MARK H. GAFFNEY • SEPTEMBER 25, 2023
Skeptics have pointed to the alleged absence of radiation at ground zero as proof that nuclear weapons were not used to demolish the twin towers in New York City on September 11, 2001. This argument, however, is a logical fallacy that can never rise to the level of proof because the alleged absence of radiation is not evidence of its absence. Such thinking is a red herring that, unfortunately, has set back the cause of 9/11 truth by many years. The subject of nukes has been taboo within the 9/11 truth community ever since Dr Steven Jones posted his 2007 letter at the Journal of 911 Studies.
Dr Jones and the Architects and Engineers for 9/11 Truth have ruled out nukes for reasons that do not withstand closer scrutiny. Although the World Trade Center could have been demolished with conventional weapons, I will argue in this paper that for a number of reasons small nukes were the optimal tool for the job; and for this reason they were probably used. To understand why this is so, it is necessary to briefly review the Plowshare program.
In 1957-1958, scientists at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) unveiled a visionary program to utilize nuclear explosives for peaceful purposes. They called it the Plowshare program, after a passage in Isaiah (2:4): “they will beat their swords into plowshares.” The group was led by none other than Edward Teller, father of the H-Bomb. The idea was to put nukes to work constructing canals, reservoirs, harbors and highways. The LLNL scientists pointed out that nukes were especially attractive for large public works projects that require the removal of vast amounts of rock and earth because no conventional means could match the tremendous cost savings afforded by nuclear explosives.
A plan was unveiled to construct a wider Panama Canal that would handle much larger ships. Later, in 1968, the LLNL scientists also proposed a replacement for the Suez Canal that had closed during the June 1967 Six Day war. A number of vessels had been sunk in the canal during that war, and clearing them as well as removing thousands of mines was proving difficult and time consuming. (The Suez canal did not finally reopen until 1975.) The group around Teller proposed construction of an alternative canal “through friendly territory”, in other words, through the state of Israel. (Edward Teller et al, The Constructive Use of Nuclear Weapons, 1968, McGraw Hill, p.vi.)
And there were other proposals. It was envisioned that underground nukes would make it feasible to cheaply extract natural gas and also retort oil directly from oil-sand deposits in Canada, and from oil-shale deposits in the western US. I was a student at Colorado State University, in those days, and I well remember the local press reports about the underground nuclear tests at Rulison in 1969 and Rio Blanco in 1973. I wrote for the CSU newspaper, at the time, and penned an op/ed against the Rio Blanco test.
From the start, the biggest challenge faced by Plowshare was selling the public on the idea. Could nukes be used safely without endangering nearby communities with earthquake level shocks, not to mention radioactive fallout? Peaceful nukes were controversial for obvious reasons.
Even before Plowshare, scientists at Los Alamos had been moving in the same direction, i.e., underground. The radiation from atmospheric testing was a serious threat to the scientists conducting the tests. There were also operational issues. Radiation was highly destructive to the instruments used to recover test data deemed essential to progress with the bomb program. Instrumentation was expensive and losing it ran up costs. By the mid-1950s, moving underground was a natural step.
So, it happened that the first underground nuclear test occurred in July, 1957, staged by Los Alamos, two months before the first Plowshare test. It was named “Pascal A” and was part of the Plumbbob test series. A bomb with negligible yield was placed near the bottom of a 500-foot hole in the ground. It was actually a three-foot wide unstemmed shaft, meaning it was open at the top. Once the Atmospheric Test Ban Treaty went into effect (in 1963) and underground tests became the norm, scientists learned to seal the shafts (after inserting the bomb) by pouring at least 50-feet of concrete down the hole. But that first test in 1957 did have a lid of sorts, a five-foot concrete plug that vaporized during the explosion. Pascal A was a nighttime test. It went off after midnight, and project director Robert Campbell later described the intense blue plasma jet flame that leaped hundreds of feet into the sky as “The biggest damn Roman candle I ever saw…”
Although the shaft for Pascal A was basically open at the top and the yield turned out to be larger than expected (55 tons TNT), the team reported a 90% reduction in fallout. Meaning: 90% of the fallout remained in the hole. (James Carothers, Caging the Dragon, DOE/NV-388, DNA TR 95-74, 1995, p. 20-21.
