Tunnels show potential for safe, secret operations in Nevada — Part 2

Military Tech

Could tunnels provide safety and secrecy for government operations? Technology is making underground bases more feasible all the time. Investigative reporter George Knapp talks to people are at home in an environment that might make others uneasy. Originally aired on Nov. 5, 1998, on KLAS TV in Las Vegas. Second of 3 Parts.

MYSTERY WIRE — In the dark world of the conspiracy buff, underground bases are a given. Denizens of the Internet believe a vast network of tunnels connect bases as far away as New Mexico. But is that really possible?

Larry Ashbaugh, head of the Nevada Office of the Defense Threat Reduction Agency. (KLAS-TV)

“Probably not ridiculous,” says Larry Ashbaugh of the Department of Defense, “but who can afford to do it?”

For decades, Ashbaugh has been working in tunnels at the Nevada Test Site, most of which were built the old fashioned way.

“This tunnel was drilled and blasted,” Ashbaugh said on a trip into the caverns. “You know, they drilled holes into the rock, stuck dynamite in the thing. Blasted out.”

By that method, miners can dig eight feet in an eight hour shift, meaning a tunnel to New Mexico would take some doing. But what if other technology existed? Tunnel boring machines are not merely the province of Hollywood. Machines like this one in use at the test site helped dig a tunnel under the English Channel. Smaller versions have been in use for years here.

“This stuff,” a test site worker said as he examined the progress of one digging machine, “it’s like butter … 10 hours, we can drive 18 feet a shift.”

Pentagon documents have discussed more exotic tunneling technology. The U.S. Army had plans in 1959 for tunnels and bases on the moon. Other documents speak of lasers and ray guns that dig tunnels. Is that far fetched?

Toby Wightman, president of the American Underground Association, has seen some of that technology.

Toby Wightman, president of the American Underground Association. (KLAS-TV)

Wightman: The use of lasers for melting rock.

George Knapp: Does that work, too?

Wightman: It will, it will do that.

Knapp: A ray gun kind of a thing that will melt rock.

Wightman: I’ve tried some of those, yes.

Knapp: It literally melts rock.

Wightman: Melts rock, yes. Excavates rock … it will form a lining for the tunnel as well by melting the rock into a glass-like substance.

With such technology, underground bases seem far more doable. And we found such a base at the test site, dubbed U1A. If you’ve seen the film, “The X Files,” you may remember a giant air building hiding deadly secrets. A nearly identical structure sits atop U1A, but the secret stuff is underground — deep underground.

An elevator drops nearly 1,000 feet below the surface. Down we traveled through solid rock and dirt, and at the bottom a large facility that spills in many directions. High tech operations are conducted by dozens of technicians from national labs. In one room, scientists prepare for a subcritical explosion. Elsewhere, miners work to expand the facility. From above, you wouldn’t even know it’s here.

A test site worker said, “We are doing state of the art work here. This is as state of the art as it gets. These are tools that we brought in from the laboratories and have adapted them to the underground environment.”

Some of this work is classified, and personnel admit there may be other more secret underground operations that can’t be discussed. What’s for sure is that this far down, things can get spooky.

“Oh, yeah, you hear the ground sometimes,” one worker told us.

A test site worker says the ground “talks to ya” in the tunnels. (KLAS-TV)

Knapp: Spooky?

Worker: It talks to ya.

Knapp: It talks to ya?

Worker: Yeah.

Knapp: Does it get spooky?

Worker: Sometimes. It all depends if you’re alone or with somebody.

NEXT STORY: Tour reveals scope of tunnel system under Nevada Test Site — Part 3

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