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Here’s a great idea – let’s bury a nuclear warhead in a shallow hole, explode it under the earth’s surface and then mine the broken rocks for valuable minerals. If you think this sounds like an absolutely terrible idea then you apparently have far more commonsense than the nuclear scientists serving in the United States government had in the middle of the last century.
During the height of the nuclear standoff with the Soviet Union, the United States formed a special program aimed at exploring the “peaceful uses” of nukes, including its uses in rock blasting.
Known as Project Plowshare, the American undertaking culminated on July 6, 1962, with a shallow underground nuclear test in the Nevada desert that found its way into the record books for all the wrong reasons.
Weighing only 468 lbs., the thermonuclear device (nuclear bomb) named Sedan was lowered down a 636 ft. deep shaft just two days following the nation’s 186th birthday.
The fusion-fission blast had a yield equivalent to 104 kilotons of TNT and lifted a dome of earth 300 ft. above the desert floor before it vented three seconds after detonation, exploding upward and outward displacing more than 11,000,000 tons of soil. The resulting crater is 330 ft. deep with a diameter of about 1,280 ft.
Within seconds, 20 sq. miles of the desert floor was pitch black, overtaken by a fast-expanding cloud of dust moving out horizontally from the base surge.
Richter scales recorded the seismic waves produced by the explosion to be the equivalent of a 4.75 magnitude earthquake.
Though the blast proved unbelievably effective in displacing an incredible amount of earth quickly, an assessment of the test revealed that using nuclear bombs in mining was simply unpractical and far too dangerous.
The blast released 880,000 curies of radioactive iodine-131, an agent of thyroid disease, into the atmosphere. The radioactive fallout from the test contaminated more US residents than any other nuclear test in history. In addition to the effect the test had upon the citizens of the country, the Sedan Crater is the largest man-made crater in the United States, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Interestingly, the places to suffer the most from nuclear fallout of the blast were nowhere near the State of Nevada.
The states of Iowa and Minnesota tested with the highest average doses of nuclear fallout exposure, followed by Kentucky and West Virginia.
The counties of Logan and Boone, West Virginia, were one of only 27 U.S. counties to record .1 to .15 doses of ionizing radiation on the human body, despite being more than 1,800 miles from the explosion.
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