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July 10, 1997     Pahrump Mirror
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July 10, 1997
 

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Rebound subcritical experiment draws protest by Andy Holtmann Despite avid protests by anti-nuclear demonstrators, the first in a series of experiment designed to test the endurance and safety of the nation's nuclear stockpile was successfull conducted at the Nevada Test Site last Wednesday. The subcritical experiment, called Rebound, was the first nuclear related test done on the test site grounds since September 1992. The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty signed in 1996 prohibits the testing of nuclear weapons around the world. Nations that have ex- isting nuclear weapons how- ever, are allowed to conduct non-nuclear reaction experi- ments designed to maintain their stockpiles. "This is an important day for this nation's stockpile stewardship program," said obin Staffin, the deputy as- sistant secretary of research for the U.S. Department of Energy. "The association of what we did here with nuclear weap- ons testing in the late 1980s is an association with the past. Developing new nuclear weapons is not the purpose of "The three were known protesters and were I apprehended after their dirt bikes tripped sensors." this program, it is not the policy of the United States." Wednesday's 10 a.m. :riment used 160 pounds of chemi- cal high explosives to send metal plates flying into a silver dollar sized piece of plutonium to test the pressure and reliability issues after years of aging. Plutonium is the key element of nuclear weapons. Conducted by Los Alamos Laboratories, the experiment took place at the test sites U1A complex, nearly 1,000 feet under the earth's surface. No ground level tremors were felt. Test Director Raffi Papazian said that the actual force of the blast is about the equivalent of a handful of cherry bombs. Opponents of the subcritical experiments say that what is being done at the test site is indirect violation of the Test Ban Treaty. Many also say that the subcriticals are an excuse to advance the design of new nuclear weapons. "It sends a message to the world that the U.S. is not upholding their end of the treaty," said Julia Occiogrosso, who was pro- testing at the DOE's Las Ve- gas office early Wednesday morning. This test is collect- ing data that will be used for further development of new weapons. The Nevada Department of Energy contends that they are in full compliance with the treaty due to the fact that no nuclear fission chain re- action occurs. They also say that the subcriticals are needed to successfully pro- tect, store and maintain the current stockpile. "Without subcritical test- ing we would be forced to revert back to full out nuclear testing," said Joe Fiore, the assistant manager of Na- tional Security for Nevada --,,Operations. This is the start ofa new era for the test site. According to both Staffin and Fiore, the goal is to gain enough data from subcriti- cal testing to be able to simu- late nuclear detonations and situations on advanced com- puter systems. DOE repre- sentatives hope to reach this goal by the year 2006. Anti.nuclear protestors at the front gate of the test halted a media bus that was destined for a control point near the U 1A complex about two hours before Wednesday's test. Three chained themselves beneath the bus and the remainder waved flags and banners and sang anti-nuclear chants. The incident stalled the media bus for about 20 minutes until officers from the Nye County Sheriffs Office, Nevada Highway Patrol and Test Site Security could successfully detain the demonstrators. Earlier that morning at about 4:45 a.m., three men were caught on the test site grounds near the U 1A complex. The three were known protesters and were apprehended after their dirt bikes tripped sen- sors. Original estimates given by DOE officials placed the number of arrests at 10, but that number was later re- canted by Nye County Sheriff's Department who said the actual number was eight. The three dirt bikers were charged with trespass- ing and the demonstrators were charged with obstruc- tion of a highway. All were taken to Beatty and booked into the jail there. Scientists monitored the blast from above ground checkpoints 45 miles away from the U1A complex. No initial problems were reported and officials said that al- though the room in which Rebound was conducted will never be re-entered, workers could go back down to the U 1A complex as soon as the next day. The United States has 9,800 nuclear weapons in its stockpile. Scientists have never been able to study pluto- nium after nuclear reactions because it vaporizes. DOE officials hope that this series of subcritical tests will help study the reactions of the chemical based metal so they can successfully maintain the stockpile as President Clinton has requested. The second subcritical test is tentatively slated for Octo- ber of this year. Ula.03 Plug # I i .... Six-Pla llelw, ma .03 #3 bound Primary) Kilmc! 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