CM . . .
. Volume VIII Number 17 . . . . April 26, 2002
While it is never polite to mock the ignorance of others, Nuclear Dynamite forces the viewer to question what could possibly have been in the minds of nuclear scientists during the late 1950s and 1960s. This film could easily be marketed as a comedy if it was not so frightening.
In Spring 1960, the stage was set to use nuclear power to create a harbour in the high Arctic - just to see if it could be done. Under the name "Plowshare," whose credo was "reshaping the geography to meet the needs of Man," plans were devised to create harbours, enlarge the Panama Canal and send rockets into space using nuclear power.
Dr. Edward Teller, a major influence in "Plowshare," admits in an archival interview that the concept of moving great amounts of earth was attractive. A co-inventor of the hydrogen bomb, he was against any international treaties which would limit the use of nuclear power. Other plans included blasting a tunnel under New York City, using nuclear explosions to free up the oil in the Athabaska Tar Sands, and, best of all, blasting the smog out of the Los Angeles sky. At the same time, rocket scientists were exploring the potential of nuclear explosions in launching space missions. One of the scientists admits that the chance to make such big explosions was a lot of fun.
With the prevalence of such experimenting, radioactive fallout found its way around the world. People began to take notice especially as Strontium 90 appeared in the bones of children. The anti-nuclear movement takes root.
The Athabaska Tar Sands experiment was a go with the Alberta government's endorsement. Diefenbaker was inundated with mail, and, as he was already opposed to nuclear weapons in Canada, the project was scrapped.
The harbour plan in Alaska, still in the works, planned to set off five explosions - the largest ten times what was dropped on Hiroshima. The nearby Inuit village was told that all would be safe. The band council disagreed and appealed to church groups and activists alike. Their protest caught the attention of many, and questioning began. After the environmental assessment revealed that the radiation would have an impact on the ecology, "Plowshare" moved to Nevada to work on crater experiments.
Project Sedon, 1962 set out to dig a big hole and, following a spectacular explosion, blew out enough dirt to cover half a skyscraper. The dust was so thick that streetlights came on in a town 300 km away. More radiation escaped than was planned, but all was celebrated. Teller received an award from President Kennedy who asked how long the Panama Canal project would take. Here, they planned to use explosions 1000 times that of Hiroshima - fully aware that they could not test this method out before it was actually done.
In the Soviet Union, (where scientists were no more aware) Project Chagan, 1965 moved ten million cubic metres of earth. The Soviets were determined to use this technology to make something useful - reservoirs, railway passages, and roads. Plans were met with great enthusiasm by the government and continued as the American plans began to hit resistance. Project Taiga, 1971 planned to redirect several rivers to help replenish the Caspian Sea. This project was a failure, and the radiation travelled to Europe and North America.
The anti-nuclear movement stopped things in North America, and Chernobyl did the same in the Soviet Union in 1986.
Teller, many years later, states that "Plowshare" can only come back if the present anti-scientific trend goes away and the general population is not afraid of anything that is new. No acknowledgment is given that perhaps they were endangering lives.
Nuclear Dynamite, without getting preachy, makes the analogy to the present experiments in biotechnology and the unforeseen dangers that lurk within. One biomedical director admits that his policy at the time was: if you do not know if something is harmful, go ahead. He now cannot believe "how dumb I was."
Narrated by David Suzuki, this film is a chilling splash of cold water.
One possible snag could lie in the demonstration of the Project Sedon explosion. Here, they use New York City as a model, and unfortunately the World Trade Centre is shown as being blanketed in dust.
Nuclear Dynamite is a must for all science classes to show the power of nuclear technology and the lack of knowledge on the part of so-called experts. The film also calls into question much of what is going on today in the name of scientific experimentation.
Loreto is a teacher-librarian at St. Thomas Aquinas Secondary School
in Brampton, ON.
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