Environment News Service

AmeriScan: February 3, 2000

UNDERGROUND EXPLOSION TESTS PLUTONIUM STOCKPILE

NEVADA TEST SITE, Nevada, October 1, 1999 (ENS) - The Department of Energy (DOE) set off an underground explosion today as part of ongoing tests of the nation’s nuclear stockpile. The test, known as Oboe 3, took place 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. Today’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. The tests are called subcritical because the nuclear materials used do not create a nuclear chain reaction.

Some nuclear activists oppose the testing, saying it threatens international ratification of a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and could spread radioactive contamination into underground aquifers. The Shundahai Network, an international anti-nuclear group with a Nevada office, demonstrated today in front of the Foley Federal Building in Las Vegas. After the last test, called Oboe 2, in November 1999, six Shundahai Network protesters were arrested for protesting outside the Nevada Test Site.

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