed to keep the release to a minimum. The rule of thumb was that the scaled shot depht be not less than about 400 feet (122 m):

d = 122 Y1/3

where Y is in kilotons and depth is in meters [Glasstone and Dolan 1977; p. 261]

For media with substantial water content, even deeper burial is recommended.

The rock on the ocean floor also is a factor:

At a sufficently great depth an explosion forms a cavity rather than a crater. The formula for determining cavity dimensions is predicted quite well by the formula  R = C (Y1/3/(rho*h)0.25)
where R is the radius in meters, C is a constant dependent of the surrounding rock, rho is the rock density, and h is the burial depth in meters [Teller et al 1968; p. 136]

Table 1 provides experimental values for C, and typical values for rho for a variety of materials from the U.S. Plowshare program:
MaterialCrhoK
Tuff74.75 - 77.661.8 - 2.23.8 - 6.8
Granite57.70 - 60.482.74.2 - 4.5
Dolomite51.312.33.2
Alluvium64.33 - 76.452.0unlimited
Salt63.27 - 66.752.3negligible
Table. 1 Constants for underground detonations.
[Teller et al 1968; p. 137]

Without knowing the rock or soil at the drill site, I cannot calculate the minimal safe depth, but any scientist worth their salt (pardon the esoteric pun) would not ignore the proven fact that adequate depth of the bomb, proportionate to the bomb size and materials drilled through, will result in no release of radiation. If TransOcean was drilling through salt, then the safe depth would be much less, as proven by the Salmon and Sterling atomic tests near Hattiesburg, Mississippi, which is less than 181 miles /291 km away from the failed drill site (see map, below, courtesy Zerohack, MovableType and Google).

And, one blogger's done the work to find the general geology of the sea floor, which suggests similarity to the salt domes at Hattiesberg that sealed well in the 60's atomic testing nearby.

Even if something else went amiss, we've had natural releases of radiation before, and survived; there are multiple places in the world where people live with very high concentrations of natural fission materials and decay byproducts, such as Ramsar on the Caspian Sea in Iran. The Oklo natural reactor in Africa (more detail from Scientific American magazine) created fission products with subsequent daughter product releases as well. A well-educated health physicist would know that people survive and thrive there, demonstrating that radioactivity is not as harmful as Lawyer-Advisor Browner's statement on your program misleads the naive to believe.

How about considering these factors, and getting real experts, instead of just ridiculing the idea by using interviews with Political Scientists?