Environment News Service

UNDERGROUND EXPLOSION TESTS PLUTONIUM STOCKPILE

NEVADA TEST SITE, Nevada, October 1, 1999 (ENS) - The Department of Energy (DOE) set off an underground explosion Thursday as part of ongoing tests of the nation’s nuclear stockpile. The test, known as Oboe 1, took place at 2:56 pm Pacific Time in a chamber some 906 feet beneath the surface of the DOE’s Nevada Test Site. The DOE performs these experiments, in which plutonium of various ages is shocked by high explosives, to help determine whether the nuclear material in U.S. weapons is stable and still effective. "There’s not much point having a nuclear stock pile of weapons that wouldn’t work if, God forbid, you needed to use them," said Derek Scammell, a DOE spokesman. Thursday’s test and the dozen or so planned before the end of the year 2000 will use new plutonium and plutonium that is up to 40 years old to determine whether older plutonium reacts differently. Oboe 1 is the seventh such experiment conducted since 1997, but differs from the previous six because it took place in a sealed steel vessel. Prior experiments were held in experimental alcoves excavated for the purpose, which then had to be sealed to prevent the escape of radiation. Oboe 1 also took place in an alcove, but the alcove was protected by the vessel, and can be reused for future experiments, cutting costs by about 50 percent. The tests also help ensure that stored nuclear weapons have "no chance of going into a chain reaction and detonating," Scammell says.

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