February 6, 2023
Divine strake
by Robert C. Koehler, Tribune Media Services
May 11, 2006
Will residents of Las Vegas be seeing a mushroom cloud
over their city next month?Â
As I write this, “Divine Strake,” the big bang with
the macabre and vaguely blasphemous name (the
military-industrial complex is playing God again), has
been postponed from June 2 to June 23, thanks to legal
proceedings against the Defense Threat Reduction
Agency and the National Nuclear Security
Administration, related to unanswered
environmental-impact questions. Maybe the delay will
be enough of a wedge to allow the passionately bitter
opponents of the blast – and they are legion – to
build the necessary momentum to stop it altogether.Â
I hope so. Nothing good can come of this retempting of
fate, this re-engaging of the human-annihilation
machine known as the U.S. nuclear weapons program.
Divine Strake is not itself a nuclear blast, but it’s
so big that many observers “have said that the new
test is simply an attempt to defy the congressional
ban and advance Defense Department research into
nuclear weapons,” according to the Las Vegas Sun.
Specifically, it’s seen as a covert way for the
government to research the killed-in-Congress Robust
Nuclear Earth Penetrator, a.k.a., the bunker buster.Â
Divine Strake would be the mother of all fertilizer
bombs (eat your hear out, Tim McVeigh): 700 tons of
ammonium nitrate and fuel oil, which the DoD wants to
set off above a limestone tunnel at the infamous
Nevada Test Site, where 928 above- and below-ground
nuclear tests were conducted between 1951 and 1992,
and downwind of which millions of people continue to
reap the horrific consequences of the fallout.Â
The blast would be big enough to simulate a nuclear
weapon; it will raise a 10,000-foot mushroom cloud of
debris, some of which may be radioactive. Indeed, one
known hot spot is only 1.1 miles from the blast site.
Despite this, Defense and Energy Department spokesmen
have assured people there will be “no significant
impact” to the environment. Yeah, sure.Â
It’s all the worst sort of deja vu for the
“downwinders” of Nevada, Utah, Idaho and other states
(the whole country is, in fact, downwind of the site):
not just the idea of a mushroom cloud – or, as an
editorial cartoon in the Las Vegas Review-Journal put
it, “a very large, extended middle finger” – blocking
out the sun again, for the first time since 1962, but
the insidious governmental assurances that the public
has nothing to worry about. The feds, after all,
stonewalled the downwinders about the lethality of the
Cold War-era testing for four decades, as
radiation-related cancers and other illnesses claimed
loved one after loved one.Â
In other words, the bomb makers are also liars. Think
about this for a moment, especially those of you with
Strangelovian sympathies, who regard WMD capability –
and a reckless willingness to use that capability – as
crucial to U.S. security. Building and testing a
nuclear arsenal is guaranteed to destroy the health –
to kill – many of our own citizens. The government has
decided this domestic price is worth it, but lies to
those it has written off as expendable. This
combination of ruthlessness and cowardice is what
characterizes the “security state,” and to my mind its
ascendancy can only diminish real national security.Â
What’s happening with Divine Strake right now is a
head-on confrontation with the arrogant and
contemptuous security state – in rural Utah, Nevada,
Idaho, among the reddest of the red regions of the
country. Opposition to the blast – both out of
immediate concern over dirty fallout and the even
greater fear that it will just open the door to more
nuclear testing, more lies and more deaths – is
“I think (the delay) clearly shows the clout of the
opposition,” Preston Truman, director of Downwinders,
an organization representing Cold War-era
nuclear-testing victims, told me. “Even more important
is the other thing the feds had to give in hopes of
defusing the opposition downwind, and that is to have
a couple of town-hall meetings in Nevada and in St.
George, Utah to explain the test. . . . (This will
lead to) escalating demands for hearings from Las
Vegas to Boise.Â
“Instead of quieting the ticked-off natives,” he said,
“the delay is only going to give the downwinders that
much more time to organize and pressure their elected
representatives and show this isn’t just some noisy
activists and anti-nukers, but the region’s residents
across the board drawing a line in the sand and saying
NO, there are enough of us – downwinders – already and
we will not allow another generation of us to be
Are you listening, Rummy? W? The electorate is mad as
hell, and they’re forcing even the most conservative
of their reps, such as Utah’s Sen. Orrin Hatch, to
stand up and demand answers from the defense
The Divine Strake controversy comes at a crucial
juncture, with the Bush administration threatening not
only war but nuclear war with Iran, and in doing so
inevitably inflicting the arms race on the Third
World, as developing nations come to see, in the words
of Dr. Kurt Gottfried, chairman of the Union of
Concerned Scientists, that “the only way for a country
to deter nuclear attack is to acquire its own nuclear
Humanity’s future remains hostage to the nuclear
demon. But as the downwinders know, the place to stop
it is not in Iran. It’s here in the U.S., where the
demon was unleashed.Â
Robert Koehler, an award-winning, Chicago-based
journalist, is an editor at Tribune Media Services and
nationally syndicated writer. You can respond to this
column at bkoehler@tribune.com or visit his Web site
at commonwonders.com. © 2006 Tribune Media Services,
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