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Missile Silo Implosion: Air Force Oversees Final Phase of START Treaty; Demolition Crew Discusses Dismantling Process

Aired July 5, 2000 - 1:01 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: In the wide-open grasslands of North Dakota today, an act of destruction represented an act of peace. Less than one hour ago, authorities imploded an underground missile silo built during the Cold War. It's one of 150 silos and 15 launch- control bunkers that must be destroyed under the final phase of the START treaty.

CNN's Jeff Flock was there. He joins us from Barnes County, North Dakota.

Jeff, hello.

JEFF FLOCK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Indeed, Natalie, looking right down into the silo right now. This is an extraordinary opportunity. We appreciate the Air Force and the demolition folks out here giving us immediate access to this site.

The Soviets -- or I should say the Russians will have the opportunity with their spy satellites to photograph this at some later point, but they can really watch us right now and see the level of this destruction. It's all part of the START treaty where 150 of these silos will be destroyed. And as you can see, perhaps, looking down into the hole, a lot of destruction here right now.

I want to get a real handle on that and put that in both layman's term as well as some technical terms with Bart Anderson, who was in charge of the implosion.

And this was an implosion not an explosion, yes?

BART ANDERSON, VEIT DEMOLITION: Correct, trying to get it to collapse on itself.

FLOCK: How did it do?

ANDERSON: It went real good. As far as puff of smoke goes, it was OK. It wasn't as flamboyant as it could have been. But the damage here was significant. We got good fracturing of all the concrete. The steel, if you can look over here, is pulled away from the concrete. Our machines will be able to get at it now and tear it apart a lot more efficiently than having trying to pecker it up with a hoe. FLOCK: Now, the rebar -- and for those of you who don't know, it's that round what looks like pipe, almost, material. But that's solid steel, yes?

ANDERSON: Correct. It's Number 18 rebar here in the throat of the silo. It's six inches on center, triple-matted, and it's tough stuff.

FLOCK: It's tough.

ANDERSON: You can't break it with dynamite, you just got to get the concrete off of it.

FLOCK: Wow. I want to -- you know, I'll tell you, it would be helpful to take a look at the implosion one more time. When you saw that up-close camera, that was a powerful blast. How many pounds of explosions?

ANDERSON: About 800, 850 pounds of dynamite and anpho (ph), ammonium nitrate.

FLOCK: Looked good to you?

ANDERSON: Looked great. Yes, I think it went well.

FLOCK: I want to go over and talk to Tech Sergeant Steve Marback who is -- it's kind of a bit of an irony here. You spent a lot of your career trying to maintain these systems and keep them running. And of course now today, you've, by your own hand, in some sense, have destroyed it. What goes through your mind right now?

TECH SGT. STEVEN MARBACK, MISSILE ENGINEER, GRAND FORKS AFB: Well, you know, you feel a little disheartened, but you also feel excited because when -- it's not every day you get to do this.

FLOCK: As you walked up here and, for the first time, looked at this kind of destruction, what were you thinking? Were you thinking back to the times that you spent maintaining this?

MARBACK: Yes, absolutely. You know, the men and women that maintained these missile silos for years and years and years were on duty 24 hours a day and they just poured their heart and souls into a lot of these sites to keep them as reliable as they are.

FLOCK: I want to give us some perspective on these kinds of sites all around the country. We have some graphic representation of what this means. If you count up all of the nuclear installations and sites around the country like this, about 15,000 square miles of the U.S. That's the states of New Jersey, roughly, Massachusetts and the District of Columbia all together. That's the land area that we're talking about. What will happen to this land area, Bart, once you've cleared all the rubble out?

ANDERSON: We'll clear the rubble out, throw it down the hole. We'll have 10 feet of clean fill on top of it and then we'll respread some of the surface gravel to make it look like it did before. And then we'll top-soil the rest, seed it, and from there the Air Force turns it over to the landowners who had it condemned from them originally.

FLOCK: Yes, I was going to say, perhaps we can use our high- perspective to illustrate this. This piece of land back in the 1960s was, in some sense, commandeered by the U.S. government for this installation, one of 150 out here in North Dakota. And now it'll be, as we said, or as Mr. Anderson said, it will be converted back to the old use, offered back to the farmer. And perhaps there will be wheat planted here. Well, I don't know how soon, perhaps -- what is it, six months? How long, roughly?

ANDERSON: I'm sure the Air Force real estate's going take a year, year and a half before they can get through all their paperwork. It's not going to be back in production for, I'm sure, a year and a half or more.

FLOCK: OK, a little bit of red tape, but then, in some sense, back to normal.

All right, folks, thanks very much. We appreciate your time, appreciate the access up close and personal to this facility. And it is an extraordinary site.

That is the latest from here, Natalie. Back to you.

ALLEN: Well, Jeff, how many of these silos will be blown up around the country? And just curious if there were any observers from Russia there today.

FLOCK: No, no observers, although they have, by rights of the treaty, the ability to come and examine anytime they want. There have been two sets of 150 such silos that have already been destroyed. I think the one in Missouri, and I believe the other was in South Dakota, correct? So this is a process. This is the latest 150 silos that will never again house an intercontinental ballistic missile, Natalie.

ALLEN: All right, thank you, Jeff Flock. The times are changing.

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