Utah leaders ask for public meetings to explain ‘Divine Strake’
December 5, 2006
JENNIFER TALHELM – The Associated Press
WASHINGTON — Utah officials are pressing the federal government to make good on a promise to hold meetings in Utah before settling plans for a non-nuclear explosion to test bunker-buster bombs at the Nevada Test Site.
Utah Democratic Rep. Jim Matheson and Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch said the Defense Threat Reduction Agency promised to explain the explosion, dubbed “Divine Strake,” during meetings in northern and southern Utah around mid-December.
But while mid-December is fast approaching, Matheson spokeswoman Alyson Heyrend said Monday, DTRA has not scheduled the meetings.
DTRA spokeswoman Cheri Abdelnour said the agency still planned public information sessions and that details would be released later. She could not give any more specifics.
“There will be an opportunity for the public to be involved in the process,” Abdelnour said. To help pressure the agency to move forward with the meetings, Matheson and Hatch on Monday released a letter they sent last month to DTRA Director James Tegnelia after they were briefed on the program.
The Utah officials said they wanted to convey their “deep disappointment” that the agency still favored the Nevada site north of Las Vegas for the blast and asked Tegnelia to explain the program to Utahns.
The explosion is expected to send a mushroom-shaped dust cloud high over the Nevada desert.
Critics fear radioactive material from decades of previous weapons tests will be loosened by the blast and scattered across Nevada and southern Utah.
While DTRA officials say radioactive material would not escape the Nevada Test Site, Matheson and Hatch wrote that their constituents “rightfully doubt” it.
“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,” Matheson and Hatch wrote.
The explosion was first scheduled for June 2 but postponed indefinitely after Western Shoshone tribe members and “downwinders” in Utah and Nevada filed suit and Utah officials questioned its safety.
Earlier this fall, a government lawyer told a federal judge that the test won’t take place until after Feb. 1.