Much has been written about the development and subsequent use of nuclear weapons at the end of World War II. Most of the population in question “What do you know about using an atomic bomb?” it will automatically say the names of the two cities from which it still freezes. Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
But have you ever wondered if it is possible to use an atomic bomb for the benefit of humanity?
What happened after World War II
After the aforementioned use of American atomic bombs in Japan in 1945, the Soviet Union became interested in the technology, and in 1949 the final tests of the first nuclear bomb created in what is now Russia took place. Dozens of trials in both the United States and the USSR followed as demonstrations of strength. But let’s put the Cold War aside this time.
In addition to the military use of nuclear technology, the attention of the great powers first turned to the use of controlled fission to generate electricity. However, both sides have also begun research into the use of nuclear explosions for civilian purposes.
At first, civil engineering was considered, and the Soviet Union was relatively successful in this area. As part of the research, the “atomic lake” Chagan was created on the territory of today’s Kazakhstan. The 140 kt blast (Fat Man in Nagasaki had 22 kt) created a crater about 100 meters deep and over 400 meters in diameter. We write more about Lake Chagan here:
The United States has considered using bombs to build the Panama Canal, or detonating an entire mountain to obtain valuable raw materials hiding beneath the earth’s surface. Most of the time, however, considerations of this type failed on the unsolvable problem of environmental contamination.
However, it is not without interest that more than 150 experimental atomic bombings took place in civilian research in the US and the Soviet Union. Soviet scientists have indeed succeeded in finding suitable civilian uses for nuclear weapons. They began using them to extinguish gas well fires.
Unquenchable well on Urta ‑ Bulak
In 1963, a very serious accident occurred in the southeastern part of Uzbekistan. In the gas field in the area of Urta-Bulak, the pipeline in one of the wells was damaged, and at a depth of about 1.5 km below the earth’s surface, the extracted gas exploded. The miners could not put out the huge fire. Every day, 12 million m2 of gas leaked – such a large amount is consumed in the same period by, for example, a city the size of St. Petersburg.
Urta ‑ Bulak area in the territory of Uzbekistan
Attempts to extinguish were carried out for three years, and all known methods gradually failed. The situation was complicated by a column of burning gas reaching a height of several tens of meters, it was almost impossible to approach the well. In 1966, Uzbekistan asked for help from the Soviet Union, which called in its nuclear experts. They had a problem solved with a nuclear bomb.
A column of burning gas in Urta-Balak
Subsequently, a team of experts was formed, consisting of nuclear physicists and geologists, who analyzed the situation and performed calculations with a clear conclusion. If a nuclear bomb can be detonated in close proximity to a burning well, the pressure wave will seal all openings in the ground at a distance of up to 50 m.
The power of the bomb with the required effect was calculated at 30 kilotons. That’s about twice the power of the Hiroshima bomb.
The atomic bomb was used in the Urta-Bulak area to extinguish a gas well for the first time in history. However, given the success of the operation, this was not the last time. The second use took place again in Uzbekistan, with an even greater gas leak. Again, experts from the Soviet Union were called in and successful again.
In the following years, the atomic bomb was used for similar purposes several more times. Most recently in 1981 on the northern coast of the western part of Siberia at the mouth of the river Pechora. In the following years, an agreement was signed to ban nuclear testing and suspend nuclear weapons testing, which, among other things, prevented the use of atomic bombs to extinguish gas well fires.