May 26, 2006

Nevada “mushroom cloud” blast delayed indefinitely

By Will Dunham

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Pentagon's plan for a massive
detonation of conventional high explosives in Nevada to test
the effectiveness of weapons against deeply buried targets has
been postponed indefinitely, officials said on Thursday.

The National Nuclear Security Administration, part of the
Energy Department, said it was withdrawing its finding that the
planned detonation of 700 tonnes of ammonium nitrate and fuel
oil in the Nevada desert would cause "no significant"
environmental impact, the agency said.

The test, dubbed "Divine Strake," was sponsored by the
Pentagon's Defense Threat Reduction Agency and had been slated
to be held in June at the Energy Department's Nevada Test Site
in Nye County, about 65 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

James Tegnelia, director of the Defense Threat Reduction
Agency, told reporters in Washington in March the test would be
"the first time in Nevada that you'll see a mushroom cloud over
Las Vegas since we stopped testing nuclear weapons." The last
above-ground nuclear test at the site was in 1962.

Opponents of the test blast have expressed concern about
radioactive dust that could be spread into the air by the
detonation and filed suit in an attempt to stop it. Some
activists planned a protest outside the Nevada Test Site this

The test was originally scheduled for next Friday, but was
then pushed back to no earlier than June 23.

"We have no date established now," for the test, said
Darwin Morgan, a spokesman for the National Nuclear Security
Administration in Nevada.

"We pulled back the finding of no significant impact so
that we could further answer questions from the public about
the background radiation that exists in the test location for
the 'Divine Strake' and to better answer questions about what
will happen with that background radiation as it is suspended
into the dust cloud," Morgan said.

Morgan said background radiation existed everywhere, not
just the test site, and that the nearest above-ground nuclear
test to the location planned for this blast was 4 or 5 miles

away, Morgan said.

Pentagon officials have said the test's primary purpose was
to examine ground shock effects on deeply buried tunnel
structures, and that the explosion would take place above an
existing structure.

Pentagon leaders have expressed concern about potential
U.S. adversaries building deeply buried bunkers containing
chemical, biological or nuclear weapons stockpiles or
command-and-control structures that are difficult to destroy
with existing weapons.