Shock and awe is coming home. The Bush administration is planning to conduct future preemptive wars with "mini-nukes" and, to that end, wants to set off a nuclear-sized explosion at the government's Nevada Test Site, sixty-five miles northwest of Las Vegas. So far, the Department of Defense's latest testing plan -- code named "Divine Strake" -- has been thwarted by the organized citizens of Utah and Nevada, but the clock is running out. The DOD announced the plan in April and scheduled the blast for early June. After an initial public outcry in the region, it was postponed for two weeks, then postponed again until "September or later." Those unfamiliar with the nightmarish ambitions and skewed reasoning of the nation's wannabe nuclear-warriors may find Divine Strake unfathomable. Sadly, the inhabitants of America's original Ground Zero -- where our nuclear and chemical weapons were honed during the Cold War -- know that thinking all too well. It's a dirty shame...
Dirt Bomb: Imagine a fertilizer bomb 280 times more powerful than the one Tim McVeigh used to blow apart the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City -- enough to take down an entire city. Imagine that bomb as fifty times more powerful than our largest conventional weapon -- the Massive Ordinance Air Blast Bomb, or MOAB, that has to be shoved by hand out of the belly doors of a specially fitted cargo plane and carries the nickname, "the Mother of All Bombs." But the bomb we are imagining is way too large to be delivered by any known conventional method. It would take two cargo planes to deliver the explosive fuel that will be packed into a pit thirty-six feet deep by thirty-two feet in circumference. Imagine, then, that this massive pile of explosives is to be set off on an arid, windswept desert floor made of a fine, dry soil that has been contaminated by decades of exposure to nuclear radiation. Although the explosive fuel itself will not be radioactive -- thus avoiding an obvious violation of international treaties that ban aboveground nuclear tests -- the dirt and debris that drifts downwind may very well be radioactive, a possibility that the Pentagon is not keen to know more about.
Now, picture what happens after the load is fired off. If you see a gigantic, thick, and rolling mushroom cloud of toxic dirt that climbs 10,000 feet into the atmosphere, then you agree with the Department of Defense's own expectations. That toxic cloud will drift and fall eastward over Utah, Colorado, the Midwest, or wherever the wind carries it.
If your mental image of that mushroom cloud is vivid, then you are of a certain age. Maybe you also live in this neck of the West and so are familiar with the phenomenon from the hundred-plus aboveground atomic explosions set off at the Nevada Test Site in the 1950s or the more than 800 "underground" explosions that continued until 1992. Most of those underground tests turned out to be "leakers," often producing smaller mushroom clouds that escaped through cracks fissured into the ground as the explosions displaced millions of tons of earth instantly and the surface of the desert collapsed into immense craters. The radiation that was vented then drifted far and wide.
Divine Strake, the latest experiment in irradiating Americans, was postponed briefly when a public outcry ensued; then postponed indefinitely when the protests continued to mount and Utah's powerful Senator Orin Hatch joined Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson and various Nevada politicians calling for more risk assessment first. Although an exact date to conduct Divine Strake has not been set, the Department of Defense is still intent on conducting their experiment as early as this autumn, according to the latest DoD announcement.
The citizens of Las Vegas, the nation's sex-alcohol-and-gambling mecca, and the puritanical Mormon citizens of Utah might seem unlikely political allies -- except for the fact that they share a legacy of cancer and chronic illness, a consequence of the last time our military rolled the nuclear dice on the Nevada desert floor. Recent research reveals that most of the nation also suffers from that legacy of illness, they just aren't as aware of it as the "downwinders" of Nevada and Utah who actually saw the clouds of fallout heading their way. Once again, the citizens of those two states find themselves on the front lines of a struggle with profound international repercussions. For us, Divine Strake is a weapon of mass déjà vu
Dirty Lies: As in earlier decades, planning documents obscure what is happening; official reassurances are misleading; and the tests are facilitated by federal agencies whose hallmarks are being distant, secretive, inaccessible, and arrogant. Last time the Nevada Test Site was active, the citizens of Utah and Nevada living directly downwind were described in a classified military report as "a low use segment of the population." In other words, expendable. Today, sanitized language cloaks the same old disregard for the consequences of military testing, again masking a willingness to sacrifice the health of citizens on the altar of nuclear hegemony.