Just after the Second World War, scientists started looking for alternative ways to use nuclear energy. For example, in the 1960s, the U.S. wanted to use atomic bombs to build a new highway.
The U.S. government planned to detonate a number of nuclear bombs in the California desert in order to create a highway pass for Route 66. The plan was part of the Plowshare project of the federal government. This was conceived in 1951 as a way of ‘turning nuclear weapons into plowshares’.
Bombs that exploded underground, experts thought, could be a cheap solution to move large amounts of Earth. For example, dozens of chains of explosions could form new channels, roads or even ports. When a side branch had to be built for Highway Route 66 in the early 1960s, a committee of inquiry came to the conclusion that a nuclear-powered bypass would be ‘technically feasible’, and more importantly, ‘much cheaper than conventional excavation work’.
Nuclear bombs with a power of between 20 and 200 kilotons would be used to get through a mountain range. The combined yield would be 1730 kilotons, or about 115 times that of’ Little Boy ‘ – the bomb that the US dropped on Hiroshima less than two decades earlier. Apparently, the Americans learned in time that the use of nuclear bombs does not only have advantages.