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A Blast from the Past – September 10, 1969 – Project Rulison Fifty Years On – A Series on Project Plowshares – Nuclear Fracking Colorado -4- Two Government Propaganda Films

August 17, 2019
The fiftieth anniversary of Project Rulison, an underground nuclear blast to produce commercially grade natural gas – a kind of nuclear fracking – will take place on September 10, 2019. Some of us involved in protesting the blast will return to Rulison as a part of an effort to make a documentary film on the event. What was Project Rulison and what broader program was it a part of? It was an important moment in the state and nation’s history but so few know anything about it. What follows are a series of articles on flawed attempt to use nuclear bombs for peaceful purposes, of which Project Rulison was an integral episode.
Keep adding materials – YouTubes, links to the articles posted on Facebook. Have found several Atomic Energy Commission (essentially) propaganda films, trying to soften the image of the horror of nuclear weapons. According to Project Plowshares, the overarching program that Project Rulison was a part of, ot only can they incinerate people and whole cities, we were told, but they can help mine for natural gas, build canals and do other wonders. Not one of them ever got beyond the experimental stage.
Nukes TestedI am posting two, both which today easily qualify as propaganda films. They are also on links to my blog entries on the subject.
  • The first one is a Department of Energy film specifically on the Rulison blast. It makes it sound so harmless, so simple… Project Rulison. It was, like the others in the series, a  failure, producing levels of radiation (from the gases produced) that made any commercial use of the resulting natural gas unusable
  • The second, “The Magic Atom” was done by the Atomic Energy Commission. It suggests the viability of using nuclear weapons for 1. natural gas production 2. storing oil reserves underground 3. mining copper 4. creating isotopes 4. building canals, ports 5. tunnels through mountains 6. water management… None of which worked. Had Project Rulison been a success, it was estimated (see Chester McQueary’s comments in the High Country News) that the federal government would have used some 800 nuclear blasts to mine natural gas in the Colorado-Wyoming mountains.

ll the horror, stupidity of Project Plowshares (the overall program of which Rulison was a part) was killed in 1977 by the Jimmy Carter Administration…

Part One, Two, Three
5 Comments leave one →
  1. J. P. Jones permalink
    August 17, 2019 4:15 pm

    Plus ca change…….

    From Foreign Policy Mag

    Backfiring ambitions. Russia’s enthusiasm for testing a nuclear-powered cruise missile, an endeavor that reportedly killed five men on Aug. 8, is just the latest reminder of the high stakes of nuclear arms control, Jeffrey Lewis writes. ________________________________

  2. J. P. Jones permalink
    August 19, 2019 11:32 am

    It is astounding to me that no study or calculation was done prior to this explosion to establish whether or not the resulting pool of gas would be safe to use. Only afterwards did someone conclude that the gas was too radioactive. What a dangerous waste! However, maybe some pre-detonation “paper” was done, but, as Gonfman claims in part 3, all such papers done by the nuclear establishment are “worthless.”

    I should add that I worked for a contractor to the Dept of Energy in the 1980s and once got a VIP tour of the testing site in Nevada. I was taken in by helicopter and even got to push the big red button in the control house. Of course, nothing was connected at the time, and not even a firecracker exploded. Years later, however, I found out that many of the DOE people I had worked with had died of cancer. That was sad because they were all very nice, technicians or scientists. Yet it hadn’t taken me too many weeks after I started work at the big DOE office Germantown, MD, to realize that, like most government agencies I’ve encountered (including the Peace Corps), most of the employees sooner or later feel they owe their allegiance primarily to the agency. They think of themselves as some sort of big team doing good in the world.



    • August 19, 2019 12:13 pm

      Will respond later today Phil; am babysitting grandson

      • August 19, 2019 2:06 pm


        I have wondered the same thing for half a century – why couldn’t the A.E.C., private industry involved in the Rulison and related blasts understood and understood well, the radioactive consequences of such actions?

        Several points come to mind..

        1. true that much of the radiation fell to the bottom of cavities created by nuclear explosions, but even Teller in his famous article in Popular Mechanics (March, 1960) claimed that 10-15% of the radioactive residue would have to be dealt with. He just suggested that this wasn’t that serious…trying to play down the impact. In most of these detonations, radioactive consequences were underrated.
        2. In the case of Rulison, radioactive contamination from the blast was contained – or at least as it was reported, was contained – within the cavity itself. The problem came from extracting the natural gas from the surface… and that did result in contamination, enough of it so that the clean up at the site continued until 1998.
        3. That said, I have in the past few weeks only heard of another explanation, in comes from what has been labeled the definitive work on Project Plowshare (Project Plowshare by Scott Kaufman). I have NOT read the book yet but have ordered it. Anyhow, according to Kaufman, the purpose of the all the natural gas producing nuke explosions (Gasbuggy, Rulison and Rio Blanco – the firs in New Mexico the other two in Colorado) had little to do with natural gas extraction and were instead tests to see if nukes could be used to enlarge the Panama Canal. I want to see the references for that but intuitively Phil it made sense, since the Rulison blast with the goal of producing commercially viable natural gas never made sense to me. In fact, it was the very reason being only a few days in Colorado that I joined the protesters at the blast site… So I look forward to seeing how Kaufman argues his case.


  1. A Blast from the Past – Project Rulison Fifty Years On – A Series on Project Plowshares – Part One. | View from the Left Bank: Rob Prince's Blog

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