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Indian Tribe, Downwinders: Stop Nev. Blast

By KEN RITTER
The Associated Press
Thursday, April 20, 2006; 9:46 PM

LAS VEGAS -- Members of an Indian tribe and two nuclear fallout "downwinders" are asking a federal court to halt plans for a huge non-nuclear explosion that is expected to generate a mushroom cloud over the Nevada desert in June.

"This is a worst nightmare come true for downwinders," said Robert Hager, a Reno-based lawyer representing four members of the Nevada-based Western Shoshone tribe and two residents of Utah.

He said the June 2 detonation of a 700-ton ammonium nitrate and fuel oil bomb at the Nevada Test Site would kick up radioactive fallout left from nuclear weapons tests conducted from 1951 to 1992.

Test site and federal officials have said the blast, some 280 times larger than the ammonium nitrate and fuel oil bomb that destroyed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995, should not disturb surface contamination at the Test Site.

The 21-page request for a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction predicts a 10,000-foot mushroom cloud, and calls the blast a "clear and present danger" to the health of people living to the east, or downwind of the vast Nevada Test Site.

The document names as defendants Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Linton Brooks and James Tegnelia, the directors of two federal agencies planning the test.

Defense Department, National Nuclear Security Administration and Defense Threat Reduction Agency officials each declined comment Thursday, saying they had not immediately seen the court documents submitted to U.S. District Court in Las Vegas.

The court filing claims the test, dubbed "Divine Strake," would irreparably desecrate land the Western Shoshone tribe has never acknowledged turning over to the U.S.

The two "downwinder" plaintiffs, Peter Litster and Stephen Erickson, live in Salt Lake City, Utah, Hager said.

Thomas Wasson and Sharon Wasson, two of the four members of the Winnemucca Indian Colony of northern Nevada, live in Susanville, Calif. Plaintiff Judy Rojo lives in Winnemucca and Elverine Castro lives in Los Angeles, Hager said.

The Defense Threat Reduction Agency has said the blast will help design a weapon to penetrate hardened and deeply buried targets.

The National Nuclear Security Administration, which operates the vast Nevada Test Site north of Las Vegas, has said the Divine Strake explosion will be at least 1 1/2 miles from the nearest underground nuclear test, and three miles from the nearest ground-zero areas of known radioactive contamination from aboveground tests.

The long-term effect of radioactive fallout from atmospheric nuclear tests in the 1950s and early 1960s has long been debated.

Studies have produced conflicting conclusions as to whether fallout caused increased incidences of particular types of cancer in the residents living downwind in parts of Nevada, Utah and Arizona.

The Radiation Exposure Compensation Act of 1990 provides for compassionate payments to downwinders who contracted certain cancers and other serious diseases.

© 2006 The Associated Press