The federal government on Friday indefinitely postponed a massive explosion that planners said would generate a mushroom cloud over the Nevada desert and critics feared would spread radioactivity across the West.
Officials said delaying the non-nuclear explosion dubbed "Divine Strake" would allow time to answer legal and scientific questions about whether it would kick up radioactive fallout left from nuclear weapons tests conducted at the Nevada Test Site about 85 miles northwest of Las Vegas.
"The previously announced date of no later than June 23 is no longer accurate," said Darwin Morgan, spokesman for the National Nuclear Security Administration in North Las Vegas. "The experiment will be scheduled at a date later to be announced pending the legal action."
Anti-nuclear activists, an Indian tribe and Utah and Nevada congressional lawmakers have pressed the government to address safety concerns raised since James Tegnelia, director of the federal Defense Threat Reduction Agency, said the blast "is the first time in Nevada that you'll see a mushroom cloud over Las Vegas since we stopped testing nuclear weapons." He later retracted the statement, saying it was inaccurate.
A federal judge in Las Vegas let government lawyers on Friday withdraw a finding that there would be "no significant impact" from the blast without acknowledging any shortcomings alleged in a lawsuit filed by the Winnemucca Indian Colony and several Nevada and Utah "downwinders."