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Air Force Destroys Missile Silo in North Dakota

Aired July 5, 2000 - 2:06 p.m. ET

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

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: A legacy of the Cold War is being buried in the Great Plains of the United States for good. The U.S. military is destroying several underground silos once home to long-range ballistic missiles.

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

Jeff, it's all yours.

JEFF FLOCK, CNN CHICAGO BUREAU CHIEF: Thank you, sir.

And in some sense I suppose you could say that it looked like a nuclear missile hit it. Actually there was once a nuclear missile here. That has been removed for a couple of years and now the silo that housed it, perhaps you see behind me the rubble, the silo that housed it now doesn't exist anymore either. It is one of 150 silos that are being imploded here along the plains of North Dakota as part of the START treaty with the nations of the former Soviet Union.

A successful blast today -- we have pictures that depict what the Air Force and its contracting company has been doing to try and clean up these relics of the Cold War.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hit it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FLOCK: As they say in the demolition business, a good blast. And I will ask Colonel Kim McKenzie, who commands some of the remaining Minuteman III missiles, those in Minot, South Dakota -- North Dakota I should say. Was it a good blast for you, too?

COL. KIMBER MCKENZIE, MINOT AFB COMMANDER: It was a great blast. And although this site has become part of our history, the mission of nuclear deterrence is -- continues into the future. And the young men and women who do that mission are backed up by folks from our local communities and our neighbors, and we couldn't do it without them.

FLOCK: You know, I want to put this in some perspective for our viewers, the nuclear stockpile. We're destroying now 150 silos from here, but the stockpile, which in the peak days of the mid '60s totaled more than 30,000 warheads, now believed to be -- and I know you can't give us the classified numbers -- but believed to be about 12 1/2 thousand or so. And if the provisions of START II go into effect in the year 2003, it could be down to 5,000.

Do we have enough capability?

MCKENZIE: We have plenty of capability. Right now, today, there are over 500 Minuteman missiles and 50 Peacekeepers on alert, in the jargon of the military, ready to do the job. They provide a prompt response, the ability to respond to a presidential order within minutes or seconds. And that is enough deterrence, we believe, to protect this nation.

FLOCK: Colonel McKenzie, thank you.

I'm going to give the last word today -- I appreciate your time very much. I'm going the last word to the man whose family owned this land back in the 1960s when the government came along and said: We want to put a missile here.

What are your thoughts today, sir?

RUSSELL LORENZ, BARNES COUNTY FARMER: Well, first thought is that I'm glad it was the U.S. Air Force that blew it up and not the Russians.

FLOCK: I guess, was that on your mind, knowing that you had a missile silo here that was a potential target?

LORENZ: It didn't concern me too much. My mother is the one that used to be concerned about it because it was very close to the farmstead. And she always figured that if that -- if somebody bombed that missile site, why, we were too close. Dad's answer was, well, better to be too close than just far enough away to get injured, so.

FLOCK: Interesting thought from your father.

I want to show our viewers what a cleaned-up site looks like or at least one that's a little farther along than this one. A lot of destruction here today, but that kind of gets cleaned up and the steel gets salvaged out of there. And now they say that they will return to it to the people who own the adjoining land.

That's you, sir. Do you want it back?

LORENZ: Right now the part inside the fence doesn't look too inviting. But yes, I would say we would definitely want the land back. That's quite a few acres surrounding the fence here that's good farmland. And hopefully some arrangement can be made so we can get it back and farm it again.

FLOCK: All right, sir, we will continue to watch that. Mr. Lorenz, I appreciate very much the time. Good luck to you with the land and whatever becomes of it.

As you can see, this is now what remains of a Minuteman III silo, one of 150 now disappearing from the landscape here in North Dakota. I'm Jeff Flock, CNN, reporting live from Barnes County, North Dakota

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