State’s Evaluation of Divine Strake Test Nearing Completion

Allen BiaggiBy Allen Biaggi

I am writing in response to the recent Reno Gazette-Journal opinion column (“State should assess blast safety,” February 2, 20007) on the proposed Divine Strake non-nuclear explosive test at the Nevada Test Site. I wholeheartedly agree with the overall premise of the column.

First and foremost, the safety, health and security of Nevadans and residents of surrounding states must be protected. Likewise, the health and well being of our environment is of significant importance. Concerned citizens can rest assured that the Nevada Department of Conservation and Natural Resources takes its responsibility to protect their health and the environment seriously, which is why we have been independently evaluating the potential impacts of the proposed test for nearly two years.
As a state agency, we value our role in natural resource, environmental and conservation issues.

Specific to the proposed Divine Strake test, we have been working closely with state and federal partners to determine any possible impacts from this test. The Nevada Division of Environmental Protection, under the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, has been working for the past 22 months on a detailed scientific and technical evaluation of the proposed test.

Working closely with the Nevada State Health Division, the Division of Environmental Protection’s experts have been reviewing dozens of technical submittals from the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) regarding the parameters of the proposed test. The Division of Environmental Protection’s review is to ensure that each technical submittal meets the requirements of state and federal regulations governing environmental and human health impacts at the Nevada Test Site.

In particular, the division is objectively evaluating—using the best available science and technology—any possible effects to air quality, water quality and soils in the area, as well as whether any harmful materials will leave the site as a result of this test. In addition, the Division of Environmental Protection has shared all the information it has received from NNSA with the states of Idaho, Utah and Arizona as well as the Western Shoshone Tribe and federal EPA Region 9 in San Francisco, which serves western states and Tribal Nations.

The Division of Environmental Protection continues to receive comments from these entities and is considering them in Nevada’s technical review of the proposed test. Although we do not have an exact timeline for the review’s completion, I am confident that the division will complete the job in a thorough and responsible manner.

It is essential to note that environmental evaluation of the proposed test is not a recent development. In 1996, the Department of Energy and NNSA completed a Test Site-wide Environmental Impact Statement that included an extensive evaluation of possible large non-nuclear surface detonations like Divine Strake. This was completed in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act.

In addition, an Environmental Assessment specific to Divine Strake was completed in December 2006. The Environmental Impact Statement and the Environmental Assessment are separate and distinct from the Division of Environmental Protection’s technical review. Both, however, provide important information in developing a greater understanding of any potential impacts. As I said at the outset, most importantly, Nevada’s agencies are thoroughly and diligently evaluating all information about the proposed test with regard to its potential impacts on human health and the environment.

Allen Biaggi is the director of the Nevada Department of Conservation & Natural Resources. He can be reached at (775) 684-1610.

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