Project Chariot


         In 1958, shortly after the start of Project Plowshare, Edward Teller and other scientists at the Atomic Energy commission conceived the idea of using atomic explosions to excavate a harbor in northwest Alaska.  Other projects considered were a new canal through Central America, a highway/railroad cut in southern California and water storage reservoirs.
        Project Chariot involved using a series of atomic blasts to excavate a channel and turning basin to serve as a deep water port in Northwest Alaska. The chosen site was a drainage called Ogotoruk Creek on Cape Thompson. The site was north of Kotzebue, between the villages of Point Hope and Kivalina.  The AEC originally claimed the goal of the project was the economic development of the area, and that without economic justification it would not proceed, however there was no need for a large port in that part of Alaska.  No significant reserves of minerals or oil were known to be in the area.  The project was meant to be a test of the new concept of “geographic engineering”.  In later phases of the project the AEC conceded that there was little economic justification for the project, but they still planed to proceed with it as an experiment.  The project received enthusiastic support from many civic and business leaders in Alaska.  The villagers in Point Hope and some scientists at The University of Alaska were somewhat skeptical. 
        A group of university scientists raised some of their objections at AEC presentations in Fairbanks.  As a result the University was hired to carry out an extensive biological study of the area to determine if and when the project could safely be carried out.  As the project progressed it became apparent to many of the scientists that their data was being ignored or deliberately misused. Several of the scientists, in alliance with the fledgling environmental group Alaska Conservation Society started to speak out against the project.  
        The AEC presented the village of Point Hope with extremely misleading information about the risks presented by the atomic explosions.  The people of Point Hope together with The Association on American Indian Affairs and a grassroots church group in New England also worked against the project.  In 1962, largely as a result of the efforts of these small groups, Project Chariot was cancelled or as the AEC said “held in abeyance.”  Had Project Chariot been carried out at its smallest proposed size, approximately 200 times as much radiation as was released at Chernobyl would have been released.


Introduction    Project Chariot    Project Orion    Political and Environmental Fallout    Sources and Links