A report that President Trump asked if the U.S. could use nuclear explosions to disrupt hurricanes - and his subsequent denial he said anything of the sort - has put a spotlight on the science behind such a proposal.
Scientists say that attempting to disrupt a hurricane with a nuclear weapon is a terrible idea.
“Detonating a nuclear bomb inside a hurricane would do nothing to disrupt the storm,” tweeted climate analyst and meteorologist Ryan Maue Sunday. “Instead, you now have a radioactive hurricane.”
On the Frequently Asked Questions section of its website, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) explains that the nuking a hurricane would cause a host of problems.
“Apart from the fact that this might not even alter the storm, this approach neglects the problem that the released radioactive fallout would fairly quickly move with the tradewinds to affect land areas and cause devastating environmental problems,” wrote Chris Landsea of the National Hurricane Center. “Needless to say, this is not a good idea.”
Landsea noted that modifying hurricanes with explosives would require a bewildering amount of energy.
“A fully developed hurricane can release heat energy at a rate of 5 to 20x1013 watts and converts less than 10 percent of the heat into the mechanical energy of the wind,” it said. “The heat release is equivalent to a 10-megaton nuclear bomb exploding every 20 minutes. According to the 1993 World Almanac, the entire human race used energy at a rate of 1013 watts in 1990, a rate less than 20 percent of the power of a hurricane.”
The topic of using a nuclear bomb against a hurricane also sparked plenty of amusement on social media.
“You cannot nuke a hurricane for obvious reasons,” quipped writer and director Edgar Wright on Twitter. “The resulting shockwaves could reverberate into space, shatter the Phantom Zone and release galactic criminals into our atmosphere who may then try to invade Earth. I can’t believe this is even a discussion.”
Axios reported on Sunday that Trump had suggested “multiple times” to senior Homeland Security and national security officials that they look into the use of nuclear weapons to protect the U.S. from hurricanes. The report cited unnamed sources who heard Trump’s private remarks and had “been briefed on a National Security Council memorandum that recorded those comments.”
The president slammed the report on Monday morning.
"The story by Axios that President Trump wanted to blow up large hurricanes with nuclear weapons prior to reaching shore is ridiculous,” Trump tweeted. “I never said this. Just more FAKE NEWS!”
In response, Axios reporters Jonathan Swan and Margaret Talev said that they stand by their story.
“He [Trump] said this in at least two meetings during the first year and a bit of the presidency, and one of the conversations was memorialized,” Swan tweeted on Monday morning.
In 2016, National Geographic reported that government agencies have been receiving inquiries about using nuclear weapons against hurricanes for decades.
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