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Mushroom cloud blast in Nevada delayed indefinitely
Las Vegas Sun
May 26, 2006

The federal government has indefinitely postponed a planned explosion that was expected to generate a mushroom cloud over the Nevada desert.

Officials said the delay would allow more time to answer questions about the blast, which opponents fear would kick up radioactive fallout left from nuclear weapons tests conducted at the Nevada Test Site about 85 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

“The previously announced date of no later than June 23 is no longer accurate,” said Darwin Morgan, spokesman for the National Nuclear Security Administration in North Las Vegas. “The experiment will be scheduled at a date later to be announced pending the legal action.”

The Winnemucca Indian Colony and several Nevada and Utah “downwinders” have filed suit in U.S. District Court in Las Vegas to block the non-nuclear blast.

The lawsuit, filed by Reno-based lawyer Bob Hager, claims the federal government failed to complete required environmental studies before planning to detonate a 700-ton ammonium nitrate and fuel oil bomb.

The federal Defense Threat Reduction Agency has said the explosion would help gather data about penetrating hardened and deeply buried targets.

Critics have called it a surrogate for a low-yield nuclear “bunker-buster” bomb.

Judge: Feds must obey nuke agreement with Idaho
Jackson Hole Star Tribune
May 26, 2006

BOISE, Idaho — A federal judge ruled Thursday the U.S. Energy Department must abide by a 1995 agreement with Idaho to remove all high-level radioactive waste stored at the Idaho National Laboratory and ship it out of state for disposal by 2018, regardless of whether it is buried or stored above ground.

U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge rejected DOE’s argument that the agreement signed with then-Gov. Phil Batt only covered waste such as rags, tools, gloves and dirt contaminated with radioactive material that had been stored in barrels on asphalt pads at the southeastern Idaho compound since 1970.

The federal government had claimed it was not required to dig up and remove other rotting containers of waste that was indiscriminately dumped into open pits and buried prior to 1970.

In February, during trial in the state’s 15-year-old lawsuit against DOE over the cleanup, Batt and former Gov. Cecil Andrus testified that state leaders believed the words “all transuranic waste” in the 1995 agreement meant removal of all nuclear waste from the site, formerly known as the Idaho National Engineering Laboratory.

Lodge agreed.

“The words of the contract could not be clearer,” Lodge wrote in his ruling. “In short, transuranic waste as defined in the 1995 agreement must be removed from INEL regardless of where it is located at INEL.”

DOE said in court documents that leaving the buried transuranic waste where it is may be safer than trying to exhume it, since some of the radioactive materials can spontaneously explode when exposed to oxygen.

State leaders have said they oppose abandoning the waste in place, since some studies have shown that buried radioactive materials are seeping toward the underground aquifer that feeds the Snake River, which runs almost the entire length and width of Idaho.

As part of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Superfund cleanup process, DOE is currently studying how to environmentally restore the radioactively contaminated soil beneath the nuclear site and above the aquifer.

Also on Thursday, a contractor working for DOE on the Superfund investigation released an initial inventory of radioactive and hazardous wastes buried at INL. It concluded migration of toxic waste through the soil was “very limited, with no imminent threat to the aquifer except for carbon tetrachloride.” That volatile organic compound is associated with nuclear weapons production waste sent to INL from the Rocky Flats plant in Colorado.

Lodge said the final results of the buried waste investigation and future decisions by the EPA may dictate a different cleanup schedule than the 1995 agreement’s timeline, which created a target removal date of the 2015 and a no-later-than date of Dec. 31, 2018.

But Lodge wrote that even if the Superfund investigation determines it would be cheaper to leave the radioactive debris where it is, or demonstrates there is a safe way to cap or contain the buried waste underground at INL, “the obligation to remove … remains.”

Thursday’s decision is likely not the final word in the longstanding cleanup battle, since Lodge is retaining jurisdiction over the case to monitor DOE’s compliance with its cleanup obligations under the 1995 agreement.

Lodge said he might have to rule again if the EPA ultimately agrees with DOE that it is too dangerous to exhume the buried waste, but the state disagrees with that finding.

State and federal attorneys involved in the case said Thursday they had not yet reviewed the 34-page ruling.

