Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Non-Nuclear "Mushroom Cloud" Blast Delayed

The Defense Department's Nevada test explosion of a 700 ton conventional bomb--which can only be delivered to an enemy target using NASA's 3-MPH Space Shuttle conveyor--has been postponed.

A non-nuclear explosion expected to generate a mushroom cloud over the Nevada desert will be postponed at least three weeks, while a federal court reviews plans for the blast, test officials said Tuesday.

"The planned Divine Strake experiment will not be conducted earlier than June 23," said Cheri Abdelnour, spokeswoman for the Defense Threat Reduction Agency at Fort Belvoir, Va. The blast was originally scheduled for June 2.

Darwin Morgan, spokesman for the National Nuclear Security Administration in North Las Vegas, confirmed the date change but declined further comment.

In documents filed Monday with U.S. District Court in Las Vegas, federal Justice Department lawyers sought to push back from May 23 until early June a hearing on a lawsuit filed by the Winnemucca Indian Colony and several Nevada and Utah "downwinders" to block the blast. The judge did not issue an immediate ruling.

Nevada Division of Environmental Protection spokesman Dante Pistone also said Tuesday his agency was reviewing a revised environmental assessment that test planners filed Friday.

The lawsuit, filed April 20 by Reno-based lawyer Bob Hager, accuses the government of skipping public comment and failing to complete required environmental studies before picking a date and place for the explosion.

It claims the planned 700-ton ammonium nitrate and fuel oil bomb will kick up radioactive fallout left from nuclear weapons tests conducted from 1951 to 1992 at the Nevada Test Site and irreparably desecrate land that members of the Western Shoshone tribe have never acknowledged turning over to the U.S.

The blast, some 85 miles northwest of Las Vegas, is expected to generate a 10,000-foot mushroom cloud and a shock wave that officials say will probably be felt in Indian Springs, about 35 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

The federal Defense Threat Reduction Agency claims the explosion will help design a weapon to penetrate hardened and deeply buried targets. Critics have called it a surrogate for a low-yield nuclear "bunker-buster" bomb.

Rumsfeld's Defense Department is enthusiastic about testing the new oversized bomb.

One defense analyst who refused to be quoted by name, however, has expressed operational concern that--with the bomb able to approach it's target at no more than 3 MPH--the enemy may see it coming.

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