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In The 1960s, The US Government Was Planning On Nuking Alaska

James Felton

James Felton

Senior Staff Writer

clockSep 24 2021, 11:20 UTC
Ah yes, nothing says "safety" like a big map of a potential nuclear explosion zones.

Ah yes, nothing says "safety" like a big map of a potential nuclear explosion zones. Image credit: Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

In the 1960s, America had a big plan to nuke the hell out of part of America. Technically, it still does.

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Nuclear weapons had gained a bit of a bad reputation in the middle part of the 20th century, which isn't that surprising given that they were literally designed to kill millions of people, and the US government kept losing them like they were keys.

The federal government knew this, and had a desire to "highlight the peaceful applications of nuclear explosive devices and thereby create a climate of world opinion that is more favorable to weapons development and tests". They dubbed this "Operation Plowshare" after a biblical story in which swords were melted down and turned into plows. As part of this project, they decided to nuke Alaska. 

The idea – dubbed Project Chariot – was to use nuclear weapons for the creation of a harbor in the Cape Thompson region of Alaska. So, in 1958, Dr Edward Teller (aka the "father of the hydrogen bomb" and director of the Radiation Laboratory recommended that the Atomic Energy Commission donate a 2.4 megaton bomb to dig a gigantic water hole in one big boom. As somebody probably said before the infamous Oregon Exploding Whale incident, what could go wrong?

So why didn't it go ahead?

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Not everyone is a fan of digging, but there are many problems with just bombing a big hole in the Earth. Not least was the fact people actually lived where the hole was to be, or were hole-adjacent. As one of the locals put it at the time: "I'm pretty sure you don't like to see your home being blasted by some other people who don't live in your place like we live in Point Hope."

For several years, the government simply did not tell the locals of nearby Point Hope about the plan, even though they would be massively affected by the contamination of fishing waters and potential nuclear fallout. When they found out in 1960, they were not best pleased. Despite reassurances that tests in Bikini Atoll had left fish safe for consumption (actually, it's still more radioactive than Chernobyl), the locals were concerned about their hunting grounds, as well as radiation that might feasibly head towards Point Hope and necessitate evacuation.

With mounting pressure from locals and scientists – who didn't just think it was a dumb idea that could result in unpredictable nuclear contamination, but that it was difficult to predict whether it would actually achieve the task of excavation as wanted – the project was eventually not scrapped.

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Yes, rather than officially scrap the plan and admit maybe nuking ourselves is, on balance, a bit of a crap idea, the government declared that the idea would be "held in abeyance" or temporarily placed on hold. So, officially at least, America still has a plan in place to bomb the hell out of America.

 

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