MERCURY, Nev. — An underground nuclear weapon test was triggered beneath the desert here Thursday, causing high-rise buildings to sway in Las Vegas and providing dramatic evidence that a 9-day-old strike at the Nevada Test Site has failed to shut down operations.
Some 50 strikers and a handful of anti-nuclear protesters picketed near the test site gates 45 miles from Ground Zero.
Members of the Culinary Workers Union, Local 226, had vowed to shut down the secret government site when they went on strike Sept. 15. The 617 workers provide food services at the site and are also striking the adjacent Tonopah test range, believed to be a home base for the top-secret, radar-invisible Stealth aircraft.
Also on strike are 121 bus drivers who transport about 3,000 workers to the site daily from Las Vegas, 105 miles away.
Nine other unions, comprising 3,000 workers, have been honoring the picket lines of the striking culinary workers and drivers. The number of employees who have refused to cross picket lines has been variously estimated at one-third to 90% of the work force.
Energy Department officials, who are charged with conducting the nation's nuclear testing program, have said that a strike might slow work at the site but only a prolonged strike could affect testing.
"We have enough depth and expertise to assure that required operations will continue safely and effectively," said Nick Aquilina, head of the Energy Department's Nevada operations.
Thursday's test was listed as having an explosive force of up to 150,000 tons of TNT, nearly 12 times the force of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima.
The blast registered 5.6 on the Richter scale at the National Earthquake Information Center in Boulder, Colo.
It was the 12th announced shot at the test site this year.