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Pull Plug on Divine Strake

Here we go again.

After promises by Federal officials of public hearings on the planned Divine Strake weapons test, the public is essentially being told to sit down and shut up.

Yes, there will be an "information session" in downtown Salt Lake City Wednesday, but it won't provide a platform for residents to express their concerns, anger and frustrations into a microphone for everyone to hear. We deserve an opportunity to express ourselves in a peaceful but loud and clear way -- not a poster session offering hollow assurances that "there is no danger."

That's why HEAL Utah and downwinders are calling upon Utah's elected officials to demand real hearings that allow people to voice their concerns about the simulated nuclear detonation set for this spring at the Nevada Test Site.

The public hearings scheduled next week for Utah and Nevada are in fact nothing more than a public relations ploy allowing test planners to shower the public with propaganda -- the same tactics used throughout the years of nuclear testing.

The Department of Energy and the Defense Threat Reduction Agency will be on hand to answer technical questions about Divine Strake and display posters with information about the test.

But once again, we're being asked to trust the government and its scientific experts' plans to explode bombs in the desert. Unfortunately, those scientists have been wrong before. And when it comes to the possibility of a 10,000-foot mushroom cloud spewing long-lived radionuclides over civilians downwind, there can be no margin for error. One might think that, considering the history of downwinders in Utah, the Federal Government would give these weapons test studies the proper attention and care they deserve the first time around. Instead we get more empty assurances, double-speak, and backtracking.

When the DOE issued its Environmental Assessment of the test last May, it stated that, "radioactively contaminated soils are not present within the vicinity of the proposed Divine Strake detonation" and that the test, "would not result in the suspension or dispersion of radioactive materials or human exposure to radioactive materials."

After a public outcry against the test, the same agencies conducted a second assessment, and this time around determined that the proposed area of the test was, in fact, "subject to fallout from global and NTS nuclear tests" and that "resuspension of this fallout could travel beyond the NTS boundary where it might contribute to the radiological dose of the public."

With one about-face already, where else might these agencies be wrong?

Given the military's past history of lies and cover-ups regarding testing, our elected officials must demand outside, independent corroboration of any data the test site provides. And we, the concerned public, must be given a true opportunity to voice our concerns about the Divine Strake test -- not just about the environmental assessment -- but about the decision to conduct the test in the first place.

The contradictions don't stop. According to Defense Department budget documents, the Divine Strake test is designed to identify the smallest nuclear yield necessary to destroy underground targets. But now, after critics have pointed out that Congress specifically eliminated funding for new nuclear weapons, the Defense Department claims that the inclusion of the word "nuclear" was just a simple "mistake" -- an excuse that strikes us as not only disingenuous, but insulting.

With a yield 50 times larger than the largest conventional weapon in the arsenal, Divine Strake is designed to help war planners calibrate nuclear weapons to make them more usable. And the more usable nuclear weapons are, the more likely they will actually be used. Politics is about protection, not just pork. We urge Utah's elected officials to do all in their power to obtain real, meaningful public hearings and to do everything in their power to stop this test, which is the only way to truly protect everyone downwind.

The days of dog-and-pony shows touting, "There is no danger," should, like radioactive mushroom clouds rising over the Nevada desert, be a thing of the past.

Divine Strake has been delayed, but only cancellation can be considered a victory. We must make our voices heard. We must not allow Divine Strake.

Mary Dickson is a downwinder living in Salt Lake City. Vanessa Pierce is the director of HEAL Utah.

This story appeared in The Daily Herald on page A5.