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Tallest structure in West demolished


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YUCCA FLAT, Nev. — A huge tower, used during atomic bomb tests in the 1960s, came tumbling down Wednesday in a controlled demolition.

It was taken down primarily for safety reasons, as well as the fact that it's not used anymore. The tower was 1,527 feet tall, which also makes it a risk to aircraft. So it was fittingly brought down with, what else - explosives.

"It's just over 1500 feet tall, and it's only taking a little less than 50 pounds of high explosives to bring it down," said Darwin Morgan, spokesman for the Nevada National Nuclear Site.

The "Bare Reactor Experiment, Nevada" tower, or BREN for short, was probably the tallest structure you've never heard of. Before Wednesday's demolition, it was the tallest free-standing structure west of the Mississippi; taller than the Empire State Building and the Eiffel Tower.

The tower was built in 1962 at Yucca Flat, on the Nevada Test Site. During the years of the above-ground atomic bomb tests, the tower held various pieces of equipment to monitor the effects of radiation. After the U.S. bombed Japan, the tower played a role in simulating what happened there, to help scientists and medical experts.

"They wanted to understand what was the dose to the people of Japan so they'd have a better understanding of what the long-term health effects would be to the people of Japan," Morgan said.

When the above-ground tests were banned, the tower was dismantled and rebuilt in another area of the test site, where it was used for other types of radiation experiments. From 1951 to 1992, the U.S. conducted 928 underground and atmospheric nuclear tests there. Wednesday's blast was much less significant, but at 345 tons of steel, the tower did go out with a bang.

Repairing BREN to make it usable for more modern experiments would have cost millions of dollars, yet another reason for bringing it down.

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Keith McCord

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