Did the Plowshares Program Set the Stage for Nuclear Terrorism on September 11?


by Mark H. Gaffney, The Unz Review:

Skeptics have pointed to the alleged absence of radiation at ground zero as proof that nuclear weapons were not used to demolish the twin towers in New York City on September 11, 2001. This argument, however, is a logical fallacy that can never rise to the level of proof because the alleged absence of radiation is not evidence of its absence. Such thinking is a red herring that, unfortunately, has set back the cause of 9/11 truth by many years. The subject of nukes has been taboo within the 9/11 truth community ever since Dr Steven Jones posted his 2007 letter at the Journal of 911 Studies.

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Dr Jones and the Architects and Engineers for 9/11 Truth have ruled out nukes for reasons that do not withstand closer scrutiny. Although the World Trade Center could have been demolished with conventional weapons, I will argue in this paper that for a number of reasons small nukes were the optimal tool for the job; and for this reason they were probably used. To understand why this is so, it is necessary to briefly review the Plowshare program.

Operation Plowshare

In 1957-1958, scientists at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) unveiled a visionary program to utilize nuclear explosives for peaceful purposes. They called it the Plowshare program, after a passage in Isaiah (2:4): “they will beat their swords into plowshares.” The group was led by none other than Edward Teller, father of the H-Bomb. The idea was to put nukes to work constructing canals, reservoirs, harbors and highways. The LLNL scientists pointed out that nukes were especially attractive for large public works projects that require the removal of vast amounts of rock and earth because no conventional means could match the tremendous cost savings afforded by nuclear explosives.

A plan was unveiled to construct a wider Panama Canal that would handle much larger ships. Later, in 1968, the LLNL scientists also proposed a replacement for the Suez Canal that had closed during the June 1967 Six Day war. A number of vessels had been sunk in the canal during that war, and clearing them as well as removing thousands of mines was proving difficult and time consuming. (The Suez canal did not finally reopen until 1975.) The group around Teller proposed construction of an alternative canal “through friendly territory”, in other words, through the state of Israel. (Edward Teller et al, The Constructive Use of Nuclear Weapons, 1968, McGraw Hill, p.vi.)

And there were other proposals. It was envisioned that underground nukes would make it feasible to cheaply extract natural gas and also retort oil directly from oil-sand deposits in Canada, and from oil-shale deposits in the western US. I was a student at Colorado State University, in those days, and I well remember the local press reports about the underground nuclear tests at Rulison in 1969 and Rio Blanco in 1973. I wrote for the CSU newspaper, at the time, and penned an op/ed against the Rio Blanco test.

From the start, the biggest challenge faced by Plowshare was selling the public on the idea. Could nukes be used safely without endangering nearby communities with earthquake level shocks, not to mention radioactive fallout? Peaceful nukes were controversial for obvious reasons.

Even before Plowshare, scientists at Los Alamos had been moving in the same direction, i.e., underground. The radiation from atmospheric testing was a serious threat to the scientists conducting the tests. There were also operational issues. Radiation was highly destructive to the instruments used to recover test data deemed essential to progress with the bomb program. Instrumentation was expensive and losing it ran up costs. By the mid-1950s, moving underground was a natural step.

So, it happened that the first underground nuclear test occurred in July, 1957, staged by Los Alamos, two months before the first Plowshare test. It was named “Pascal A” and was part of the Plumbbob test series. A bomb with negligible yield was placed near the bottom of a 500-foot hole in the ground. It was actually a three-foot wide unstemmed shaft, meaning it was open at the top. Once the Atmospheric Test Ban Treaty went into effect (in 1963) and underground tests became the norm, scientists learned to seal the shafts (after inserting the bomb) by pouring at least 50-feet of concrete down the hole. But that first test in 1957 did have a lid of sorts, a five-foot concrete plug that vaporized during the explosion. Pascal A was a nighttime test. It went off after midnight, and project director Robert Campbell later described the intense blue plasma jet flame that leaped hundreds of feet into the sky as “The biggest damn Roman candle I ever saw…”

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