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'Divine Strake' delayed? Agency says, 'no'

Published May 8, 2006 1:16 am

In question: Critic says Justice Department lawyers told him the explosive test won't take place as early as planned
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Divine Strake, the massive explosion experiment planned next month for the Nevada desert, may be delayed.

Attorney Robert Hager said Justice Department lawyers for the Pentagon and the U.S. Energy Department told him Thursday the test would be delayed until as late as June 23, three weeks after the detonation was originally scheduled for.

A spokeswoman for the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, one of the agencies behind Divine Strake, denied the claim.

"No," said Irene M. Smith. "Divine Strake's date has not been changed."

She noted that new information was released Friday with a revised environmental assessment from the National Nuclear Security Administration, the second agency involved.

But Hager pointed out the updated version still lacks critical details needed to determine whether the test could be safe, such as what type of test was used to check for radioactivity surrounding the explosion site and what the results were.

Hager and other critics have complained for weeks about the two agencies' failure to provide data showing the test will be as safe as they say. Environmental officials in Utah and Nevada also have clamored for more detail on how much debris might be dispersed in the blast's 10,000-foot tall mushroom cloud and whether that debris could contain worrisome levels of radiation from past atomic tests.

"It's 'Take-our-word-on-it' that caused tens of thousands of cancers in Utah and Nevada and all over the United States," said Hager, whose clients include the Winnemucca Western Shoshone Indians and downwinders, a group of people who say fallout from atomic tests made them sick.

Hager's ultimate goal is to get Divine Strake scratched.

The federal government, meanwhile, describes the test as a means of understanding how 700 tons of explosives would affect a deep tunnel, like those believed to be used to shield leaders and military equipment in nations like Iran, North Korea and other potential U.S. enemies. While the detonation involves conventional material - its ammonium nitrate-fuel oil mix fueled the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing - some critics fear Divine Strake is a precursor to the testing of nuclear weapons in the Nevada desert once again.

U.S. Sens. Orrin Hatch and Bob Bennett, both Utah Republicans, and U.S. Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, have asked for better proof that Divine Strake won't hurt their state. All three sent aides to survey the site nearly two weeks ago and said they wanted more detailed information about it.

"We'll see if the government can produce the data and the documentation required to make the case that this test is necessary," said Steve Erickson, one of Hager's Utah clients.

"This test is not a done deal yet"





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