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Nevada "mushroom cloud" blast delayed indefinitely

Fri May 26, 2006 6:25pm ET14
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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 weekend.

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.

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