8 - ATOMS, FIRE AND NUCLEAR DEVICES
by BERNARD A HODSON
During my time in the oil industry I was asked to look at two projects concerning the Alberta tar sands, which are reputed to contain more oil than the entire Middle East oil fields combined. The first project was only a minor involvement, the second project, involving nuclear weapons, I had full scope for the investigation.
The tar sands cover many square miles of territory and slope downwards at an angle from the surface. Near the surface it is possible to strip the "overburden" and treat the tar sands with chemicals and hot water. This process took many years of experiment to get working economically. The end product is liquid crude oil and beautifully clean sand. In fact there is now so much clean sand in the Athabasca area that they could probably supply all the beaches of the Riviera in Europe and still have lots to spare.
Further down there were experiments to see if setting the tar sands on fire could be used to liberate the oil from the sand. The theory was that if two wells were drilled a number of metres apart and then air blown down one well, after suitable preparation of the well, then if the other well is ignited by some incendiary device then, as the fire moved along from one well to the other it would cause oil to be liberated, which could then be extracted at the well that was not on fire. The process was known as "reverse combustion" and I did some of the programming.
Before the end of that experiment, however, I was asked to work on a much more interesting project. I had studied atomic physics at University but had never been involved with nuclear weapons. I was now being asked to investigate whether, for the deep tar sands, it might be possible to explode a pattern of nuclear bombs underneath the sand and release the oil. The theory was that the shock wave from the nuclear explosions would crack the oil and make it more fluid, and that the heat generated by the bombs would cause the oil to flow in a conventional manner.
The project was to be a joint project with Richfield Oil Company in Los Angeles and I went down to discuss things with the Chief Engineer, who lived in a suburb of Los Angeles called Rolling Hills (where horses have the right of way), next to a house where lived a California politician by the name of Richard Nixon. Driving up to Rolling Hills we passed the upper limit of the smog and could see most of LA covered by this smog, not an overly pleasant sight.
I was given several documents on atomic weapons that were not classified. These explained how a one kiloton device, when exploded, would create a cavern of 200 feet diameter and that 99% of the radiation would be trapped in the rock glass created by the explosion. This was in the days of McCarthyism in the United States and I dreaded the thought of crossing the border either way with such material in my possession. Fortunately I was never asked to show the documentation, otherwise I might have spent many hours explaining that I was not a Soviet spy.
An experiment was conducted in Nevada to establish the theory of whether nuclear explosions could generate oil from tar sands. It involved placing a bomb at the end of a tunnel shaped as a letter j. In the straight part of the j, samples of tar sands were placed at known intervals. When the bomb explodes the curved part of the j is sealed by the explosion. The experiment proved the feasibility of the theory but there were still several questions that needed answering. One of these was whether conditions in the tuft rock of Nevada would be equivalent to the limestone rocks of Alberta.
On a second visit a rather bizarre conversation took place. I needed to ask a number of questions in relation to what are known as "equations of state". Rocks react very differently to normal physics when subjected to extreme pressure and heat. The person to whom I addressed the questions was in a catch 22 situation. If I asked a question and he replied, either negatively or positively, either way could be interpreted as giving away classified information. However, somehow we coped and he let me have access to a non classified FORTRAN program involved with the equations of state for tuff, the possibility then being that I could convert the equations to those relating to Alberta rock formations. The programs were not documented in any way but by this time I could read FORTRAN in the same way as reading a book.
I then had to calculate how far under the tar sands I should explode a pattern of 1 kiloton nuclear bombs to avoid contaminating the oil, and whether there was any danger of environmental contamination with the 1% radiation not contained within the generated rock glass. Each nuclear device, with all the needed preparation, would cost on average $1 million and I also had to determine how much oil we might produce, and at what cost. The statistics were very rough, the best being that we would produce 1 million barrels of oil for each bomb, the worst that we would produce 250,000 barrels. Oil was under $4 per barrel in those days but $1 per barrel was feasible. We were almost all set to go ahead when somehow or other Richfield Oil released the nature of the experiment. The then Prime Minister, John Diefenbaker, was so incensed at this early release of information that he stopped the project from going ahead. So once again ill informed politicians killed a project which could have been of immense benefit to Canada, one which might well have made North America independent of Middle East oil.