Going deep underground did not eliminate the radiation, but usually it was effective at containing it. However, the Plowshare scientists were not satisfied with mere containment. They were determined to reduce radiation and, if possible, to eliminate it altogether. And, as I will show, they largely succeeded. The scientists around Teller proceeded to develop a whole new class of nuclear explosives, what they called Minimal Residual Radiation (MRR) devices. (For a discussion scroll to 4.5.4. MMR Designs)
One of their innovations was to tailor the nuclear device to the project at hand. Because most of the Plowshare projects called for excavating large amounts of rock and earth, the Teller group expanded the fusion component of the explosive at the expense of the fission side of the equation. This made perfect sense because fusion produces a much bigger bang for the buck than fission. Minimizing the size of the fission trigger also helped resolve the radiation problem.
Nuclear explosions produce two different types of dangerous radiation. In the first category are the breakdown products from fission. Therefore, minimizing the size of the fission trigger had the beneficial effect of greatly reducing the amount of fission decay products.
The second radiation problem is known as neutron activation, and results from the release of high energy neutrons during both fusion and fission reactions. At issue is the proclivity of high energy neutrons to ionize whatever material they contact, causing the formation of dangerous radionuclides. The Teller group tackled this problem head on and quickly achieved a partial solution by reconfiguring the device. For example, they substituted plastics and vanadium for various steel and aluminum components. They also replaced tungsten with lead. These design modifications resulted in a large reduction in the amounts of radioactive sodium, manganese, iron and tungsten isotopes. (Richard M. Lessler, Lawrence Radiation Laboratory, Reduction of Radioactivity Produced by nuclear Explosives, 1970.
But another modification was equally important. The scientists expanded the use of boron, a well-known neutron absorber. Indeed, boron is so important to the industry that nuclear power could not have developed without it. Every reactor relies on boron rods to keep nuclear fission under control. Boron is even added to the stainless steel used in the pressure vessels that hold the reactor core, for the same reason.
Ordinary boron is comprised of two stable isotopes, boron-10 and boron-11. The former makes up about 20% of the boron in our world, and the latter about 80%. Boron-10 is the preferred isotope, and is essential because of its capacity to absorb neutrons, hence, to moderate the so called neutron flux. The Plowshare scientists found that the number of escaping neutrons could be sharply reduced by packing boron-rich material around the explosive device. Each additional 15 cm (6 inches) of boron shielding resulted in a 90% reduction in free neutrons. (Lessler, Reduction of Radioactivity Produced by nuclear Explosives)
The role of boron in the Plowshare program was first disclosed in 1970 by Richard M. Lessler, a scientist at the University of California radiation laboratory. Data tables he published in a key paper show that, by 1967-68, Plowshare scientists had successfully reduced both neutron activation and fission decay products by ~99%. (Lessler, Reduction of Radioactivity Produced by nuclear Explosives)
A retrospective account by scientist James Carothers published in 1995 by the Department of Energy (DOE) indicates that nuclear scientists at Los Alamos were likewise well versed in the use of boron. According to Carothers, as early as 1954-55, the staff at Los Alamos learned to coat the test site with boron-rich material to reduce unwanted neutron activation of soil during atmospheric tests. Los Alamos scientists also adopted the practice of shielding the nuclear charge with boron. (Caging the Dragon, p. 16 and p. 530).
The data published by Lessler in 1970 documented the genuine progress made by Plowshare in reducing radiation. Ten years earlier, in 1960, Edward Teller had told a congressional committee that “I can say, not with certainty, but with quite a bit of hope that we can make nuclear explosives for peaceful purposes so clean that the worry about radiation …may disappear completely.” (William H Berman and Lee M Hydeman, Nuclear Explosions for Peaceful Purposes, 1 Nat. Res. Journal, 1961, see note 32, p.8)
As early as 1963, Teller foresaw that by minimizing the size of the fission component of a thermonuclear device “we can avoid producing the large quantities of radioactive materials characteristic of fission explosions.” (Edward Teller, Plowshare, University of California, Earnest O. Lawrence Radiation Laboratory, Contract No. W-7405-eng-48, February 1963, p. 4. )
Teller made similar statements on many occasions. His optimism actually increased over the years as Plowshare scientists learned to tame the nuclear dragon.
