This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2007, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Posted: 12:12 PM- WASHINGTON - Breaking under a flood of public opposition to Divine Strake, the Pentagon announced Thursday that it would scrap plans to conduct the massive blast at the Nevada Test Site.
Some 10,000 Utahns and Nevadans expressed fears that the detonation of 700 tons of explosives could spew debris into the air, carrying radiation left over from Cold War nuclear weapons tests at the test site.
"I have become convinced that it's time to look at alternative methods that obviate the need for this type of large-scale test," Defense Threat Reduction Agency Director Dr. James A. Tegnelia said in a statement announcing the cancellation of the test.
The agency said the decision was not a result of any information that indicated the test might harm workers or the public.
Divine Strake touched a raw nerve with Utahns, still deeply distrustful of government assurances on testing at the Nevada Test Site. Thousands of Utahns suffered from cancer and other illnesses as a result of the radioactive fallout. The test was opposed by members of Utah's congressional delegation, the state Legislature, the governor, activists and others.
Divine Strake entailed detonating 700 tons of ammonium nitrate and fuel oil - the same mixture used to blow up the Oklahoma City federal building, but 280 times more of it. Monitors were to measure the ground-shaking to a tunnel under the blast site and the data would help develop computer models to predict damage to underground bunkers.
The Defense Threat Reduction Agency said it would look for other ways to collect the information.
"DTRA remains committed to help develop non-nuclear means to defeat underground targets. I am optimistic that we will succeed," said Tegnelia.
Early planning documents said it was intended to help "improve the warfighter's confidence in selecting the smallest proper nuclear yield necessary to destroy underground facilities while minimizing collateral damage." The Pentagon later said the reference to nuclear yield was in error, and it would help with conventional weaponry as well.
The test is needed, the Pentagon argues, because potential U.S. enemies use buried bunkers to protect command facilities and weapons caches and the military needs the ability to destroy those hardened targets.
Divine Strake was scheduled to take place last June, but opposition from Sen. Orrin Hatch and Rep. Jim Matheson and a lawsuit filed by two American Indian tribes and several Utah Downwinders delayed the test while the National Nuclear Security Administration did further environmental analyses.
"I couldn't be more relieved," Hatch said. "Everybody in Utah can rest easier tonight knowing that the government listened. No one's going to be harmed by this test. This decision is a result of so many people standing firm to ensure that we didn't repeat the mistakes of the past. I'm so glad that DTRA did the right thing in the end."
Said Matheson: "I have stood in the way of this test from day one. I have opposed it based on both its purpose and its potential ill affects. The prospect of even a non-nuclear 'mushroom cloud' over the Nevada Test Site brings back bitter memories of how the government lied when it said that there was no danger."
In December, the National Nuclear Security Administration again said the test could be conducted safely, although it conceded very small levels of irradiated dust could be detected outside of the test site.
Eighteen similar ammonium nitrate blasts of varying size - including one more than six times larger than Divine Strake - were conducted by the Pentagon between 1977 and 1991. Most were conducted at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.
The Defense Threat Reduction Agency looked at other sites where it could conduct the test, including Dugway Proving Ground in Utah, but determined it would cost $100 million and take three years to relocate the test.
The government held public meetings in Las Vegas, Salt Lake City, St. George and Boise, attended by more than 600 people. Gov. Jon Huntsman also convened public hearings, forwarding public comments to the National Nuclear Security Administration.