Lawmakers fight Divine Strake bid
Weapons testing
By Robert Gehrke
The Salt Lake Tribune

WASHINGTON – Sen. Orrin Hatch and Rep. Jim Matheson wrote to the Pentagon last month, expressing disappointment with the decision to conduct Divine Strake – a major explosion designed to help develop bunker-buster bombs – in Nevada.

The letter was written after meetings with James Tegnelia, director of the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA), which proposes detonating enough explosives to produce a blast comparable to a small nuclear bomb.

Hatch, R-Utah, and Matheson, D-Utah, have questioned whether the blast could cause dust and dirt irradiated by past nuclear tests at the site to drift into Utah. Despite DTRA assurances it would not, they wrote, “we represent constituents who rightfully doubt government assertions in this area.”

“Inaccuracies in previous government predictions regarding radiation exposure, coupled with errors contained in the initial Environmental Assessment, have not resolved our delegation’s concerns about the test,” they wrote.

Thousands of Utahns, including Matheson’s father, the late Gov. Scott Matheson, suffered cancers they believe were caused by exposure to nuclear fallout as a result of Cold War nuclear tests in Nevada, and a group of those Downwinders has sued to stop the test.

DTRA looked at other locations for the test, including Dugway Proving Ground in western Utah, but ruled out those options because of costs and delays.

DTRA plans to issue a new environmental study shortly and hold public hearings by the end of the month, then make a final site decision in January.

The test would use 280 times the same explosive mixture used to destroy the Oklahoma City federal building and the blast would be 50 times larger than the most powerful known conventional weapon.