Subcritical Nuclear Weapons Test Scheduled
Plutonium Surprisingly Unstable According
to Russian Scientists
Demonstrations Against Star Wars Programs
Planned for 2000
*The US Department of Energy conducted two dry runs of a nuclear
weapons test at the Nevada Test Site on January 18, in preparation
for subcritical nuclear test that is scheduled for February of
this year. The February operation is called "Oboe 3", and will
be the latest in a series of 40 planned subcritical nuclear tests
that started in 1997 at the Nevada Test Site, which is located
on Native American lands under the stewardship of the Western
In spite of the environmental hazards of subcritical
nuclear testing and the difficulties it creates for the successful
negotiation of an international Comprehensive Test Ban agreement,
the Department of Energy stated that subcritical nuclear weapons
tests are "no longer newsworthy" and pointed out that it is not
required to publicize information about the testing until after
the event. Environmental activists disagree. There will be protests
at the Nevada Test Site as well as Lawrence Livermore National
Lab, where OBOE was created.
metallurgists presented detailed evidence last year to support
their claim that weapons-grade plutonium is a far more unstable
element than previously admitted by American nuclear scientists,
a finding which may have far-reaching consequences for the reliability
and maintenance of the US nuclear weapons stockpile.
scientists believed for decades that the so-called "delta phase"
of plutonium alloyed with Gallium was rock stable, the Russian
findings indicate that plutonium in the delta phase shows tendencies
to decompose to the alpha form. The alpha form of plutonium is
far denser and has a smaller volume, thus increasing the threat
of ruined mechanical assemblies and changes in the critical mass
for a nuclear chain reaction.
Plutonium instability could mean
a sharp decline in the lifetime of nuclear weapons cores, in theory
reducing them from some 70 years to as little as 20 years. Faster
aging of the weapons stockpile might cause the United States to
begin remanufacturing nuclear arms much sooner than expected and
at considerable additional costs. "The rate of aging has a tremendous
impact on things like the size of the production facility and
its annual throughput," says Dr. Matthew McKenzie, a former Los
Alamos researcher who now works with a Washington-based group
that tracks nuclear arms.
Some anti-nuclear activists fear that
the findings will be used as a pretext for more plutonium manufacturing.
*The Global Network Against Weapons and
Nuclear Power in Space has announced a series of protests this
year that will highlight Pentagon plans to deploy weapons in space.
The demonstrations include a protest vigil to be held on January
31 at the 17th Annual Symposium on Space Nuclear Power and Propulsion
in Albuquerque, which is a conference of Air Force, NASA, the
Department of Energy, the aerospace industry and pro-nuclear academia
to promote the expanded use of nuclear power for space-based weapons.
Moreover, there will be a demonstration at the Phillips Laboratory
on the Kirtland Air Force Base against the lab's self-declared
mission is to "dominate the 21st century battlefield in space
with directed-energy weapons and countermeasures".
and their corporate allies are pushing hard to move the arms race
into space," says Bruce Gagnon, Coordinator of the Florida-based
Global Network who will be leading the protests. "Albuquerque
plays a key role in this effort to nuclearize and weaponize space.
We are building an international movement to stop this bad seed
of war from being sent into the heavens."
Other plans for this
year include a series of events in Washington DC in April to protest
the deployment of a Ballistic Missile Defense system, which would
violate the US's Anti-Ballistic-Missile-Treaty with Russia and
put at risk the arms-control treaty framework that has evolved
over the last 30 years. Over $120 billion has been spent on Star
Wars research so far, and present funding for space weapons development
is now at Reagan-era levels.
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