U.S. To Test 700-Ton Explosive
By AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
The U.S. military plans to detonate
a 700 ton explosive charge in a test called “Divine Strake” that will send a
mushroom cloud over Las Vegas, a senior defense official said March 30.
”I don’t want to sound glib here but it is the first time in Nevada that
you’ll see a mushroom cloud over Las Vegas since we stopped testing nuclear
weapons,” said James Tegnelia, head of the Defense Threat Reduction Agency.
Tegnelia said the test was part of a U.S. effort to develop weapons capable
of destroying deeply-buried bunkers housing nuclear, chemical or biological
”We have several very large penetrators we’re developing,” he told defense
”We also have — are you ready for this — a 700-ton explosively formed charge
that we’re going to be putting in a tunnel in Nevada,” he said.
”And that represents to U.S. the largest single explosive that we could
imagine doing conventionally to solve that problem,” he said.
The aim is to measure the effect of the blast on hard granite structures, he
”If you want to model these weapons, you want to know from a modeling point
of view what is the ideal best condition you could ever set up in a
conventional weapon — what’s the best you can do.
”And this gets at the best point you could get on a curve. So it allows U.S.
to predict how effective these kinds of weapons ... would be,” he said.
He said the Russians have been notified of the test, which is scheduled for
the first week of June at the Nevada test range.
”We’re also making sure that Las Vegas understands,” Tegnelia said.
Test blast in Nevada: A
Pentagon apparently looks
for an optimal size of a 'bunker buster'
By Robert Gehrke
The Salt Lake Tribune
WASHINGTON - A powerful blast scheduled at the Nevada Test Site in June is
designed to help war planners figure out the smallest nuclear weapon able to
destroy underground targets. And it has caused a concern that it signals a
renewed push toward tactical nuclear weapons.
The detonation, called Divine Strake, is intended to "develop a planning
tool to improve the warfighter's confidence in selecting the smallest proper
nuclear yield necessary to destroy underground facilities while minimizing
collateral damage," according to Defense Department budget documents.
Irene Smith, a spokeswoman for the Pentagon's Defense Threat Reduction
Agency, said the document doesn't imply that Divine Strake
"is a nuclear simulation." She said it will be used to assess computer
programs that predict ground shaking in a major blast.
While it will not be a nuclear explosion - no nuclear or radioactive
material will be used - the Divine Strake blast will be fifty times larger
than the military's largest conventional weapon, the Massive Ordinance Air
Blast Bomb, or MOAB, nicknamed the Mother of All Bombs. It will still be
many times less powerful than the smallest weapon in the U.S. nuclear
"It seems like what they're doing is trying to use the explosive power to
shake the interior into pieces, rather than sending an earth penetrator down
to dig it up," said Hans Kristensen, a nuclear weapons expert with the
Federation of American Scientists. "What it apparently does is envision the
use of the nuke on the surface, and that is a very dirty business, because
it sucks up the material and throws it into the atmosphere."
Divine Strake has some advocates concerned that the Bush administration is
using the test to pursue development of low-yield, tactical nuclear weapons.
"We certainly have reason for concern," said Vanessa Pierce, a project
director with Health Environment Alliance of Utah. "I think this test shows
that the weapons designers are so obsessed with creating new nuclear weapons
like mini-nukes that they'll do whatever it takes to get their fix."
"There really is a deep commitment on the part of this administration to
creating new types of nuclear weapons," Pierce said.
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid has expressed concern about the mushroom
cloud the test will produce, and asked Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld for
a classified briefing on Divine Strake. Reid is scheduled to meet with James
Tegnelia of the Defense Threat Reduction Agency this afternoon.
The June 2 test will entail piling 700 tons of ammonium nitrate and fuel oil
atop a buried limestone tunnel on the Nevada Test Site, then detonating it
to measure the damage that would be done to the chambers.
The mixture that will be used is similar to the bomb that Timothy McVeigh
used to blow up the Alfred P. Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City in
1995, only the Nevada bomb will use 280 times as much material.
Equipment inside and near the tunnel will monitor damage and ground shaking
from the blast. Dust from the mushroom cloud, which could reach heights of
10,000 feet, will also be tracked.
