How the US almost blasted an alternative Suez Canal using 520 nukes

The nation considered using nuclear weapons to carve out canals in Israel and Central America.
Loukia Papadopoulos
The Suez CanalBirdImages/iStock

A 1963 memorandum, which was declassified in 1996, describes a shocking proposal for building a new route between the Red Sea and the Mediterranean Sea. The plan called for using 520 nuclear bombs to blast out an alternative to the Suez Canal through Israel, according to Business Insider. The document called for the "use of nuclear explosives for excavation of Dead Sea canal across the Negev desert."

A sea-level canal 160 miles long across Israel

The memorandum noted that an "interesting application of nuclear excavation would be a sea-level canal 160 miles long across Israel." It further stated that traditional methods of excavation would be "prohibitively expensive" adding that "it appears that nuclear explosives could be profitably applied to this situation."

It concluded that the development of "such a canal would be a strategically valuable alternative to the present Suez Canal and would probably contribute greatly to economic development." This would have been very true in March of 2022 when a cargo ship got stuck in the narrow path of the Suez Canal effectively stopping all traffic and leading to delays that cost business owners significant amounts of money.

The document was produced by the U.S. Department of Energy-backed Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and described in detail a route that spanned across the Negev desert in Israel, connecting the Mediterranean to the Gulf of Aqaba, offering a route to the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean. 

That route said the document consisted of "virtually unpopulated desert wasteland"  that was "thus amenable to nuclear excavation methods." 

Expanding the Panama Canal

And this wasn't the only canal the Americans were thinking of building through the use of nuclear bombs, according to Forbes. The nation entertained the thought of blasting a route through Central America to expand the Panama Canal.

How the US almost blasted an alternative Suez Canal using 520 nukes
The Panama Canal Source: wanderluster

It was in 1967-1968 that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers sent 50 geologists to investigate the best possible routes for a new canal traveling through Central America. These experts identified paths through Nicaragua, Panama and Columbia.

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The engineers finally decided on the Pan-Atomic Canal through Colombia, a project set to cost a whopping $2 billion. However, by 1969, concern over radiation lead to test shots designed to round off the canal digging studies being canceled.

Then, in 1970, a report by the Corps of Engineers brigadier general Charles Noble surfaced advising against the plan, citing among many concerns that the scheme was not economically sound and posed a danger to the environment and Indigenous populations.

“Although we are confident that someday nuclear explosions will be used in a wide variety of massive, earth-moving projects, no current decision on U.S. canal policy should be made in the expectation that nuclear excavation technology will be available for canal construction,” the report noted.

Both these ambitious projects never came to fruition likely because they were too extreme for the times they were considered. One cannot help but wonder what would have happened had the canals been built. 

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