Мобильный 1 Add news
March 2010
April 2010
May 2010June 2010July 2010
August 2010
September 2010October 2010
November 2010
December 2010
January 2011
February 2011March 2011April 2011May 2011June 2011July 2011August 2011September 2011October 2011November 2011December 2011January 2012February 2012March 2012April 2012May 2012June 2012July 2012August 2012September 2012October 2012November 2012December 2012January 2013February 2013March 2013April 2013May 2013June 2013July 2013August 2013September 2013October 2013November 2013December 2013January 2014February 2014March 2014April 2014May 2014June 2014July 2014August 2014September 2014October 2014November 2014December 2014January 2015February 2015March 2015April 2015May 2015June 2015July 2015August 2015September 2015October 2015November 2015December 2015January 2016February 2016March 2016April 2016May 2016June 2016July 2016August 2016September 2016October 2016November 2016December 2016January 2017February 2017March 2017April 2017May 2017June 2017July 2017August 2017September 2017October 2017November 2017December 2017January 2018February 2018March 2018April 2018May 2018June 2018July 2018August 2018September 2018October 2018November 2018December 2018January 2019February 2019March 2019April 2019May 2019June 2019July 2019August 2019September 2019October 2019November 2019December 2019January 2020February 2020March 2020April 2020May 2020June 2020July 2020August 2020September 2020October 2020November 2020December 2020January 2021February 2021March 2021April 2021May 2021June 2021July 2021August 2021September 2021October 2021November 2021December 2021
News Every Day |

Were Nukes Really Considered a Part of Infrastructure?

Steve Weintz

Cold War History, United States

One product of the lab's research was a patent for a nuclear subterrene—a machine which could theoretically move through rock the way a submarine moves through water.

Here's What You Need to Remember: Two cutting-head designs were looked into, one for common rock and one for hard rock.

Digging out deep underground complexes or undersea bases could be expedited the Atomic way, in an alternate universe where the wildest ideas of the 1950s, 60s and 70s came to pass. Although our own timeline relies on mega-engineering for transportation, energy and architectural infrastructure, for the past half-century we've mostly relied on conventional power sources and design principles.

This first appeared earlier and is being reposted due to reader interest.

Today's Tunnel Boring Machines (TBMs) rank among the wonders of modern machinery. As wide as a several-story building and as long as a football field, these giant metal worms chew their way through rock and earth to dig out the world's ever-expanding networks of subways, drain tunnels, mines and bunkers. Aft of a huge rotating cutting head, a series of powerful jacks press, push and release the TBM along the tunnel's walls, to drive the excavation forward.

From the tunnel head forward of the cutting head, the excavated material trundles through the bulk of the machine like food through a gut to waiting hopper cars, which carry the rock out of the tunnel to a dump area. The insides of the TBM form a mass of engines and moving parts as dense as a sub's interior, full of noise and motion.

But in the 1970s, Los Alamos National Laboratory explored a science-fiction approach to tunneling: using nuclear power to literally melt holes through rock and turn the melted rock into tunnel lining. One product of the lab's research was a patent for a nuclear subterrene—a machine which could theoretically move through rock the way a submarine moves through water.

"The Atomic Subterrene," writes Mark, the author of the superlative Atomic Skies blog, "is a very atompunkish name. It sounds like a gadget Tom Swift might invent, and which would then be stolen by vaguely Slavic communists." But it grew out of serious Cold War propulsion research and aimed to solve serious problems in civil engineering. In an alternate timeline, it might have transformed America.

During the pursuit of nuclear-powered flying machines in the 1950s, Los Alamos engineers built an electrically-powered mockup of a prototype reactor that heated propellant to 3000 degrees centigrade. When the reactor project was canceled, team members sought other applications for their work. After reading Edgar Rice Burroughs' At The Earth's Core, an engineer named Bob Potter decided to see if the tungsten heating elements developed for the reactor mockup could melt rock.