J. Preston Truman, director of the group Downwinders, which represents
individuals sickened by radioactive fallout from Cold War-era nuclear tests,
scoffs at the Pentagon's suggestion that it is not a nuclear simulation,
arguing no military plane could drop a 700-ton conventional bomb.
"It's for one thing and one thing only," he said. "It just says they're
still pursuing these stupid, insane weapons."
The nuclear tie-in to Divine Strake test was rooted out by Kristensen and
Andrew Lichterman, a nuclear weapons opponent and blogger.
"It's not a step toward nuclear testing. It is nuclear testing. It's just
nuclear testing the way it's done today," since actual nuclear tests are
banned by treaties, Kristensen said.
Similar above-ground detonations, some many times larger, have been
conducted at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, according to planning
documents for Divine Strake, but none since 1991.
The Defense Department's 2001 Nuclear Posture Review lays out a new, broader
role envisioned for nuclear weapons than the part played during the Cold
"Non-nuclear strike capabilities may be particularly useful to limit
collateral damage and conflict escalation. Nuclear weapons could be employed
against targets able to withstand non-nuclear attack, (for example, deep
underground bunkers or bio-weapon facilities)," the report says.
In addition, the Bush administration has pushed for funding for a nuclear
bunker buster, and money to enable the Nevada Test Site to be able to test a
weapon within two years if an order is given.
It has also supported the repeal of a 1994 congressional ban on the
development of low-yield mini-nuclear weapons.
The ban was repealed by Congress in 2003, allowing research of low-yield
nuclear weapons, but requiring specific approval by Congress before
engineering or other work on mini-nukes can begin.
Bush's denial of plans
for Iran hit wrong chord before Test Site blast
By Launce Rake
Las Vegas Sun
Critics are scoffing at the Bush administration's claims that its massive
test blast scheduled for June at the Nevada Test Site is unrelated to the
effort to build a nuclear bunker-buster.
"It is abundantly clear, at least to me, that the military has not given up
the idea of a nuclear penetrator," said Christopher Hellman, a policy
analyst with the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation in
Washington. He noted that Congress last year killed funding for the nuclear
Nonethleless, "they want it, and they are going to do as much as they can to
move that program further along until they feel the situation in Washington
is more favorable," Hellman said.
The criticism came as a report in The New Yorker magazine said the
administration had made contingency plans to strike at Iran's nuclear
program with such a tactical nuclear weapon.
In the magazine's April 17 issue, Seymour Hersh reported that the
administration is planning a bombing campaign to knock out Iran's military
capability, including Iran's feared nuclear development program. The
campaign could include bunker-busting nuclear weapons.
Spokesmen for the Defense Department's Defense Threat Reduction Agency,
which is planning the 700-ton, June 2 blast at the Test Site, do not deny
that the test was described last year as a planning tool for development of
a tactical nuclear weapon.
The Defense Threat Reduction Agency says the test is not now, however,
directly related to Iran or to a nuclear program. Irene Smith, agency
spokeswoman, said that a funding request last year contained language now
considered obsolete. That request said the test would help find "the
smallest proper nuclear yield necessary to destroy underground facilities."
"The 700-ton explosive size was selected to cause a desired spectrum of
damage to the facility," the agency said in a statement Monday. "The
explosive amount represents no specific weapon, nuclear or conventional.
"War-fighters can use the models for their planning ... One key objective of
our research is to determine the potential for future, non-nuclear
Smith said the June 2 test could simulate the simultaneous detonation of
numerous conventional warheads on a buried target.
"It is way too big of a blast for us to generate conventionally," Hellman
said. "I understand their argument. I find it uncompelling."
John Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.org, another organization that has
been critical of the administration's weapons policies, found the agency's
claim that the test would simulate multiple conventional detonations
Such a real-world effort would require dozens, perhaps hundreds, of aircraft
or missiles delivering warheads all at the same spot, designed to go off at
exactly the same time, to achieve the same blast yield as the Test Site
exercise, Pike said.
"I have no problem with them doing this test, but my B.S. detector has gone
off the scale," Pike said. "It's bizarre. It insults my intelligence."
