U.S. succeeds in new plutonium tests to check nuke arsenal

U.S. researchers have successfully conducted new experiments to examine the properties of plutonium, obtaining information that can be used to keep the country's stockpile of nuclear weapons safe and effective, an official of the National Nuclear Security Administration told Kyodo News on Saturday.

The move underpins U.S President Barack Obama's policy of maintaining the country's nuclear weapons capability while urging Iran and North Korea to abandon their nuclear programs.

The experiments, without the need for nuclear explosions, were conducted at the Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico in November and March using ''Z machine'' equipment capable of generating the strongest X-rays in the world to simulate the fusion that occurs in nuclear weapons.

Researchers at the facility studied the behavior of plutonium under extreme pressure and temperature conditions similar to a nuclear explosion. Using less than 8 grams of plutonium, they obtained information useful in assessing how long a plutonium pit, or the core of an implosion weapon, can be kept in a reliable state.

The experiments were carried out as concern is growing over whether nuclear weapons, produced during the Cold War years, remain in an operable state. The experiments are part of the U.S. government's efforts to confirm the safety and effectiveness of nuclear weapons without underground testing.

The U.S. government has not conducted underground nuclear tests since 1992.

(Distributed by Kyodo News on May 21, 2011)

Comment: Intention to maintain nuclear arsenal unchanged

by Yumi Kanazaki, Staff Writer

The latest nuclear experiments by the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), seeking the “reliability” of the U.S. nuclear arsenal, demonstrates that the nuclear superpower's intention to maintain the strength and capability of its nuclear weapons has not changed under the Obama administration.

The nuclear experiments are part of a plan to manage the U.S. nuclear arsenal, with the nation concerned about the age-related deterioration of its nuclear arms. However, it has already been proven that a “plutonium pit,” the core of nuclear warheads, is viable for more than 100 years. Anti-nuclear groups in the United States are therefore on alert for the possibility that the data obtained from these experiments may be used for de facto development of a new-type nuclear weapon, in the name of the “maintenance” of nuclear weapons.

The United States has now adopted a nuclear policy in which it plans to reduce, to a certain degree, the number of nuclear weapons that were produced during the Cold War and, for this reason, it wishes to maintain a “high-quality” nuclear capability. Though U.S. President Barack Obama advocated “a world without nuclear weapons” in the speech he made in Prague in 2009, he also mentioned in the same speech that the United States would uphold its nuclear deterrence, saying, “This goal [the elimination of nuclear weapons] will not be reached quickly--perhaps not in my lifetime.”

Now, in the wake of the nuclear crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 (Daiichi) nuclear power plant, the question has arisen anew whether the human race can coexist with nuclear energy and nuclear weapons. “Unexpected problems,” an expression used by the Japanese government and the Tokyo Electric Power Company with regard to the nuclear crisis, could occur in terms of nuclear weapons as well. A-bomb survivors have appealed for the elimination of nuclear weapons, saying, “As long as nuclear weapons exist on the earth, the possibility remains that these weapons will be used.”

The “safety” and “reliability” that are sought in modernizing nuclear weapons rings hollow in the A-bombed city. The United States should steer a new course, toward the elimination of these weapons, in order for true “safety” and “reliability” to be achieved.

(Originally published on May 22, 2011)