By Mark McConville
INCREDIBLE video footage has resurfaced of the Soviet Union detonating an underground nuclear charge to extinguish a fire that raged out of control for three years in a natural gas field.
The stunning video shows the huge flame burning bright as the unlimited gas supply fuels it continuously at the Urta-Bulak gas well in Uzbekistan.
Workers try to douse the flames with powerful hoses to no avail before the area is cleared and a large nuclear bomb is deposited underground and detonated to cut off the source of the gas.
Boreholes were drilled to a depth of about 1500 metres, and a 30-kiloton nuclear explosive was lowered into the borehole to around 35 metres from the shaft of the gas well.
This bomb, an example of a peaceful nuclear explosion (PNE), was detonated and turned the rock to glass, sealing the gas well shaft. This successfully extinguished the gas well fire.
No radioactivity above background levels was detected in subsequent surveys. The nuclear charge was reported to be of ‘unprecedented force’ at the time of the experiment on 30 September 1966 in a desert area of Uzbekistan.
It is also understood to be the first time that such an explosion has been used to quell a gas‐well fire after conventional fire fighting techniques had failed.
Soviet newspaper Pravda Vostoka of Tashkent published an account of the experiment at the time.
“With the use of specially designed tools, an elongated cylinder—the nuclear charge—was slowly lowered into the hole,” it said.
“It was then filled with cement to the very top to prevent the products of the explosion from erupting to the surface.
“A government commission, made up of physicists, geologists, natural gas specialists and designers carefully verified the readiness of all services involved in the explosion and finally the timing device was set.
“On that cold autumn day in 1966, an underground tremor of unprecedented force shook the with a sparse grass cover on white sand.
“A dusty haze rose over the desert. The orange‐colored torch of the blazing well diminished, first slowly, then more rapidly, until it flickered and finally died out. For the first time in 1,064 days, quiet descended on the area. The jetlike roar of the gas well had been silenced.”