Project Chariot

During the 1950s and 1960s in the midst of the Cold War, the United States Department of Energy deployed “Operation Plowshare” to conceive of and promote “peaceful” uses of nuclear weapons.[1] One such project was “Project Chariot.” Claiming it would spark “development” in the arctic, “Project Chariot” proposed to detonate a string of five hydrogen bombs to create an artificial harbor in Cape Thompson, just south of Point Hope, Alaska.[2]

Residents were told by US scientists that the wind and ice would move radiation far away.[3] In reality, the detonation of nuclear weapons would have contaminated residents’ means of subsistence hunting, irradiating caribou and marine wildlife.[4] Not to mention that waters in Cape Thompson are frozen solid the nine months out of the year - rendering the port virtually unusable.[3] Many speculate Point Hope was chosen as a “guinea pig” site for Operation Plowshare. If US scientists were able to carry out this project successfully, they could leverage success on this project to gain approval for their other goals. In addition, US scientists likely chose Point hope for its low population density and distance from urban centers.[5]

Iñupiat residents vehemently opposed the project - successfully mobilizing against the Department of Energy. Their resistance successfully stopped the project from ultimately being carried out. However, despite the fact that Iñupiat activists successfully prevented the detonation of the bombs. Extensive testing on the proposed site in preparation for Project Chariot included the drilling of bore holes with diesel. This testing left the soil contaminated. Remediation efforts from this testing and contamination are ongoing.[2]

In addition, Many residents in and around Cape Thompson believe the DoE secretly buried nuclear weapons in preparation for “Project Chariot.” The US government has vehemently denied these accusations. They argue the experimental bore holes drilled into the ground were nowhere large enough for nuclear weapons to fit. However, residents have seen augmented rates of cancer, which they attribute to nuclear waste leaching from the weapons. One resident witnessed a nuclear weapon being lowered into the ground.[2] In addition, blueprints acquired by a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request showed the holes were large enough to hold nuclear weapons. A top military official once accidentally admitted to bombs being left behind, and documents show crates containing thousands of pounds of unspecified material were transported to Cape Thompson. Unfortunately, many documents from “Project Chariot” remain classified.

in 1962, the year Project Chariot was halted, US scientists transported radioactive contaminated soil from the Nevada Nuclear test site to Cape Thompson, Alaska for a research study. The soil was buried in the ground at unmarked sites, and scientists conducted research on the movement of radioactivity through soil and water. This research and the presence of radioactive waste in the soil and water was kept secret for thirty years. Residents did not learn of these experiments until research documents were declassified in the 1990s.[2]  In addition, until the 1970s, the US government exploded nuclear weapons on the Aleutian island of Amchitka. This long history of nuclear assaults against Alaska Native lands and peoples has fostered a lack of trust between Native residents and the US government.

Today, cancer is the leading cause of death in Point Hope. Residents have among the highest rates of cancer in the country.[4]


[1] Hackett, Jeni, "Actual 1950s Proposal: Nuke Alaska," Atlas Obscura, September 29, 2015,

[2] Alex Demarban, "Villagers suspect a problem of nuclear proportions buried near Point Hope," Anchorage daily News, March 2, 2014,

[3] "Project Chariot planned to use nuclear warheads to create port in Alaska," CGTN America, December 6, 2015.

[4] "Inside the Government's Secret Plan To Nuke Alaska," All That's Interesting, January 3, 2018,

[5] "Project Chariot," Ground Truth Trekking, March 5th, 2014,