U.S. To Test 700-Ton Explosive in Nevada
on June 2, 2006

Divine Strake
"...it is the first time in Nevada that you'll see a mushroom cloud over
Las Vegas since we stopped testing nuclear weapons."
--James Tegnelia, head of the Defense Threat Reduction Agency

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U.S. To Test 700-Ton Explosive


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 weapons.
”We have several very large penetrators we’re developing,” he told defense reporters.
”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 said.
”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 nuclear rehearsal
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 stockpile.
"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 War.
"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 bunker-busting program.
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 concepts."
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 particularly unrealistic.
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 foolishness."
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 "wild speculation."
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 military's activities."
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."  http://www.lasvegassun.com/sunbin/stories/sun/2006/apr/11/566679351.html

Seymour Hersh: Bush Planning Massive Bombing Campaign Against Iran, Including Nukes

Investigative journalist Seymour Hersh reports a major scoop in the current edition of the New Yorker. AFP has an overview:

The administration of President George W. Bush is planning a massive bombing campaign against Iran, including use of bunker-buster nuclear bombs to destroy a key Iranian suspected nuclear weapons facility, The New Yorker magazine has reported in its April 17 issue.

The former intelligence officials depicts planning as “enormous,” “hectic” and “operational,” Hersh writes.

…In recent weeks, the president has quietly initiated a series of talks on plans for Iran with a few key senators and members of the House of Representatives, including at least one Democrat, the report said.

Hersh’s account is consistent with other recent reports. This week, the former deputy director at the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research, Wayne White, told Forward Magazine:

In recent months I have grown increasingly concerned that the administration has been giving thought to a heavy dose of air strikes against Iran’s nuclear sector without giving enough weight to the possible ramifications of such action.

Joseph Cirincione, a respected non-proliferation expert who decribed himself as “the last remaining person in Washington who believed President George W. Bush when he said that he was committed to a diplomatic solution,” wrote in Foreign Policy Magazine last week that senior administration officials had already made up their mind about to attack Iran:

[C]olleagues with close ties to the Pentagon and the executive branch who have convinced me that some senior officials have already made up their minds: They want to hit Iran…What I previously dismissed as posturing, I now believe may be a coordinated campaign to prepare for a military strike on Iran. http://thinkprogress.org/2006/04/08/bombing-iran/

Nuclear Madness

Katrina vanden Heuvel, The Nation, 04/25/2006
First the Bush Administration undermines the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) by supplying India with nuclear technology, then it flirts with the use of tactical nuclear weapons against Iran.

The Administration's reckless nuclear politics has led thirteen of the nation's pre-eminent physicists--including five Nobel laureates--to join generals and intelligence officers as the latest to speak out.

In a letter to President Bush--barely reported in the media--the scientists call the planned use of nuclear weapons against Iran "gravely irresponsible" with "disastrous consequences for the security of the United States and the world." They note that "the NPT will be irreversibly damaged by the use or even the threat of use of nuclear weapons by a nuclear nation against a non-nuclear one…."

Further highlighting just how dangerously out-of-step the Bush administration is with a sane nuclear policy, one-time hardliner and Reagan administration arms negotiator, Max Kampelman, called for the elimination of all weapons of mass destruction in a New York Times op-ed on Monday. "I have never been more worried about the future for my children and grandchildren than I am today," he writes. (For a moment, I thought Kampelman was channeling Jonathan Schell's extraordinary Nation special issue calling for the abolition of nuclear weapons.)

The hypocrisy of the Bush Administration in dealing with Iran is staggering. On the one hand it speaks of diplomacy while it also secretly plans regime change and the use of tactical nuclear weapons. And all the while the charge is led by a little man/would-be cowboy with a messianic vision who finds himself at the helm of the most powerful nation in history.

The least we must do as citizens at this critical moment is follow the lead of these wise physicists and demand that our representatives call for publicly taking the nuclear option against non-nuclear adversaries off of the table. And then we should heed Kampelman's call to bring back a measure of idealism to our politics, and "find a way to move from what 'is'--a world with a risk of increasing global disaster--to what 'ought' to be, a peaceful, civilized world free of weapons of mass destruction."

If a former Reaganite can summon the imagination to envision such a world, so must we.




"Divine Strake" Media Articles

Reports and Other Links


I urge anyone reading this to forward the information to members of your local media*. Just in case they were in, you know, distracted by other important issues.

*Especially if you live in Nevada.

Divine Strake - Initial Press Coverage

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