The Soviet program for peaceful uses of nuclear explosions

Milo D. Nordyke, "The Soviet program for peaceful uses of nuclear explosions," Science & Global Security, 7, no. 1, (1998): 1-117.

This paper presents an historical review of the Soviet program to study and utilize industrial applications of peaceful nuclear explosions (PNEs) in the Soviet Union over the period 1965 to 1988. This was a very active program that carried out 122 nuclear explosions to study some 13 applications. In all, 128 nuclear explosives with yields ranging from 0.01 to 140 kt were used, with the vast majority being between 2 and 20 kt. Over half of these explosions were used for implementation of two industrial applications: the creation of underground cavities in salt for the storage of gas condensate and deep seismic sounding of the Earth's crust and upper mantle. Other applications studied with nuclear explosions included oil and gas stimulation, closure of runaway gas wells, disposal of toxic chemical wastes, block cave mining of underground minerals, production of transplutonic elements, and the excavation of water reservoirs and canals. In terms of the number of applications explored with field experiments, the Soviet PNE program was an order of magnitude larger than the U.S. Plowshare program carried out in the 1960s and early 1970s; the U.S. utilized no explosions on an industrial basis and fired only three industrial field experiments. The Soviet program also included the development of low-fission excavation explosives and specially designed hydrocarbon explosives, which mirrored the device development program in the U.S. Plowshare program. The Soviet PNE program was terminated in 1989 as part of the unilateral Soviet moratorium on nuclear weapons testing adopted by President Gorbachev. The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty recently signed by Russia and the United States includes a ban on all nuclear explosions, including those for peaceful uses.

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