A Comment on Project Chariot

Introduction: The comments below come at the 7 and a half minute mark in a documentary called “Project Chariot.” The film depicts an effort by the Atomic Energy Commission to create a harbor by means of detonating nuclear bombs. Said harbor was to be located just south of Point Hope, Alaska. putting it within Inupiat territory and making it a threat to the Inupiat people of Point Hope and the surrounding lands.

The Documentary was made by Rachel Naninaaq Edwardson.

Another good source on this topic is the book, The Firecracker Boys, by Dan Oneill.

Key Facts: Project Chariot was part of a larger program know as “Operation Ploughshare” which was intended to explore peaceful use of nuclear power including the prospects of geo-engineering through nuclear detonation. Project Chariot would have created a harbor on the coastline of Alaska, just south of Point Hope. Opposition by the community of Point Hope in conjunction with other environmentalists and Alaska Natives helped to shut down Project Chariot, though radioactive materials were left at the target site after the project had been pulled. Many in the Point Hope Community remain concerned about the possible health effects of radioactive materials and the possibility that additional materials may have been left at the site.


“This is supposed to be a push to use nuclear energy for peaceful uses. Now to me, a peaceful use is a joke. I don’t think there is a peaceful use for nuclear energy. There is too much waste and too much damage.”


  • Ernie Frankson, Point Hope Elder and Inupiaq Historian.


Comments: The clip is certainly brief, and Mr. Frankson may have been more concerned with the specific history of Project Chariot than with the philosophical implications of nuclear technology. Still, he has provided an argument on the larger topic of nuclear energy.

Statements: I made a couple minor adjustments to statements 2 and 3, just to clean the wording up a bit for argument analysis.

[1] This is supposed to be a push to use nuclear energy for peaceful uses.

[2] …Peaceful use is a joke.

[3] [There is no] peaceful use for nuclear energy.

[4] There is too much waste and too much damage.

[5] [Project Chariot was unjustified.]

Diagram: I reckon the argument looks like this.



Misplaced Literalism: It is possible to interpret Mr. Frankson’s use of the term ‘joke’ as a literal joke, in which case on might object to the premise on the basis of the fact that it isn’t funny. In context, however, it seems quite clear that the word is used simply to expression rejection of the idea. I think it’s fair to say this approach would be misplaced literalism.

Missing Assertions: It looks like the final conclusion to this argument is unstated. We could probably come up with a few variations, but in context, I think a simple statement condemning Project Chariot is most likely the intended point.

Alternatively, one could suggest a conclusion along the lines that Project Chariot could not have accomplished any peaceful goals. That would be a more modest conclusion, but it probably falls short of the practical goals of the speaker. As someone who would be negatively impacted by the project, it is doubtful that he means only to criticize the goals of the project; he means to reject it outright.

Evaluation:There are two central premises to this argument, 1 and 4.

Premise 1: Given the stated goals of both Operation Ploughshare and Project Chariot, it seems quite fair to suggest the point here was to develop peaceful uses of nuclear energy. Mr. Frankson’s account of the rationale for going through with this seems quite accurate.

Premise 4: The biggest question regarding truth value in this example is probably focused on premise 4. To really do a good job of evaluating the argument, we would have to make a systematic study of the possible benefits and the possible detriments of nuclear energy. Note that this is a much larger theme than the specific effects of Project Chariot. In this clip, Mr. Frankson is not merely condemning Project Chariot; he is categorically rejecting the peaceful use of nuclear energy. This would include the use of nuclear power plants in use today. Different people are likely to assess the total pros and cons differently, and even systematic studies are likely to produce different results owing to differences in source funding and personal motivation, etc.

I am personally inclined ti agree with Mr. Frankson here, though I could not pretend my view of the matter is based on any particularly rigorous study of the subject.

Inference from 4 to 3: If Premise 4 is true, then 3 most likely has to be true (hence the inference between them is deductively valid). If premise 4 is deemed false, then that leaves the truth value of premise 3 up in the air.

Inference from 3 to 2: If the truth value of premise 3 is true, then most likely 2 if true as well, barring the misplaced literalism mentioned above. The language used in these premises doesn’t match closely enough to warrant calling them deductively valid, I think, so perhaps a strong value would be appropriate for the inference bewtween these statements.

Inference from 1+2 to [5]: The final inference from premises 1 and 2 to the unstated conclusion [5] seems strong as well. Given the terms of the argument, the purpose of the project is to generate peaceful uses for nuclear technology. If that is that is not possible in general, or in relation to this specific project, then it is hard to accept the justification for Project Chariot.

Why isn’t the last inference deductively valid? One could possibly suggest the project was warranted on some other grounds. In point of fact, other grounds were offered (such as economic utility), but as Oneill’s book makes quite clear the benefits anticipated by the project were implausible, even when studied closely at the time, and the harms likely to follow the blast, at least to the people of the North Slope of Alaska would be substantial. It is perhaps unfair to base an evaluation of the project on this other data since that is not mentioned in the argument, but if that is the case, the problem applies to both pros and cons, so I think it best to acknowledge only the possibility that other considerations could come into play. Given the issues raised by Mr. Frankson, the inference to 5 seems well supported if not deductively valid.

As I regard the main premises of this argument as true, and as the inferences appear to be highly relevant, I am inclined to think of this argument as sound. The most plausible counter-arguments, I would think would be coming from those who see nuclear technology as more beneficial than harmful. To someone with that view, one plank of Mr. Frankson’s argument begins from a questionable truth value. This would undermine the soundness of the argument.

Final Thoughts: This is a very tiny text dealing with a very large issue. Both Oneill’s book and Edwardson’s documentary are well worth the time.

Note also that a more modest set of premises focused on the specific costs and benefits of Project Chariot itself (rather than the categorical rejection of nuclear energy offered by Mr. Frankson in this particular quote) might avoid the questionable truth value of premise 4, making the argument less susceptible to counter-arguments, but of course, there are reasons to consider more general premises, reasons such as trying to pre-empt similar projects in the future.

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