Quarry Mentioned As Blast Test Site
Submitted by Eleanore Fanire, Mohave Downwinder
By Grace Schneider
The Courier-Journal – Louisville, Kentucky
August 17, 2006
With little fanfare, U.S. military officials and the operators of a limestone quarry near Mitchell detonated 3,000-pound batches of explosives in the summer of 2004 and in March 2005.
The blasts were part of an experiment by the federal National Threat Reduction Agency to fine-tune ways to root out enemies and powerful weapons nestled in limestone tunnels.
Although the tests largely escaped public attention, the same Hoosier quarry was identified this month in a published report as a possible location for a far larger experimental blast involving hundreds of tons of explosives.
Rogers Group, the Nashville, Tenn.-based owners of the Mitchell quarry, 30 miles south of Bloomington, disavowed any knowledge about the Lawrence County operation being considered for the larger blast.
But Indiana environmental groups are concerned nevertheless.
"Nobody can believe this. It's been a jaw drop," said Andy Mahler, an activist who lives near Paoli. "People are appalled."
That concern was prompted by an Aug. 2 Las Vegas Review-Journal story in which agency spokeswoman Irene Smith said that the Rogers quarry in Mitchell and a missile range in White Sands, N.M. -- both sites of smaller-scale tests -- were possible locations for the larger explosion, set for next year.
That blast -- dubbed Divine Strake -- originally had been planned for a 35-foot open-air pit dug into a limestone ridge at the Nevada Test Site, a former nuclear weapons test range 85 miles northwest of Las Vegas.
Military scientists were preparing to fire off 700 tons of ammonium nitrate and fuel oil to measure the impact on limestone tunnels below. According to some estimates, such a blast would have more than 200 times the force of the one that destroyed the federal building in Oklahoma City more than a decade ago.
But a pending legal challenge by an Indian tribe and citizens in Utah, as well as questions by Nevada environmental regulators about potential radioactive fallout from previous tests, forced the National Nuclear Security Administration to delay the experiment.
When The Courier-Journal inquired this week about whether the Mitchell quarry was an alternate site for Divine Strake, agency officials were less forthcoming.
Smith was said to be unavailable, and another spokeswoman said it's "premature" to identify any potential locations until an assessment is completed.
The spokewoman, Cheri Abdelnour, couldn't say for sure when the agency would make a decision. She said Divine Strake is now tentatively scheduled for mid- to late 2007.
Indiana officials, including those with the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, said they were unaware of the previous tests at Mitchell, in which nitromethane was detonated. Nor, they said, have they been contacted about the possibility of the quarry being used in a larger experiment next year.
Jane Jankowski, a spokeswoman for Gov. Mitch Daniels, and Mark Hayes, a spokesman for U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar, said their offices had not heard of such an effort.
Rogers' prepared statement said that the previous explosives tests required no special permits because "blast levels were lower than typical blasting for our crushed stone business."
Still, they employed seismograph monitoring devices to ensure that the blasts remained within the mining guidelines.
The statement said the threat reduction agency "has not been in contact with Rogers Group regarding Divine Strake testing."
Although the Pentagon has assured the public that the test is not associated with the government's nuclear weapons program, watchdog organizations remain skeptical.
Utah's largest newspaper, the Salt Lake Tribune, suggested in an editorial earlier this year that Divine Strake might be a "prelude to a new round of nuclear tests."
Marylia Kelley, executive director of the California-based Tri-Valley Communities Against a Radioactive Environment, which monitors the Department of Energy's Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory east of San Francisco, said she doubts that the Indiana site will be chosen.
She said that's because it would be expensive to install monitoring and diagnostic equipment needed to study the blast, which is already in place at testing sites in the West.
Mahler questioned how agency officials could plan the explosion for next year given that a new location hasn't even been chosen.
Extensive environmental assessments would be needed, he said, and citizens would have a right to comment under federal law.
Reporter Grace Schneider can be reached at (812) 949-4040. Reporter James Bruggers contributed to this story.
Indiana Eyed As Bunker-Buster Weapons Test Site
WTHR – TV, Indianapolis, Indiana
Submitted by Eleanore Fanire
The United States government is considering testing a bunker-buster weapon right here in Indiana. It would involve an underground explosion of 700 tons of ammonium nitrate. The weapon test scheduled for the Nevada dessert could move to an abandoned quarry near Mitchell.
Divine Strake, as the project is known, is a $23 millionexplosive test designed for a Nevada Test site which has now been postponed indefinitely because of local opposition. "Is there a better place for these tests? I'm not going to say. I don't think there is any good place to do these tests," said a protester at the Arizona site.
But the Defense Threat Reduction Agency told a Las Vegas newspaper it is reviewing two other sites it has already used like White Sands, New Mexico and the a quarry site near Bedford, Indiana.
"Explosives and things connected with explosives are fairly common place in this area with this being so close to the Crane Naval Base," said Mayor Joe Klumpp, Bedford.
Word has also spread to the south in Mitchell, where more people would be affected than in Bedford. That is because the government has already conducted tests using up to 1.5 tons of explosives in the Rogers Quarry near Mitchell. It's front page news in Lawrence County because the bunker buster test will use the equivalent of 593 tons of TNT which could send a plume of dust 10,000 feet into the air. The goal is to see if shock waves can destroy underground tunnels like the one constructed for the Nevada test.
"For here it sure would be shaking the ground, I would think. Something that sizeable. We get sizeable explosions from Crane from time to time when they set off old ammunition but that is nothing like what this would be so I'm not sure what the reaction would be from the people till we found out if they are going to do this or not," said Mayor Butch Chastain, Mitchell.
Mayor Chastain says he has not been contacted about the possibility but says he would like to hold public hearings to give residents a chance to publicly discuss it.
A spokesperson for the Defense Threat Reduction Agency says this is all premature. An assessment of alternative sites is currently underway and there is no timeline for when that will be completed. Indiana 4th District Congressman Steve Buyer's office says while Indiana has a proud military heritage the state needs to be educated about this project and its possibilities.
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