July 3, 1997 in Nation/World

Scientists Test Safety Of Aging Nuclear Weapons Stockpile

Associated Press
 

An experiment to evaluate the safety and reliability of the nation’s nuclear weapons stockpile - the first nuclear-related test since a 1992 moratorium - was conducted Wednesday at the Nevada Test Site.

“Everything went as expected,” said Energy Department spokesman Derek Scammell. “The scientists are very happy. The program went as planned.”

It will be a while before scientists are able to analyze the results of the test, which was monitored above ground, Scammell said.

The experiment used 160 pounds of chemical explosives to bombard silver dollar-sized pieces of plutonium, a key ingredient in nuclear weapons, to determine how plutonium reacts with age. Many of the 9,800 nuclear weapons in the United States arsenal are 20 years old and scientists have expressed concerns over how the aging process might impact the weapons.

The experiment is the first in a series planned by scientists from the nation’s nuclear weapons laboratories, Los Alamos in New Mexico and Lawrence Livermore in California.

The tests have been opposed by a coalition of anti-nuclear groups who say the experiments are a way of designing new nuclear weapons and skirting the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

Ten demonstrators who protested at the test site were arrested on trespass charges.

The Energy Department contends the tests are consistent with the treaty because no nuclear fission chain reaction occurs, thus producing no nuclear explosion. Scammell said Wednesday’s blast could not be felt on the surface.

Scientists say the tests are needed to gauge the safety and reliability of weapons crafted in the heat of the Cold War.

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