Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Donald Trump Suggests "Nuking Hurricanes"

News media are having a field day on Monday drawing attention to Donald Trump’s reported suggestion – which was said to have been made on more than one occasion – that the US military should bomb hurricanes in order to disrupt them before they make landfall. 

According to US news website Axios, the US president (left) said in a meeting with top national security and homeland security officials about the threat of hurricanes: “I got it. I got it. Why don’t we nuke them?” 

“They start forming off the coast of Africa, as they’re moving across the Atlantic, we drop a bomb inside the eye of the hurricane and it disrupts it. Why can’t we do that?” 

Quoting unnamed sources who were present at the meeting, Axios report that the response from one official was “We’ll look into this”. 

The news and technology company had recounted that Trump had raised the same issue on another occasion with a senior administration official. This conversation was apparently recorded in a 2017 national security council memo which used the term “nuclear” in reference to the conversation. 

Axios quoted a senior official who defended Trump’s ability to ask tough questions: “His goal – to keep a catastrophic hurricane from hitting the mainland – is not bad. His objective is not bad”. 

It’s an appealing thought, especially when, during hurricane season, Americans are annually reminded of the immense destruction wrought by these massive storms. 

And I read that every year for the past six decades, government agencies have received missives from concerned citizens, urging pre-emptive attacks against hurricanes using nuclear weapons. 

“Needless to say, this is not a good idea”, says the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in what is, arguably, one of the most succinct understatements on record.

Yet because the “nuke a hurricane” myth won’t die, NOAA maintains a web page exclusively devoted to debunking this proposal. 

The fact that America already has the hydrogen bomb, which is a thousand times more powerful than the atomic bombs that were dropped on Japan during WW11, begets the question: Couldn't this energy be unleashed as a hurricane killer? 

In fact, Jack W Reed, a meteorologist at Sandia National Laboratories thought so. Actually, he came up with the idea while studying the atmospheric effects produced by America’s first detonation of a hydrogen bomb, which had lifted a massive column of air more than 20 miles into the sky. 

Reed had the opportunity to present his research at conferences, notably the 1959 symposium on the Plowshare Program – a government initiative to develop “peaceful” uses for nuclear weapons in science and industry. 

(One of the most infamous Plowshare proposals included plans to use nukes to create an instant harbor on the coast of Alaska). 

In his paper, Reed speculated that a submarine could travel underwater to penetrate the eye of a hurricane, where it would launch and detonate one or more nuclear missiles. The ensuing explosion would loft most of the relatively warm air in the hurricane's eye high above the storm into the stratosphere. The warm air would then be replaced by colder, denser air—reducing the wind speed and weakening the storm. Reed calculated that a 20 megaton explosion could slow a storm with 100-knot peak winds to 50 knots. 

But Reed didn’t find any takers for his idea. 

The research would require setting off multiple nukes at several million dollars a pop. Government officials expressed concern that bombing hurricanes would conflict with US efforts to end atmospheric nuclear tests. 

In the words of Robert Nelson, a physicist who studies nuclear weapons – “It’s just wacky”! 

For starters, as NOAA observes, there’s the issue of radioactive fallout, which would “fairly quickly move with the trade winds to affect land areas and cause devastating environmental problems”. 

Besides, it wouldn’t work. 

The key obstacle is the amount of energy required. The heat release from a hurricane is equivalent to a 10-megaton nuclear bomb exploding every 20 minutes, NOAA calculates. In order to shrink a Category 5 hurricane into a Category 2 hurricane, you would have to add about a half ton of air for each square yard inside the eye, or a total of a bit more than half a billion (500,000,000) tons for an eye 25 miles in diameter. 

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

Today, international law prohibits us from even trying. The Peaceful Nuclear Explosions Treaty, signed and ratified by the United States in 1990, limits the yield of weapons for non-military purposes to 150 kilotons – a formal acknowledgement that you can’t fight Mother Nature, especially with nukes. 

To be fair to Trump, though, there was a time when scientists and government agencies were themselves seriously considering the nuclear option. 

In a speech delivered at the National Press Club on October 11, 1961, Francis W. Riechelderfer, the head of the US Weather Bureau, said he could “imagine the possibility someday of exploding a nuclear bomb on a hurricane far at sea”. (Although, comfortingly, he added that the Weather Bureau would not begin acquiring its own nuclear arsenal “until we know what we’re doing”). 

On Monday, Trump denied he even made the suggestion, calling it "ridiculous". LOL, when it concerns Trump, when is it ever not ridiculous?!?!

Anyway, I don't think news from Uncle Sam would be as interesting and intriguing as it is today if Donald Trump is not the President of the United States of America. He entertains us regularly and at times, scares and spooks us too  in a way, it's like riding on an emotional roller-coaster. 

More than that, given his disposition for bizarre ideas and thoughts which he regularly does not keep to himself  we get ample opportunities to freely mock him. And laugh at him. Heartily.

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