March 30, 2006 -- A Pentagon test at a Nevada site this June will likely create the first mushroom cloud seen in the state since the United States ceased above-ground nuclear testing in 1963.
Mushroom clouds are commonly associated with nuclear blasts, but this cloud will come from the detonation of a 700-ton explosive charge designed to test new bunker-busting technologies.
Most Nevada residents, however, will never see the cloud because the test will take place in the desert -- far away from population centers. The closest city, Las Vegas, is about 90 miles away from test site. Regardless, the military will put out the word to Las Vegas residents that they shouldn't be alarmed in the unlikely chance that they see a mushroom cloud on the horizon.
The Defense Threat Reduction Agency hopes the test -- called Divine Strake -- will help with the effort to develop weapons that can destroy deep underground bunkers storing nuclear, chemical or biological weapons.
To conduct the test, which is planned for June 2, 700 tons of explosive will be buried above a tunnel structure to measure the effects of the blast on underground bunkers and the above-ground area.
Converted into pounds, the amount of explosives used for the test equals 1.4 million pounds. But agency spokeswoman Cheri Abdel Nour said other tests have used even larger amounts of explosives.
"It's unlikely the dust cloud will be visible from Las Vegas," Abdel Nour said. "And it's also predicted you won't even be able to see the cloud on part of the test site because of the geography and distance involved."
Mountains surround the flat Nevada site where the test will be conducted.
For years, the Pentagon has researched new and improved bunker-busting weapons. The yet-to-be built Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator has raised opposition from some members of Congress who worry the technology will open the door to a new generation of nuclear weapons. The Army is working on its own version of a bunker buster, a Deep Digger drill bit that digs into the ground to destroy underground bunkers.
In 2003, the Air Force produced a mushroom cloud over Florida when it tested its new 21,000-pound bomb. Known officially as the MOAB, it was dubbed "the mother of all bombs." MOAB is the largest air-dropped bomb in the Air Force's arsenal. It's deployed on a pallet from a C-130 aircraft, and it parachutes to its target.
And in case you're wondering about the significance of the name Divine Strake, Abdel Nour said it was generated randomly by computer and has no significance.