More than two tons of cyanide compounds, 1,535 pounds of phosgene gas, the primary chemical in “mustard gas” chemical weapons, 1,318 pounds of methylene chloride, a human carcinogen, 2,387 pounds of carbon tetrachloride, another carcinogen and 1,650 pounds of chlorine, a poison, will be released from the giant explosion being suggested by the United States Department of Defense for southern Indiana in 2007 in southern Indiana
Bizarrely named “Divine Strake,” the explosion is meant to mimic a nuclear bomb dropped on underground nuclear weapons facilities in Iran. While no nuclear material will be used in this weapons test, the huge amount of explosive material is nevertheless a deadly stew that could have devastating impacts on people’s health in surrounding communities for years to come.
A limestone quarry owned by the giant highway builder, the Rogers Company in Lawrence County, near Spring Mill State Park and close to numerous populated areas is suggested as a possible site for the massive 1,400,000 pound explosion by DOD personnel, who have been stymied from setting the device off at the Nevada Test Site by outraged regional citizens.
When the test was postponed after proposed dates of June 2 and June 23 were met with severe opposition, DOD indicated that other sites were being considered. The original site was once the primary test zone for America’s nuclear arsenal in northeast Nevada, some thirty miles from any populated area. Southern Indiana and another site at White Sands, NM were given as possible alternative sites to reporters who queried DOD officials what might happen since the test had been effectively stopped in Nevada.
Lawrence Country, where DOD has suggested the test be done has a population of 45,922 according the US Census Bureau and is home to both Bedford and Mitchell. Bedford is considered the ‘Limestone Capitol of the World” because of the high quality building stone that lies beneath the surface of the region.
It is the limestone that is attracting the DOD. In fact, they have already set off two, 3,000 pound explosives there as part of the Divine Strake experiment. Those tests were conducted in 2004 and 2005 without any sort of local notice or input. Apparently, DOD was hoping to keep this a secret as well since several recent reports indicate that there are no state or local officials who have been informed as to the blast’s possibility.
DOD theorizes that the limestone embedded in the earth in Lawrence County is similar to what would be experienced if a nuclear “bunker busting” bomb was dropped on the underground nuclear facilities in Iran.
Such a nuclear weapon cannot be tested under the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty that America proposed and signed nearly fifty years ago. So DOD is seeking to use the next best thing, Divine Strake. 1.4 million pounds of mostly ammonium nitrate, the same as used by bomber, Terry McVeigh to blow up the federal building in Oklahoma City a decade ago is a mere substitute for the nukes that Rumsfeld and Bush are raring to use on Iran.
Already there is concern that this is just a cheap trick to get around the Test Ban Treaty since it use would be ostensibly designed to test a similar nuclear weapon.
But Bush seems to care little for our treaty commitments. Earlier this year he signed an agreement with India that allows India to secure nuclear material from the US although they have refused to sign the international Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, something that looks like an illegal act according to some legal scholars.
Although word of Divine Strake in Indiana only arrived a couple of days ago, activists listserves have been abuzz with discussion and organization. One activist even indicated that such a plan would come to pass “only over (his) dead body.”
Others have been in contact with activists in the West, seeking input on how they have successfully opposed the test there. It has been suggested that those against the test gather commitments from all candidates for office in the upcoming election to oppose such a test. It is being postured as a win-win for politicians since it is clear that “DOD’s proposal reeks of insanity. Dr. Strangelove stuff!”
Mitchell, Indiana the nearest community to the site was Virgil “Gus” Grissom’s hometown. Grissom was the second American after Alan Shepard, Jr. to go into space. Grissom later died in NASA’s first fatal accident when he and two others were killed in a fire during a test of Apollo 1 in January 1967. Grissom’s legacy is certainly threatened by the same federal government that made him an American hero.
It is threatened because instead of Mitchell being known as Gus Grissom’s home, it could well become “the big hole” in the ground that was made by man’s quest to spread democracy to the middle east.
Toxic Chemicals Galore
The Revised Environmental Assessment released in May was the project’s undoing in Nevada. People in the region were up in arms when it was revealed that the Divine Strake blast would create a “mushroom cloud” rising more than 10,000 feet into the sky. The prospect of such an event shook locals who were forced in the 1950s to endure a whole series of atmospheric and underground nuclear explosions, leaving much of the Nevada desert unfit for much of anything, especially life of all sorts.
In this case, area citizens united to oppose the bomb because they fear the detonation will unleash radioactive material that permeates the test site both on the surface and underground. But their concerns were even greater when it was revealed that large amounts of toxic chemicals would be blown into the Nevada sky to fall wherever the wind blew.
Opponents in Indiana also fear the release of things like phosgene, chlorine and methylene chloride which each could have immediate and long term health consequences for those who may be unfortunate enough to breathe them in from ambient air affected by the explosion.
This is not the first time that DOD has made Indiana countryside a quagmire of dangerous chemistry. For years, DOD operated the Jefferson Proving Grounds about 60 miles east of Mitchell. There, they left a “no-mans land” of depleted uranium and other “unexploded ordnance” which has left an otherwise beautiful region unfit for much of anything.
Also, the Army is proposing to burn 327 lead and PCB contaminated buildings at the Indiana Army Ammunition Depot, some sixty miles southeast of Mitchell because it the least expensive method of demolition. Several buildings were burned in 2004 until citizen opponents, led by Valley Watch protested and temporarily stopped the burn.
If Hoosier opponents of Divine Strake succeed, they will get a fairly quick determination from the Defense Department that the high population area around the proposed Indiana site is unsuitable for such a scheme,
In the meantime, regional opponents are exasperated as to how such an insane plan could even be proposed, in Indiana or anywhere.
JOHN BLAIR is president of the environment health advocacy group, Valley Watch and earned a Pulitzer Prize for news Photography in 1978. He can be reached at: Ecoserve1@aol.com