U.S. Detonates Explosives in Plutonium Study

The United States on Wednesday conducted an underground non-nuclear test detonation in Nevada to study the behavior of plutonium, the Associated Press reported (see GSN, Aug. 13).

The event, code-named "Bacchus," was the 24th subcritical test conducted since 1997 at what is now called the Nevada National Security Site. It was first such experiment since the "Unicorn" detonation on Aug. 30, 2006, at the installation, previously known as the Nevada Test Site, the National Nuclear Security Administration indicated (see GSN, Aug. 24).

Subcritical tests, which do not involve fission chain reactions that produce nuclear explosions, are key to ensuring the dependability of the U.S. nuclear deterrent, according to U.S. officials.

In the latest study, Los Alamos National Laboratory researchers detonated conventional explosives surrounding a cache of radioactive material in a uniquely built sphere, NNSA spokesman Darwin Morgan said. The test, conducted in a vault roughly 1,000 feet below the earth's surface, produced no nuclear reaction and emitted no radioactivity, he said.

Opponents of subcritical tests contend the experiments go against the purpose of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, a pact Washington has yet to ratify (see GSN, July 27; Ken Ritter, Associated Press/Reno Gazette-Journal, Sept. 16).

September 17, 2010
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The United States on Wednesday conducted an underground non-nuclear test detonation in Nevada to study the behavior of plutonium, the Associated Press reported (see GSN, Aug. 13).