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'Drilling' for oil with ... nuclear weapons? The US has done it.

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Jose-Luis Magana/Greenpeace/Reuters

(Read caption) A patch of oil from the BP oil spill floats on the surface of the water in Barataria Bay, Louisiana just off the Gulf of Mexico Wednesday.

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THE UNITED STATES is not going to nuke the BP oil spill. That’s one option that’s off the table. Yes, the old Soviet Union did cap runaway wells by destroying them with nuclear weapons, but that’s not the American way.

That’s settled, then. But here’s something you might not know: The US once used nukes for the exact opposite purpose. In the late 1960s and early ’70s, the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) exploded nuclear devices underground in Colorado and New Mexico, not to stop flows of petroleum, but to start them.

It’s true. Decades ago, the AEC (ancestor of today’s Department of Energy) was very big on the Plowshare Program, which studied ways of using nuclear blasts for peaceful purposes. Project Chariot, for instance, looked at using five hydrogen bombs to create a nice new 700-foot-deep artificial harbor at Cape Thompson, Alaska. Project Ditchdigger investigated the physics of using nukes to produce canals.

IN PICTURES: The Gulf oil spill's impact on nature

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