70 Years of Schemes to Improve and Enlarge the Panama Canal


By 1939 plans for capital ships began exceeding the capacity of the canal's 110 foot wide locks, and Congress approved funding of a Third Locks Project, which began that year. It was prematurely shut down in March 1942 because of America's entry into the Second World War. In 1946 Congress approved a new round of studies examining the feasibility of excavating a sealevel canal because of the threat posed to the existing locks by nuclear weapons. These plans were approved, but never funded by Congress because the Korean War broke out in mid-1950. A third generation of sea-level canal studies were undertaken throughout the 1960s, as part of the Atomic Energy Commission's Project Plowshare. Plowshare proposed to employ strings of thermonuclear warheads set at various depths to excavate a new canal across the Panamanian Isthmus. These studies fell victim to increasing concerns about environmental impacts, and were quietly cast aside in the early 1970s, during the Vietnam Conflict. A few years later (1977) the Carter Administration signed a treaty with Panama that provided for a 20-year transition of the canal's ownership and operations, between 1979-99. In 1999 the Panama Canal Authority (ACP) assumed charge of all aspects of the waterway. In 2006 Panamanian voters approved a $5.2 billion expansion of the Panama Canal known as the Third Set of Locks Project, proposed by the ACP. This measure was funded by the National Assembly in July 2007. The additions will double the capacity of the Panama Canal by 2014 by allowing more and larger ships to transit the Canal. The canal presently generates about half of Panama's revenue.

Meeting Name

World Environmental and Water Resources Congress: Crossing Boundaries (2012: May 20-24, Albuquerque, NM)


Geosciences and Geological and Petroleum Engineering

Keywords and Phrases

Atomic Energy Commissions; Panama Canal Authorities; Second World War; Set Of Locks; Thermonuclear Warhead; Third Generation; Viet Nam; Hydraulic Structures; Locks (Fasteners); Military Operations; Nuclear Weapons; Ships; Water Resources; Canals

Geographic Coverage

Panama Canal

International Standard Book Number (ISBN)


Document Type

Article - Conference proceedings

Document Version


File Type





© 2012 American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), All rights reserved.

Publication Date

01 May 2012