In 1970, Richard Lessler was looking to the future when he confidently wrote that “a set of safety criteria should be established and then the explosive should be designed to satisfy or surpass these criteria before it is used…” In other words, progress would continue in the future. Radiation standards would be met by tailoring the device, as needed. (Lessler, Reduction of Radioactivity Produced by nuclear Explosives)
This “can do” attitude suggests that by the 1970s the US had entered a brave new world of made-to-order designer nuclear explosives. The LLNL group doubtless believed they could meet or exceed any improved radiation safety standard by reconfiguring materials and by introducing new technology. They had already licked the neutron activation problem by packing in as much boron shielding as needed. That part was easy.
The fission side of the equation was more difficult. Although they achieved major reductions in radiation by minimizing the fission trigger (to about half a kiloton), it was not possible to eliminate it entirely.
The only way to reduce fission decay products to zero would be to eliminate the fission trigger altogether. And, no doubt, this was their plan. By 1970, perhaps earlier, Teller & company were looking ahead to the once and for all resolution of the radiation issue. They would replace fission triggers with a new laser ignition device that produced none of the unwanted radiation. In this way they would inaugurate the fabled fourth generation of nukes that for them was the Holy Grail.
As we know today, developing laser triggers turned out to be elusive, if not a pipe dream, at very least, much more difficult in practice than the Plowshare scientists envisioned. While the matter is an important footnote to history, it is of little consequence for our purposes here because a clean thermonuclear device was never necessary nor optimal to bring down the twin towers. Two small fission weapons employing fissile uranium would do the job, quite nicely.
But how small?
The prolific author John McPhee provided an answer in a 1994 book based on a series of interviews with the late Theodore Taylor, senior US nuclear weapons designer. (John McPhee, The Curve of Binding Energy, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2011, p. 15, p. 124, p. 156, p. 194, p. 225, p. 226)
Over his long career Theodore Taylor racked up many solid achievements. As I reviewed his bio I was struck by the fact that even though Taylor was strongly anti-nuclear he became the foremost US expert on fission weapons. The man must have been a curious contradiction. Taylor is credited with designing the smallest fission weapon in the US arsenal at the time, known as the Davy Crockett. It weighed only fifty pounds and was fired out of a specially designed cannon like an artillery shell. But Taylor also designed the largest fission bomb ever produced by the US, the Super Oralloy Bomb (SOB) rated at 500 kilotons. Taylor’s work on fission was so innovative that he was given a free hand. His other contributions include beryllium neutron reflectors and the General Dynamics TRIGA pulse reactor. The physicist Freeman Dyson worked closely with Taylor and later described him as “the greatest man I ever knew well.”
I have fleshed this out to establish that Dr Taylor knew his business.
So when the conversations with McPhee turned to the World Trade Center (the two men revisit the issue a half dozen times in the book) Taylor went on record that about six grams of fissile material would be sufficient to take down each tower. That’s .2 ounces of bomb-grade material per tower, the mass equivalent of 1-2 sticks of chewing gum. Or, in TNT equivalents: .1 kiloton.
Forget the wild-eyed estimates of the Russian Dmitri Khalezov (150 kilotons) and the Frenchman Francois Roby (80 kilotons). And yes, forget Heinz Pommer as well (100 kilotons). A device based on the lowest of their insane figures would have taken out all of lower Manhattan.
As we know, the Plowshare program failed to gain wider acceptance and was abruptly canceled in 1975. The program fell out of favor because it could not deliver the promised economic benefits. The projects were not commercially viable. The only “benefits” that accrued from Plowshare were the innovations I have described that potentially made nukes attractive to terrorists. I do not mean the garden variety but rather, the deep state kind who operate under the cover of anonymity. This is why Plowshare is relevant to 9/11. Even if the truther community fails to appreciate the point, it’s a safe bet that the “strides” taken during Plowshare regarding designer nukes were not lost on the criminals who planned the destruction of the twin towers. It’s quite likely they viewed the World Trade Center job as a technical challenge, and tailored the explosive accordingly. They were operating under some tight and unforgiving constraints…
To Catch a Thief
To catch a thief it is sometimes necessary to think like one. Solving the crime of 9/11 therefor requires that we put ourselves in the shoes of the individuals who were responsible (however distasteful this might be) and try to see the world through their jaundiced eyes.
