Environmental Officials Halt Test Site Explosion

April 15th, 2006 - by admin

Keith Rogers / Las Vegas Review-Journal – 2006-04-15 08:50:19


(April 12, 2006) — Nevada environmental officials have halted a massive, non-nuclear explosion scheduled for June 2 at the Nevada Test Site until the federal agency hosting the blast shows it will comply with air quality standards and that hazardous particles can be tracked, letters released Tuesday reveal.

The National Nuclear Security Administration “is prohibited from allowing this test to proceed until authorization from NDEP (the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection) has been received,” the state division Administrator Leo Drozdoff wrote in a letter sent Friday to test site manager Kathleen Carlson.

The letter refers to an April 28, 2005, request to Carlson from the state Bureau of Air Pollution Control.

“To date, the NNSA has not responded to this information request. NNSA is reminded that no approval was received. … In order to conduct this test, NNSA needs to provide all information and demonstrations required,” Drozdoff wrote.

Kevin Rohrer, a spokesman for the National Nuclear Security Administration’s Nevada Site Office, said his agency will provide the requested information to the state “within two weeks.”

“What the state wants to see is further analysis and computer modeling of any plume that might be generated from this to ensure that any emissions are still within the threshold established in our air permit,” Rohrer said.

He said initial calculations based on detonating 900 tons of ammonium nitrate fuel oil solution in a 30-foot pit show the blast will be in compliance with the test site’s air permit that was issued in June 2004.

The Defense Threat Reduction Agency, which wants to conduct the test above a limestone tunnel, intends to use a smaller amount of ammonium nitrate fuel oil solution, 700 tons.

“We believe we’re going to be well below the threshold,” Rohrer said.

The state’s April 2005 request seeks documentation that identifies hazardous pollutants that will be carried by the explosion’s mushroom cloud. It also calls for documentation that demonstrates that state and federal air quality standards will be met. The information is required under an existing air quality permit for operating the government’s test site, 65 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

In a statement issued Tuesday, Steve Robinson, Gov. Kenny Guinn’s deputy chief of staff, said: “The governor’s office expects the NNSA to fully comply with all applicable state environmental rules and regulations before any testing is done.”

Drozdoff’s letter was written the same day that Citizen Alert, a statewide environmental group, called for the Defense Department and Energy Department to halt the Divine Strake blast, claiming it is unnecessary and could send surface contamination from previous atomic bomb tests into the air.

When told Tuesday about the state blocking the explosion until air quality compliance is demonstrated, Citizen Alert Executive Director Peggy Maze Johnson said she was delighted. But, she added, the calculations and modeling should be done by independent air-quality experts.

“Instead of NNSA hiring their contractors to do what the state wants, they need to bring in an independent study group to do that, somebody who isn’t on their payroll and doesn’t owe them,” she said.

The Divine Strake blast is aimed at developing technology for weapons to penetrate “hardened and deeply buried targets,” according to the Defense Threat Reduction Agency.

Copyright © Las Vegas Review-Journal

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Pentagon to Test a Huge Conventional Bomb
Ann Scott Tyson / Washington Post

(March 31, 2006) — A huge mushroom cloud of dust is expected to rise over Nevada’s desert in June when the Pentagon plans to detonate a gigantic 700-ton explosive — the biggest open-air chemical blast ever at the Nevada Test Site — as part of the research into developing weapons that can destroy deeply buried military targets, officials said yesterday.

The test, code-named “Divine Strake,” will occur on June 2 about 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas in a high desert valley bounded by mountains, according to Pentagon and Energy Department officials.

“This is the largest single explosive we could imagine doing,” said James A. Tegnelia, director of the Pentagon’s Defense Threat Reduction Agency, which is conducting the test. The test is aimed at determining how well a massive conventional bomb would perform against fortified underground targets — such as military headquarters, biological or chemical weapons stockpiles, and long-range missiles — that the Pentagon says are proliferating among potential adversaries around the world.

Tegnelia said there is a range of technical hurdles to overcome. He suggested that big conventional bombs are unlikely to solve the overall problem of buried threats. “It’s a lot easier to dig your tunnel 50 feet deeper” than to develop weapons that can destroy it, he told a meeting of defense reporters.

Such a bomb would be a conventional alternative to a nuclear weapon proposed by the Bush administration, which has run into opposition on Capitol Hill. The Pentagon for several years has sought funding for research into the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator (RNEP) — also known as the “bunker buster” — after the administration’s 2001 Nuclear Posture Review stated that no weapon in the US arsenal could threaten a growing number of buried targets. Congress, however, has repeatedly refused to grant funding for a study on a nuclear bunker buster, instead directing money toward conventional alternatives.

The June test will detonate 700 tons of heavy ammonium nitrate-fuel oil emulsion — creating a blast equivalent to 593 tons of TNT — in a 36-foot-deep hole near a tunnel in the center of the Nevada Test Site, according to official reports. It aims to allow scientists to model the type of ground shock that will be created, and to weigh the effectiveness of such a weapon against its collateral impact.

“To my knowledge, this will be the largest open-air chemical explosion that we’ve conducted,” said Darwin Morgan, spokesman for the Energy Department’s test site. Larger blasts have been carried out at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, including the nation’s biggest open-air detonation, in 1985, a Pentagon spokeswoman said.

The blast is not likely to be felt or heard outside the 1,375-square-mile test site, and the cloud of dust is expected to dissipate quickly from view, Morgan said. “They don’t think people will see it in the base camp on the south end of the test site,” he said.

Officials took pains to differentiate between the June conventional experiment and past nuclear testing. “The US has no plans to conduct a nuclear test. President Bush supports a continued moratorium on nuclear testing,” said Irene Smith, a spokeswoman for the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA).

The Pentagon agency is charged with countering threats to the United States from chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear weapons.

On a related topic, Tegnelia said the State Department and the Pentagon are developing a proposal for a $100 million effort to help Libya get rid of tons of mustard gas and some precursor chemicals being stored in the Libyan desert. “The Libyans requested some support” from the U.S. government, and a DTRA team has visited Libya to consider various options for eliminating the weapons, he said.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company

Posted in accordance with Title 17, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.