Peaceful Nuclear Explosions

Daniel Starwalt
July 17, 2015

Submitted as coursework for PH241, Stanford University, Winter 2015


Fig. 1: Artist's concept of the crater from a nuclear explosion. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

The idea of peaceful nuclear explosions came around after the use of the Atomic bomb by the United States in WWII. Nations such as the USA and the Soviet Union saw potential for how they could potentially harness the energy for of a nuclear explosions and use it for peaceful purposes. Thus the idea of peaceful nuclear explosions was born. A few examples where the Soviet Union has used peaceful nuclear explosions, is for creating underground storage vaults, exploring geologic formations seismically, and using explosions to stimulate the production of gas and oil [1].

Other Uses

There are many other potential uses for peaceful nuclear explosions, but they have already been used to help excavate large geological areas as well as they have been used to put out gas well or gas field fires [2]. Back in 1991 there was a Soviet company who was willing to sell nuclear explosions for peaceful purposes to anybody who had the funding available. The primary goal of the company was to use the nuclear blasts in the Soviet Union to incinerate and get rid of toxic wastes as well such as brine which is a produced by oil fields. The stimulation of of oil and gas production through nuclear explosions works when the explosion destroys rock that is trapping pockets of oil. Underground storage vaults have also been created from nuclear explosions. These underground vaults are created to store fuels as well as destroying chemical wastes [1].

Possible Uses

There are many possible uses for controlled nuclear explosions. One that has been mentioned but not tested is the idea of using nuclear explosions for space propulsion. The idea has also been suggested that nuclear explosions could be used to intercept objects that cause a potential harm to the earth such as asteroids or other objects that come too close to earth. The nuclear explosions could be used for all types of civil engineering purposes as well. For example the creation of reservoirs, damns, canals, or anything else that requires a large portion of the earth to be moved.

Fig. 2: Nuclear test 1962. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)


While there may be many opportunities and potential for harnessing the power of nuclear explosions for peaceful purposes, there are also many concerns as well. The idea of a company that can sell nuclear explosions to anyone who has the funds is alarming. Although the uses would be for civil and nonviolent purposes, if the materials and explosives were to become intercepted and get into the wrong hands then they could become very dangerous. Also there is the environmental aspect that these explosions can contaminate the environment leaving radioactive residue where the explosions occurred. Although the Soviet Union has done most of the testing and experimentation concerning peaceful nuclear explosions, I believe that if the correct testing and regulating is done, then harnessing the power from a nuclear explosion could give great potential to the civil world.

© Daniel Starwalt. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] W. J. Broad, "A Soviet Company Offers Nuclear Blasts for Sale to Anyone With the Cash," New York Times, 7 Nov 91.

[2] W. J. Broad, "Nuclear Option on Gulf Oil Spill? No Way, U.S. Says," New York Times, 2 Jun 10.