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WASHINGTON - Sen. Orrin Hatch is pressing the Pentagon harder to back up its claims that a massive detonation at the Nevada Test Site, known as Divine Strake, will not spread contamination from Cold War nuclear tests.
The Utah senator was dissatisfied with assurances he received as a result of his earlier inquiry. He said the Defense Threat Reduction Agency's response failed to explain why the agency concluded the test would not throw contaminated material into the air, and didn't say how far tunnels used for past nuclear tests are from the Divine Strake test site.
"My skepticism on this matter is well-placed," Hatch wrote in a letter Tuesday to DTRA Director James Tegnelia, referring to Utahns' exposure to nuclear fallout from past nuclear tests. "My objective in this matter is clear: to ensure that this proposed test will not result in further radiological exposure to the citizens of Utah and those of the downwind area."
Divine Strake entails detonating 700 tons of explosives above a tunnel in the Nevada Test Site. Sensors will measure the concussion and damage in order to provide information for computer models.
The test originally was scheduled for June 2, but has since been postponed until at least June 23 as a result of a lawsuit filed by the Winnemucca Indian Colony.
Pentagon budget documents originally said the test was designed to help war planners choose the smallest possible nuclear weapon to destroy a hardened target, but the department has since said inclusion of the word "nuclear" was a mistake.
"It is not tied to the development of a new nuclear weapon. Divine Strake is in no way a precursor to resuming nuclear weapon testing," Tegnelia said in a May 6 letter to Hatch.
Rep. Jim Matheson said last week, however, that planners acknowledged the data from the test could be used in nuclear or conventional weapons development.
The agency and the National Nuclear Security Administration, which runs the test site, have said there was no testing done where the test tunnel is located, although there is contamination on a section 1.1 miles away.
The NNSA and DTRA issued a document Tuesday that said, based on additional studies since the test was first approved, the agencies remain convinced that there will be no significant environmental impact from the Divine Strake test.
The blast will use explosives nearly identical to the mixture used in the 1995 Oklahoma City Bombing, only 280 times more of it.
Hatch said it is essential that the agency provide the Utah congressional delegation with a detailed map of the contaminated areas and the geological structures so the delegation can assess the test.
Nevada environment officials have also made repeated requests for air modeling data to ensure that it complies with the state's air quality standards and have said the test cannot proceed without state approval.