Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Divine Strake meeting set for Boise

Planned Nevada explosion has some Idahoans worried

Express Staff Writer

A public information session on Divine Strake, a large non-nuclear explosion experiment in Nevada, will be held Sunday, Jan. 28, in Boise.

The Idaho congressional delegation has won a commitment from the U.S. Defense Threat Reduction Agency and the National Security Agency Administration/Nevada Site Office to hold the meeting, Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo said in a news release.

"Clearly, Idahoans need more answers concerning the Divine Strake experiment, in large part because past tests at the Nevada Test Site have led to the downwinder effects of radiation," Crapo said. "While there is no definitive proof that this non-nuclear test will result in the scattering of radioactive material, I cannot support the Divine Strake test until I see evidence that it will not bring harm to Idahoans."

"Divine Strake" is an arbitrary name given to the large-scale, open air explosive detonation proposed to take place at the Nevada Test Site, 65 miles northwest of Las Vegas, said Kevin Rohrer, spokesman for the National Nuclear Security Administration in Nevada. The administration runs the test site.

Some Idahoans are concerned about how the experiment will affect, or stir up, radioactive contamination from atmospheric nuclear tests conducted during the 1950s and 1960s at the site and how it could affect residents outside the experiment area.

Department of Defense's Defense Threat Reduction Agency is proposing to combine 700 tons of ammonium nitrate, a granular type of fertilizer known as ANFO, with diesel fuel, and adding an explosive charge that ignites the fuel and ammonium nitrate mixture, thereby creating a massive explosion, Rohrer said.

The test, Rohrer emphasized, is an explosion, not a bomb, and it will not contain nuclear material. The explosion will be held in an excavated pit that's 32 feet wide by 36 feet deep. Dust and rock from the explosion could reach 4,800 feet into the air, he said.

Although Rohrer said he was not authorized to comment on the need for the test, reasons are outlined in the 2006 Environmental Assessment document. The document was prepared by the Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration, Nevada Site Office, with the cooperation of the Defense Threat Reduction Agency.

"Potential adversaries of the United States are increasingly using tunnels and underground bunkers, collectively designated hardened and deeply buried targets (HDBTs), as part of their defensive strategies," the document reads in part. "These types of facilities are used for command and control, storage of munitions (including weapons of mass destruction and long-range missiles), modern air defenses, a variety of tactical weapons, wartime refuge for national leaders, and a multitude of other offensive and defensive military uses.

"In order to deny an adversary the ability to use these capabilities against its forces, the U.S. military must have the ability to defeat HDBTs."

In other words, the test will allow computer modeling and analysis on what kinds of explosions can destroy deeply buried targets.

A PDF version of the document is available at Click on "Draft December 2006 Revised Environmental Assessment" under "Featured Items."

While the Defense Threat Reduction Agency is setting up public meetings, the NNSA is soliciting public comment on an environmental assessment that is an outgrowth of a lawsuit. The test won't take place until comments are reviewed.

"There is no firm date set at this time," Rohrer said.

The lawsuit was filed last year, alleging insufficient environmental analysis for the experiment.

"We withdrew our authorization for the experiment in light of the lawsuit," Rohrer said.

Results of the assessment could lead to the NNSA reissuing a finding of "no significant impact" from the test, or it could prompt additional analysis in the form of a full environmental impact statement, Rohrer said.

Idaho Reps. Bill Sali and Mike Simpson, and Sen. Larry Craig expressed support for the Boise meeting.

"I am very pleased that Idaho will have the same opportunity as Nevada and Utah to learn more and to voice our concerns in ways that should have occurred much earlier in the process, and in ways that should have occurred several decades ago when tests in Nevada did impact Idaho's citizens," Craig said in the release.

The public meeting has been scheduled for Jan. 28 from noon to 2:30 p.m. at the Grove Hotel in Boise.

Comments on the environmental assessment and impacts of the test can be e-mailed to or mailed to: NNSA/NSO, Divine Strake EA Comments, P.O. Box 98518, Las Vegas, NV 89193-8518. Or, fax comments to: 702-295-0625.

Comments must be received by Feb. 7.

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