Jeremy Maxand, director of the Boise-based nuclear watchdog group The Snake River Alliance, hailed the ruling as a victory for Idaho’s residents and farmers who depend on the Snake River aquifer for drinking water, recreation and agriculture.

“This is a step in the right direction to getting some accountability and cleanup at the INL burial grounds, but the people of Idaho will still have to fight to make sure they have water 50 years from now that is not contaminated with radioactive waste,” he said.

Up in arms: Test will aggravate nuclear threat
Salt Lake Tribune
May 10, 2006

It’s called the Defense Threat Reduction Agency. So why is it laboring so hard to increase the threat of nuclear aggression?

Maybe the people who work there have taken the title to mean that they are supposed to reduce any threat to the American defense establishment – the Military-Industrial Complex, Ike called it – by frightening unfriendly nations into hurriedly, and publicly, making new and more horrible weapons of their own.

Take the just-delayed weapons test known as Divine Strake. It’s a plan to blow up 700 tons of Timothy McVeigh-style chemical explosives at the Nevada Test Site northwest of Las Vegas, roiling up a 10,000-foot mushroom of dust from the very place where we used to test nuclear weapons.

The DTRA has repeatedly issued two equally unconvincing reassurances for those concerned about their plans. One is that the dust raised by the test won’t include radioactive debris, and that it won’t follow the downwind path that threatened Utahns and others in generations past.

Such a promise suggests a control of the elements that would be divine indeed.

A lawsuit filed by the Winnemucca Indian Colony is holding up the test, at least until June 23. Even Utah’s Sen. Orrin Hatch, seldom heard to question the administration on anything involving national security, is demanding more information.

DTRA also insists that the project is not a prelude to a new generation of bunker-busting nuclear weapons. It just wants to know what impact such a blast would have on hardened, underground military facilities such as those that, oh, say, might be used by Iran’s justly feared nuclear weapons program.

But, unless the Pentagon plans to use the data to construct a kind of nuclear weapon that is now banned by Congress – or has hidden in Area 51 an aircraft that can carry a 700-ton bomb – a new round of the nuclear arms race is the only logical explanation.

And if you are running Iran, or any other antagonistic don’t-tread-on-me country, the only logical reaction to Divine Strake is to accelerate your own nuclear program so you will have a credible deterrent to stand against whatever it is our government is trying to invent in the Nevada desert.

Regardless of what that invention is, no threats are being reduced.

Bomb tests? Not again in our back yard
Deseret Morning News
May 21, 2006
By Jay Evensen

Dear Uncle Sam,

You may have a tough time figuring us out here in Utah. Generally speaking, we are a patriotic bunch. We tend to vote for law and order, and it takes more than a couple of military setbacks or insurgent strikes to make us back away from our commitment to a war — even if people in the rest of the country are more easily swayed.

Most of us still support the president, despite his low approval ratings everywhere else. Folks here don’t even seem to mind much that he wants to eavesdrop on telephone conversations without a warrant. They trust that whoever he has doing it will focus only on the bad guys, not on what people here happen to be saying to their friends.

Some may call this naivete. Many people here prefer to think of it as healthy optimism, or just faith in the virtue of the greatest nation on earth.

But Uncle, don’t even think about setting off any more big bombs in Nevada.

Even if they aren’t nuclear — go blow them up in someone else’s back yard.

Even if you argue that testing is important to the nation’s security in an age that is growing more dangerous by the day — go set ’em off in the Poconos. If they’re so safe, let ’em rip under the Allegheny Mountains. We don’t want ’em.

If there was one moment in modern history when you betrayed us, it was during those frantic Cold War years when you set off nuclear bombs in Nevada and the wind was blowing north. Don’t worry, you said. So folks here used to sit on the hoods of their cars and watch the mushroom clouds and ooh and ahh at the pretty colors overhead. Then, not long after, they started dying of strange cancers at rates far above normal.

It took many years for you to fess up to this and begin making money available as reparations. But of course, no amount of cash could bring a life back or restore a family or erase the suffering.

Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., recently called it “a very unfortunate history that many families are still living with in this state.” He said this while explaining why he, too — the Republican leader of a conservative pro-military state — doesn’t want any more bombs going off in Nevada.

We may love you, but we have long memories. And, frankly, we suspect you love all those people in the big cities back east a little more than us.

