700 Ton Explosion Planned for the Nevada Test Site

* 700 Ton Explosion Planned for the Nevada Test Site

The Department of Energy (DOE) is preparing to conduct a large scale, open-air, high explosive detonation on June 2nd. The explosion, named Divine Strake, will test what capabilities are needed to attack hardened underground targets. It will be conducted at the Nevada Test Site, which is located approximately 90 miles north of Las Vegas.

"This is the largest single explosive we could imagine doing," said James A. Tegnelia, director of the Pentagon's Defense Threat Reduction Agency, which will conduct the test. He described the test to defense reporters as a massive blast that would generate a “mushroom cloud” of dust over Nevada.

The Divine Strake test will not use a conventional bomb; instead it will detonate 700 tons of ammonium nitrate and fuel oil or an equivalent of 593 tons of TNT. The force of the explosion will far exceed the yield of any conventional weapon. The largest conventional weapon in the U.S. inventory, the Massive Ordnance Air Blast bomb, contains only nine tons of explosives with a yield of approximately 0.12 kilotons of TNT. In contrast, the explosive power of Divine Strake will be approximately five times greater.

While the yield of the Divine Strake detonation far exceeds that of conventional weapons, it is approximately double the lowest yield option on the non-strategic B61 nuclear gravity bomb. There are three models of the B61 in the United States nuclear arsenal, which have yields ranging from .3 kilotons to 170 kilotons. The Divine Strake detonation has a yield within this range. Activists are concerned that the results are intended to aid scientists in modifying the B61 bomb to target underground bunkers.

Pentagon officials confirmed these concerns by identifying the explosion as being the Tunnel Target Defeat test, which was described in federal budget documents as a conventional detonation in support of nuclear weapons research. The description of the Tunnel Target Defeat test in the Fiscal Year 2006 budget was for a "full-scale tunnel defeat demonstration using high explosives to simulate a low yield nuclear weapon ground shock environment at Department of Energy’s Nevada Test Site." The president's proposed Fiscal Year 2007 budget named the test as a part of a program which "will develop a planning tool that will improve the warfighter's confidence in selecting the smallest proper nuclear yield necessary to destroy underground facilities while minimizing collateral damage."

If Divine Strake is to be a conventional alternative to nuclear tests it would support the development of new low yield nuclear weapons capabilities. These new nukes would be able to burrow into the ground and target hardened underground bunkers. A similar but more powerful weapon, the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator, has been repeatedly proposed by DOE, but never developed because Congress refused to fund the program.

Pentagon spokeswoman, Irene Smith, recently retracted the previous Pentagon statement, which identified the Divine Strake detonation as the Tunnel Target Defeat test. While the Pentagon did not deny the description in the budget documents, Smith said, "things change. [The purpose of the test] has changed and the wording got left in."

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