Hot Dry Rock Collection

Preliminary Study of the Nuclear Subterrene

This work led to the formation in 1970 of a small group to further examine this drilling concept. Led initially by E. S. Robinson and later by J. C. Rowley, the group eventually developed and tested the concept of the subterrene drill.

The rock-melting drill was invented at Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory in 1960. Electrically heated, laboratory-scale drills were subsequently shown to penetrate igneous rocks at usefully high rates, with moderate power comsumptions. The development of compact nuclear reactors and of heat pipes now makes possible the extension of this technology to much larger melting penetrators, potentially capable of producing holes up to several meters in diameter and several tens of kilometers long or deep. Development of a rapid, versatile, economical method of boring large, long shafts and tunnels offers solutions to many of man’s most urgent ecological, scientific, raw-materials, and energy-supply problems. A melting method appears to be the most promising and flexible means of producing such holes. It is relatively insensitive to the composition, hardness, structure, and temperature of the rock, and offers the possibilities of producing self-supporting, glass-lined holes in almost any formation and (using a technique called lithofracturing) of eliminating the debris-removal problem by forcing molten rock into cracks created in the bore wall. Large rock-melting penetrators, called Electric Subterrenes or Nuclear Subterrenes according to the energy source used, are discussed in this report, together with problems anticipated in their development. It is concluded that this development is within the grasp of present technology.

- LA-04547


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