In reality, we weren’t the only ones harmed by those tests, but you still don’t want to come to terms with that. A recent study estimated that, nationwide, 11,000 cancer cases above and beyond what normally could be expected were caused by exposure to fallout. Virtually everyone who has lived in the lower 48 states since 1951 has been exposed to radiation to one degree or another.

But the bulk of it was felt here.

Later, you got smart and started exploding nuclear bombs underground in Nevada, to keep the fallout from spreading. When I lived in Las Vegas in the ’80s, we would regularly receive warnings, then feel the tiny, almost imperceptible shivers in the ground when these went off.

But let’s be serious here. The radiation may not have escaped into the air, but it didn’t just disappear.

Now you want to explode 700 tons of ammonium nitrate and fuel oil near the places where you used to explode those underground bombs? You want to create huge mushroom clouds and you want us not to worry because you’re certain it won’t kick up any of that old radiation?

Do you also have a bridge in Brooklyn you’d like to sell us?

We’ll keep supporting the war and the president, even if gas goes to $4 a cup and we start hearing strange clicking noises on our phones.

But frankly, we’re not in a mood to buy any more of your sweet talk about bombs.


Your real-life nephew


© 2006 Deseret News Publishing Company

Federal, state agencies discuss INL cleanup efforts
March 22, 2006
By Misti Lockie

TWIN FALLS — The Department of Energy and the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality held a joint open house for the public Tuesday evening in Twin Falls to share information about Idaho Cleanup Project efforts at the Idaho National Laboratory.

The meeting, held in the Herrett Center on the CSI campus, showcased different aspects of the Idaho Cleanup Project through large displays and public information handouts. DOE and Idaho DEQ representatives were on hand to field questions from the public.

Contractors affiliated with the DOE also attended to assist with the open house session. Boise-based contractor CH2M-WG combines the capabilities of CH2M HILL and Washington Group International to lead the cleanup effort for DOE. No specific presentations were made.

There was a sparse turnout by the public, but those who attended were intent on the information presented.

“We are here to share the status of the Cleanup Project with the public, and provide an opportunity for folks to get information about what is going on there now and what is slated for the future,” said Alan Jines, an environmental engineer with DOE.

In addition to the public open house, the Citizens Advisory Board for disposal at the site met in Twin Falls the same day to discuss issues. Board member Dick Buxton, of Boise, feels the open house complements their work concerning waste disposal at INL.

“This [meeting] is highly necessary,” Buxton said. “I wish more of the public would come out.”

The INL and the cleanup of nuclear wastes there is in the spotlight recently because of a dispute between the state of Idaho and the DOE concerning types of waste to be removed. This dispute — although it was not the main focus of the meeting — was discussed by some who attended.

“It is important for us to be at this meeting to provide our view of the information to the public, even though we may disagree in court,” said Lezlie Aller, Idaho DEQ Division of INL Oversight and Radiation Control employee.

Twin Falls podiatrist Peter Rickards disagreed.

“What ticks me off are all these shiny pictures and the DOE and the state in a room together — my tax dollars used to advance the nuclear industry and lie to people.”

Rickards, who hopes to win a primary to run for state representative in the next election, thinks the DOE and the state are missing an important opportunity.

“We have 20 years of plutonium waste spread over 88 acres out there, just leaking into the flood zone,” Rickards said. “We have a chance to contain this now, and the state and DOE are slowly letting it leak away.”

On signs displayed at the meeting, the DEQ stated that 30,000 cubic meters of buried transuranic waste would be sent to a New Mexico site in coming years.

The DOE, however, is disputing the clarity of a 1995 agreement with the state concerning that waste. They (DOE) contend that the agreement referred only to transuranic waste stored above ground.

The decision now lies in Boise with U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge.

DOE representatives declined to comment on the court case. However, DEQ policy advisor and attorney Kathleen Trever stated she had testified for the state in the case.

“The type of transuranic waste, whether subsurface or above ground, is what is in dispute here,” said Trever.

According to a brochure available at the open house, the Idaho Cleanup Project covers five different areas that range from reactor sites to the Idaho Nuclear Technology and Engineering Center. For more information about the Idaho Cleanup Project, visit

Times-News correspondent Misti Lockie lives in Twin Falls. She can be reached at