Top News

Global radioactivity: Why hitting a hurricane with a nuclear bomb is a bad idea

- Reuters

Credible scientists worked on the theory in the 1950s before U.S. President Donald Trump refloated the idea earlier this week

Humans have waged many wars against each other, but how well would they fare against a hurricane?

So far, humanity doesn’t have a good track record, with hurricanes causing some of the deadliest and costliest disasters on Earth, but what if the world tried to use its most deadly tool — the nuclear bomb.

Dr. Ed Waller, a professor in the faculty of energy systems and nuclear science at Ontario Tech University, formerly the University of Ontario Institute of Technology, likens it to a “bad science fiction B-movie plot.”

But believe it or not, it’s a theory scientists have flirted with before.

Jack W. Reed, a meteorologist at Sandia National Laboratory in New Mexico, thought of the idea in the 1950s after researching the atmospheric aftermath of America’s first hydrogen bomb.

Reed’s theory was that a submarine could fire a missile into the eye of the storm, causing the hot air inside the hurricane to rise and be replaced by cool air.

While it would not completely neutralize a hurricane, Reed thought it would at least slow it, calculating that the speed of a storm with 100-knots winds could be halved by a 20 megaton explosion. (To put that into perspective, Waller explains a 10 megaton nuke is considered a “country killer.”)

Reed shared the storm-stopping concept at a 1959 symposium of the Plowshare Program, an effort to explore the use of nuclear explosives for “peaceful purposes."

The idea never gained momentum among academics, but it resurfaced after reports on Monday of U.S. President Donald Trump suggesting the move.

“The gut reaction is to laugh because of how ludicrous it is,” Waller says,  “but that wears off pretty quick when you realize you have a major nuclear power and the person in charge is saying this.”

But Waller believes “it just boils down to bad science.”

“It would make a radioactive hurricane, I don’t see how it couldn’t,” he says.

“The impact to people from events that involve radiation — and there’s not that many we can look at — Chernobyl, Fukushima … the psychological, the psychosocial, the socioeconomic impacts are much greater than the health impacts from the radiation. It becomes a psychological terror.”

Nuking a hurricane would also lead to a global dispersion of radioactivity, which would be difficult to track down because of the unpredictable nature of wind, with Waller saying merely testing nuclear weapons was deemed too dangerous by world leaders.

But the theory also has another problem.

“A hurricane wouldn’t even be flinched by the energy released in a nuclear weapon, which makes it laughable,” he says.

“It would be like if a bowling ball was sitting on a pool table and you shoot a cue ball at it. The bowling ball isn’t going to move. You start rolling that bowling ball and hit it with a cue ball, the bowling ball is going to go in the same direction.”

The heat from a fully developed hurricane is like a “10 megaton nuclear bomb exploding every 20 minutes,” reads a webpage from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) .

Still, a “fully developed hurricane” doesn’t compare to the likes of Hurricane Florence or Hurricane Harvey, but may be similar to the impending Tropical Storm Erin which may rock Atlantic Canada, or Tropical Storm Dorian, which is set to strike Puerto Rico before possibly becoming a Category 2 hurricane in Florida.

Needless to say, this is not a good idea

To shrink a Category 5 hurricane into a Category 2 hurricane, the NOAA writes you would need to add about a half ton of air for each square metre inside the eye, or more than half a billion tonnes for a 20 km radius eye.

“It’s difficult to envision a practical way of moving that much air around,” reads the release from the NOAA.

Using nukes to attack tropical waves or depressions as a preventative measure also isn’t wise because about 80 form a year and most times, they don’t evolve into hurricanes.

National Geographic points out trying to bomb Mother Nature would violate The Peaceful Nuclear Explosions Treaty , which only allows a weapon to use 150 kilotons of force for non-military purposes.

Waller adds that Trump’s alleged idea only further continues to confuse people between nuclear weapons and nuclear energy, at a time when he thinks the latter can be used to help thwart the world’s climate change crisis.

With suggestions that “one should simply use nuclear weapons to try and destroy the storms” popping up during each hurricane season, the NOAA’s webpage is permanently pinned under the “Tropical Cyclones Myths” section of its site.

“Needless to say, this is not a good idea,” writes the NOAA.

• Email: bhristova@postmedia.com | Twitter:

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019

Recent Stories