Potter's 1961 experiments showed that indeed, the technology could punch through rock by melting it into lava. But the lab turned to other matters and Potter's concept laid fallow until a curious incident at a coffee shop in 1970 revived the idea.

Lab workers were shooting the breeze after a meal and the subject of Potter's rock melter came up. Someone suggested driving the device with a nuclear reactor, and while the notion was being discussed a Congressman stopped by to greet the Los Alamos men. Mistaking their blue-sky talk for an actual program, the Congressman enthusiastically endorsed the idea and would raise it with his oversight committee. Upon learning of the Congressman's plan, Norris Bradbury, Los Alamos' director, approved of the idea and made the informal discussion a real thing.

A study group was assembled and a bold paper was produced. The nuclear subterrene when fully developed would be “capable of penetrating the earth to depths of tens of kilometers... To extend geological and geophysical exploration into the earth's mantle.”

A cutting head with no moving parts, which worked by melting rather than cutting, need not be circular and its tunnels need not be cylindrical but could be square or any other shape. With no moving parts, there would be almost no vibration, a key advantage where ground disturbance was an issue.

American life could be transformed. As Mark writes,

"Aside from mining, excavating underground roads and pipes was an obvious use. Chemicals and gasses could be stored in underground chambers. Electrical energy could be stored in the form of underground pressurized air ‘batteries,’ compressed in during periods of excess production and used to drive turbines when more energy was needed. The subterrene could dig storage cavities for toxic and nuclear waste, too deep for them to ever trouble the surface. The heat and pressure found deep underground could be exploited for chemical processing. Cities, even farms, could be extended underground."

In 1972 the National Science Foundation funded a full-scale study of the nuclear subterrene. Small-scale electrically-powered prototype drills were built and one was used by the National Park Service to drill drainage holes at Bandelier National Monument near Los Alamos. The rock penetrator's lack of vibration was essential to preserving the archaeological site while the holes were drilled.

The study's full-scale concepts, however, remain its most memorable results. Both subterrene designs channeled the tremendous heat of nuclear reactions into heating elements in the nose. Two cutting-head designs were looked into, one for common rock and one for hard rock. One combined a traditional rotary cutting head with the cylindrical rock-melters, while the other replaced the rotary head with dozens of nuclear-powered needle probes. The probes would unevenly heat the rock face causing it to crack and crumble. In both designs, most of the broken rock would be sent down the subterrene's core to waiting hoppers for disposal, just like modern TBMs.

Unique among excavation equipment, however, was how the subterrenes would handle tunnel reinforcement. Both designs used nuclear heat to melt some of the excavated rock into volcanic glass and extrude it as a lining on the inside of the growing tunnel. The subterrene would generate its own reinforced cladding out of the waste rock as it proceeded.

It's possible news of the subterrene project reached Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek. A RAND study about underground transport appeared in 1972 and in 1973 Roddenberry's pilot for a new sci-fi TV series premiered. In Genesis II (which failed to become a series) a system of underground transport tunnels, much like Elon Musk's Hyperloop, features as a key background feature. The "nuclear drilling device" is mentioned as key to the system's development.

But besides a bit part in a TV pilot, the nuclear subterrene didn't get much farther. In 1975, the project was transferred from the NSF to the new Department of Energy and quietly disappeared. The concept resurfaced in the 1980s as a way of digging tunnels for bases on the Moon and other worlds but remained a concept. Advances in conventional excavation equipment since the 1970s make modern TBMs perform as well or better than Los Alamos' conceptual nukes.

These days the only place you'll find the subterrene discussed is that wild and wooly backcountry populated by those obsessed with aliens, conspiracies, magic technology and general crankiness. But like other daring ideas from the twentieth century, time may one day bring the nuclear subterrene back for review. The human need for holes will only grow.

Steve Weintz, a frequent contributor to many publications such as WarIsBoring, is a writer, filmmaker, artist, animatorThis first appeared earlier and is being reposted due to reader interest.

