March 30, 2006
Pentagon Plans Gigantic Explosion at Nevada Site
By Will Dunham
WASHINGTON -- The Pentagon plans to detonate 700 tons of conventional high explosives in Nevada in a June 2 test designed to gauge the effectiveness of weapons against deeply buried targets, officials said on Thursday.
"I don't want to sound glib here, but it's the first time in Nevada that you'll see a mushroom cloud over Las Vegas since we stopped testing nuclear weapons," James Tegnelia, director of the Pentagon's Defense Threat Reduction Agency, told a small group of reporters.
The test, dubbed "Divine Strake," is sponsored by Tegnelia's agency and is set to be conducted at the Energy Department's Nevada Test Site in Nye County, about 65 miles
northwest of Las Vegas.
"All explosives, given the right thermal characteristics, will create a cloud that may resemble a mushroom cloud," the Defense Threat Reduction Agency said in a statement.
"The dust cloud from Divine Strake may reach an altitude of 10,000 feet and is not expected to be visible off the Nevada Test Site."
Nuclear tests at the site sent mushroom clouds billowing high into the air and became tourist attractions in the 1950s, but surface tests ended in the early 1960s.
Rep. Shelley Berkley, a Nevada Democrat, said she had numerous concerns over the test.
"I need to be certain that if we set off huge explosives at the Test Site, there are no potential health or environmental risks to the Nevada public.
"Given the level of contamination in areas where nuclear tests were conducted, I have real concerns about the dust and other pollutants that will be released into the air as a result of this explosion," Berkley said in a statement.
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.
The agency said the test will involve detonating 700 tons of the Ammonium Nitrate-Fuel Oil, or ANFO, a commonly used agent in commercial blasting operations.
Officials said the test's primary purpose is to examine ground shock effects on deeply buried tunnel structures, and the explosion will take place above an existing structure.
Tegnelia said because of the power of the explosion, officials will notify Russia and make sure authorities in Las Vegas understand the test.
He noted the Pentagon is currently developing several very large weapons intended to penetrate the ground to get at deeply buried and hardened targets.
Tegnelia said the "Divine Strake" test represents the largest conventional explosion Pentagon officials could imagine triggering to address the issue.
A strake is part of a ship's hull.