In this paper I have already shown that Dr Jones was wrong about neutron activation. Incidentally, the documents I cited on this are a matter of public record and have been for many years. Most were available even before the 9/11 attacks. A comprehensive literature review would have brought all of this to light, long ago. Perhaps the real question is why Dr Jones and the Architects and Engineers for 9/11 Truth failed to look.
As I am about to show, Dr Jones was also wrong about the fission products. This is where Theodore Taylor’s well informed professional opinion matters. His assertion that two low-yield devices would have been sufficient to take down the twin towers changes the conversation. Even if the actual yield was slightly higher than Taylor’s .1 kiloton estimate, say, on the order of .3-.4 kilotons, the total amount of fissile material needed for each tower still would have been only about 15-20 grams. The total for both would have been 30-40 grams (1.4 ounces). The amount of fission products would have been roughly the same. In other words, we are talking about a minuscule amount of fallout that would have been dispersed amidst 600,000 tons of debris from both towers. (Gregory H. Urich, Analysis of the Mass and Potential Energy of World Trade center Tower 1, 2007)
An estimated 10% of the dust from the pulverized WTC concrete, totaling about 50,000 tons, ended up off site. So, we would likewise expect that about 10% of the fallout, i.e. 3-4 grams (.10 -.14 ounces) also would have ended up off site mixed in with the 50,000 tons of dust. That’s not parts per million, nor even parts per billion, that’s parts per trillion. Because of the extreme dilution factor, radiation readings off site would have been negligible. This is why Dr Jones’s reliance on a survey done a month later not even on site but involving Hudson River sediment fails the laugh test.
Radiation would have been detectable on the pile, yes, for a time. Insofar as I am aware, however, no US government or state authority ever published the results of such a survey at ground zero. Did such a radiation survey happen? If so, I have not seen the report. If it did I would greatly appreciate it if someone would please bring this to my attention. If the results were negative, why did the authorities not publish it? If hard data ruled out nukes, there would have been every reason to headline the fact and silence the conspiracy kooks, and no reason not to.
As for tritium, the trace amounts that were detected on site are consistent with the use of small fission weapons.
The logical placement of a designer device would have been at the bottom of freight elevator 50, the only elevator that serviced every floor in the tower. The shaft was located very near to the center of the core, and serviced all of the sub-levels down to bedrock. No other elevator reached down to the lowest sub-level B-6. The shaft for freight elevator 50 had actually been cut deep into the granite below the foundations of the tower. A pit and drainage sumps had also been cut below the shaft to service the freight elevator. A device placed at this lowest point would have been surrounded by granite on all sides, save one. Straight up.
The pit and sumps could easily have been filled with water heavily laced with borax and boric acid. This would have cut the neutron activation nearly to zero.
If/when the device went off a vertical spear of nuclear plasma exceeding millions of degrees would have shot up through the center of the building. When it hit the top of the elevator shaft it would have spread out and destroyed the tower from the top down, exactly what we observed.
Properly placed conventional charges, possibly thermite/thermate, would have assured the complete destruction of the mid to lower floors. Although conventional explosives alone certainly could have demolished the twin towers, nukes were essential to pulverize the top third of each building. This prevented the towers from tipping over, which could have caused more extensive damage to the financial district. It was imperative that Wall Street reopen as soon as possible. The use of nukes also helped insure that the “bathtub” surrounding the World Trade Center remained intact. Sole reliance on conventional explosives would have produced over-pressures that risked breaching the bathtub, in which case the Hudson River would have flooded lower Manhattan including the subway system. Wall Street would have been closed indefinitely. This had to be avoided.
Pulverizing the top third of the buildings with small nukes substantially reduced the risks. And, as we know, although the collapses caused some cracks in the bathtub, it held firm. From the planners’ perspective, the use of nukes was a great success. And the best part (from their standpoint) was that they escaped detection.
Solving a crime requires asking the right questions. Had the 9/11 truth community done so from the start there is a high likelihood truthers would have exposed the coverup, long ago, and solved the crime of the century. In that case, we might also have turned things around in our country and world. Today, as we tremble on the brink of nuclear war with Russia, it may be too late. I pray this is not the case. But even if it is, the hour is never too late to expose the truth.
(Note: This article would not have been possible without assistance from a fact-checker who cannot be named.)