Image: Reuters

Read also

Indianapolis Colts vs. Houston Texans Odds, Betting Lines, Picks and Preview for NFL Week 13 on FanDuel Sportsbook

Kirby hopes for repeat of ‘dream’ FA Final Cup goal at Wembley against Arsenal in trophy duel between title rivals

Patriots Rooting Guide: Week 13 Matchups That Could Impact New England

News, articles, comments, with a minute-by-minute update, now on Today24.pro

News Every Day

PASTA WEESIE My Way Vlogmas Day 1 Simply Mam Cooks

Today24.pro — latest news 24/7. You can add your news instantly now — here

News Every Day

Manufacturers to Benefit from Lucrative Growth Prospects in the Global Animal Parasiticide Market

Sports today

Новости тенниса
Микаэль Имер

Медведев: победил Микаэля Имера за счёт его ошибок

Спорт в России и мире

Гадалка предсказала тренеру Татьяне Тарасовой встречу с третьим мужем


All sports news today


Sports in Russia today

Тренер Татьяна Тарасова рассказала, почему поставила карьеру выше материнства

Новости России

Game News

MoonBrawl 27.269


Губернаторы России

Авто.ру провел исследование российского рынка электромобилей

Выручка «Биннофарм Групп» в 2021 году выросла благодаря антибиотикам и препаратам против COVID-19

Глава ДНР Пушилин не видит перспектив поставок угля на Украину

Синоптик Тишковец заявил, что зима в Москве пойдет по сценарию «теплого сэндвича»

Вьетнам планирует увеличить объемы производства российских вакцин против COVID-19

Отец Филиппа Киркорова высказался о скандальном концерте Димы Билана в Казахстане

Семен Слепаков пытался вступиться за закрытое шоу «Игра» на 60-летии КВН. Но песню вырезали из эфира

Концерт Сергея Прокофьева исполнил в Воронеже скрипач из первой мировой десятки

В саду Нурова прошел первый зимний субботник

Рублёв: не знаю, как умудрился проиграть второй сет Имеру

Андрей Рублев вывел сборную России вперед в полуфинале Кубка Дэвиса с Германией

"Кубок Дэвиса". Новак Джокович победил Марина Чилича и сравнял счёт в полуфинале с Хорватией

Чесноков предположил, почему Кубок Дэвиса никогда не вернётся к старому формату

Навка спрогнозировала победу команды Тутберидзе на олимпийском турнире в Пекине

«Подышали казахстанским воздухом». Хоккеисты московского «Динамо» прогулялись по заснеженному Нур-Султану

Иммунолог Крючков спрогнозировал новую волну COVID-19 в России к концу января

Впервые на конкурсе «Миссис футбольная мама 2021» было два первых места

Володин опубликовал в своем Telegram-канале опрос о том, что повлияло на развал СССР

Посол Салливан: американские дипломаты столкнулись с визовой проблемой в России

Врач Еделев призвал привиться для защиты от омикрон-штамма COVID-19

Кириенко поддержал предложение увеличить число подростковых и детских психиатров

Путин в России и мире

Персональные новости

Яков Якубович

Глава муниципального округа Тверской Яков Якубович: "Падение спроса на ипотеку не должно сильно сказаться на доступности жилья"

News Every Day

The Easiest Way I Make TURKEY Simply Mam Cooks

Friends of Today24

Музыкальные новости
"Воскресенье " Олег Митяев

Персональные новости
Близкий друг Путина миллиардер Пугачев. Вся правда о Путине, его семье и деньгах. В гостях у Гордона (2021)

Навальный об уволенном за пост священнике (2021)

Slava Marlow – суперуспех и депрессия в 21 год / вДудь (2021)

Обнаглевшие дети путинской элиты (2021)

Дайте собакам мяса (новый звук) -Владимир Высоцкий

Группа "Рождество" - песня "Так хочется жить!" (Видео с концерта в Киеве группы "РОЖДЕСТВО" в 2011 году в Доме офицеров)

Adriano Celentano Любимая песня Челентано (высочайшая энергетика) talentTV