He said the case can be made for the "robust nuclear earth penetrator" and
an explosive test to develop such a weapon, but that the administration and
Defense Department should be honest about it.
"It's been a long time since they've done one of these tests," Pike said.
"They've already spent all the money, OK? And everybody loves a good
explosion, right? I think Fox (News) and CNN and everyone will have a good
time covering it. But just tell us that, rather than making up all of this
At least one congressman is registering concern over the test. Rep. Jim
Matheson, D-Utah, said in a letter to the Defense Threat Reduction Agency
that he fears that the test is "being conducted in order to further
misguided attempts to build new low-yield nuclear devices."
The June 2 blast "will not simulate an actual conventional bomb because no
bomber in the U.S. fleet has the capacity to carry a weapon of this size,"
said Matheson, who represents southwest Utah. He also noted that budget
documents refer to the test as part of a nuclear development program.
"In my experience, budget documents and the stated intent of planned
experiments do not typically change on a whim," Matheson said in the letter,
in which he asked for a response from the agency.
Hans Kristensen, an analyst with the Federation of American Scientists, a
group which first raised the alarm over the June 2 test, said the geologic
conditions at the Test Site resemble those in Iran. He said the blast also
seems to closely resemble that which the military would achieve with the
B-61 nuclear weapon, a part of the U.S. nuclear arsenal.
The test, as described last year in Defense Department budget documents,
would be to find the least powerful nuclear weapon that would still be
capable of knocking out buried targets. In this way, fallout and radiation
exposure to civilians or friendly military troops would be minimized.
The Nevada test "is very close to the low yield range of the nuclear
stockpile," Kristensen said.
That is the type of tactical nuclear weapon that The New Yorker article said
the administration is considering for use against Iran.
Hersh reported that only a few senators and members of Congress, including
at least one Democrat, have been briefed on the administration's war plans,
and that none of them "is really objecting to those plans." Over the winter,
the Pentagon presented war plans to the administration that would include
the use of tactical nuclear weapons against Iran.
Conventional weapons might not work against Iran's reported nuclear program,
which includes facilities buried 75 feet underground. Anybody who has tried
to take the nuclear option is "shouted down," Hersh wrote, quoting an
unnamed former senior intelligence official.
President Bush on Monday referred to the reports of Iranian war plans as
Nevada's congressional delegation appears to be accepting the
administration's explanation that the Nevada test is not tied to either war
plans for Iran or a nuclear bunker buster.
Melissa Subbotin, a spokeswoman for Rep. Jim Gibbons, a Republican running
for Nevada governor, said the test shouldn't alarm residents.
"This is nothing new," she said. "Testing is a regular part of the
She said despite concerns raised by Citizen Alert, a Nevada-based advocacy
group, the test as presented by the Defense Department will be safe. "We
have been monitoring this for safety," Subbotin said. "We're basing our
statement on the Department of Defense report."
Any reports of a connection between the test and the administration's war
plans for Iran would be supposition "until there are official documents from
our United States military."
Democrats received similar assurances. Sharyn Stein, spokeswoman for Senate
Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, said the senator is satisfied that
there "is no nuclear program at the Nevada Test Site."
Reid "has no objection whatsoever to testing that would lead to the
development of a conventional weapon," Stein said.
The assurances do not placate Peggy Maze Johnson, executive director of
Citizen Alert. The group has asked for a public review of the planned blast.
Johnson said the test appears to be part of a program to develop the
military's long-sought "robust nuclear earth penetrator" weapon. She
criticized the congressmen for accepting the military's explanation.
"This is exactly the test to build the RNEP," she said. "It just kind of
takes my breath away. I can't believe they think we'll buy this."
Pike said Reid and Nevada's congressional delegation, at least, are
accepting the Defense Department's explanation at face value.
"They bamboozled him," Pike said. "They tricked him. They misled him.
"He believed that a senior administration official was not going to lie to
him to his face. He believed him because Sen. Reid is a man of integrity and
man of his word, and Sen. Reid knows you can't do business in this town if
you lie to people or cause them to be embarrassed."