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John Hollenhorst ReportingThe controversy over a gigantic explosion planned in the Nevada desert drew a sizeable crowd tonight in Salt Lake City. It was an open-house style meeting that critics have labeled a "sham" and a propaganda session.
Federal agencies formatted the meeting here as a way to pass out technical information and to gather comments quietly, one-on-one. But what critics wanted was a public forum to denounce the so-called Divine Strake test. They labeled the public meeting a phony dog-and-pony show.
Experts were there and a crowd into the hundreds, asking and answering questions about the big blast.
Dave Loewer, "Divine Strake" Team member: "All of the dust, for all the calculations, falls within the Nevada test site."
Dust is one of the big worries. The plan is for a mammoth explosion in a pit with 700 tons of non-nuclear explosives. The goal is to measure shock effects on a tunnel simulating an enemy bunker.
Could it stir up radioactive dust from atomic explosions in the 1950's and 60's, which many Utahns blame for cancers in their families?
Sam Ghosh, Salt Lake City Resident: "Personally, I lost my wife of 44 years and I'm still in pain and there are a lot of people and they're in pain too."
Darwin Morgan, Spokesman, Nevada Test Site: "We're not here to try to sway them, we're here to answer their questions so they can provide us comments for the E.A."
The "E.A." is the Environmental Assessment. It concludes the radiation risk is insignificant, even in the worst-case, for someone living at the test site.
Darwin Morgan: "They're going to get more radiation from the smoke detectors that are in their homes."
Many at the meeting were not reassured.
Kristeen Searles to stenographer: "I was one of the people that drank the milk with the radiation, ate the cheese, ate the meat."
Kristeen Searles dictated a comment to a government court reporter.
Kristeen Searles: "And so I'm hoping that people are listening and really feeling this. And start waking up, Utah!"
Because the blast will be so enormous, many critics worry it's a step toward a new generation of nuclear weapon, with no opportunity for a full-blown public hearing.
Vanessa Pierce, HEAL Utah: "And while this blast is not nuclear it does raise concerns of renewed testing and we deserve a chance to comment on activities that might put us down that path again."
David Rigby, Defense Threat Reduction Agency: "It has no planned use for a future weapon."
Those who want to speak out in a more traditional public-hearing will get their chance. Governor Huntsman has scheduled state hearings next week in St. George and two weeks from tonight at the Utah State Capitol.