My potential involvement with atomic weapons was not quite finished by this project. I saw an advertisement for someone to develop compilers and operating systems for the Atlas computer which was being installed at Aldermaston in the United Kingdom, the home of the UK hydrogen bomb project. While I am not particularly interested in atomic weapons the thought of working with the Atlas computer was intriguing as, at that time, it was probably the most advanced computer in the world, working on a pipeline principle where data is fed in a stream as long as there is data available, without waiting for go and stop commands from the then current computer systems. This means that once it starts feeding data to a program you just have to be able to process the data when it arrives, which can be quite tricky.
There was only one problem, I had become a Canadian Citizen, and only American and British citizens were allowed to work at Aldermaston, in spite of the fact that I had duel British and Canadian citizenship. It took them about three months, after which I was offered a position as Principal (or Senior, whichever is higher, I forget which) Scientist. By that time, however, I had accepted another interesting position in Canada, and declined the Atlas job offer. Aldermaston was a typical government village, you lived in streets appropriate to your rank, which I would probably have found to be quite irksome. Had the opportunity been given earlier I would likely have accepted it, due to the fact it was a very advanced computer, but the job I accepted was, in the long run, much more interesting.
When I graduated, knowledge of atomic structure was in its infancy. One of my colleagues went to study with astronomer Fred Hoyle, another went to study cosmic rays in Switzerland. The meson had recently been discovered which resulted in another former colleague changing his name to Meson. Since then of course knowledge of what goes on inside an atom has exploded and we now have scores of different particles with such names as neutrinos, positrons and quarks. At first it was thought that atoms were the smallest, then electrons, protons and neutrons were discovered, then smaller and smaller particles still. Some current thinking says that these particles are not particles at all but vibrating "strings", and that there are many more dimensions than the four of space and time.
Matter and antimatter are discussed openly, as are wormholes and black holes. Gravity, nuclear and electromagnetic forces are the subject of unifying theories, the "big bang" theory of creation has replaced the spontaneous creation of matter. The expanding Universe of Eddington and others is now accepted as fact by many scientists. I have my own simplistic views on some of these matters, I think many of our current theories about the Universe are wrong, but I will not likely live long enough to expand my thoughts on the subject, having been more interested in developing the Hodson-Turing concept, which could be of considerable help in expanding technology and making possible some of the experimental proofs needed by cosmology.
One of my own thoughts is that if the "big bang" theory is true then the Universe began to expand from that point. If the expansion was less than the speed of light, which I believe is the case, and if the Universe is bounded in some form, thought to be an elliptic shell, then the original light would be bouncing back and forth across the expanding boundary. Scientists are worried about the large amount of missing matter. Maybe there is none missing, maybe what we are seeing in the heavens is a series of repeated images. Perhaps the far away galaxy is an image of one nearby, perhaps the spiral shape of many galaxies is caused by the repeated reflection of the light as the Universe expands, perhaps the Doppler effect of receding galaxies is from the same cause. I would dearly like to see someone develop a computer model of this concept to prove whether or not my ideas are valid, and to do it during my lifetime. I have mentioned my ideas to my astronomy loving son Andrew, suggesting this as a topic for him after graduation to augment his figure skating interests.
I am also excited about the development of GENETIX, particularly so if it the mechanism by which the "Mark of the Beast" will be implemented, as predicted in the Book of Revelation, and which is the sort of development being considered seriously by the US Army. Most of what had previously been called Biblical myths have now been proven to be historical fact, and many of the prophecies, predicted hundreds of years prior, have in fact been fulfilled, so there is no reason to believe that the prophecies of Revelation will not also come true. It would appear that we are truly living close to the end of the age as we know it, and that exciting, and often terrible times are ahead of us. Many people used to mock at the idea that God could hear the prayers of billions of people, saying it was not feasible. But today we think nothing of contacting the world ourselves via the Internet, expecting fast response.