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US/British nuclear weapons test
15 February 2002
The US Department of Energy and British Ministry of Defence yesterday detonated a sub-critical nuclear weapons test -'Vito' - at the Nevada Test Site. 'Vito' was the 16th sub-critical nuclear weapons test in the current series conducted there by the US Department of Energy, and the first exploded jointly with the British.
The Nevada Test Site is on Western Shoshone land in Nevada - their land is subject to the Treaty of Ruby Valley - rather than honouring the Treaty, the US and British governments have used the land for nuclear weapons tests since 1945, and have turned it into a radioactive wasteland. From 1951 to 1992, 928 full scale nuclear weapons tests were conducted on Western Shoshone land - 100 either above ground or in the atmosphere, and 828 underground.
Since the US government stopped full scale nuclear weapons tests, successive US administrations have said kept the Nevada Test Site open in case they should want to resume full scale testing at any time. One of the ways in which the US Department of Energy is retaining this capability is to conduct a series of subcritical nuclear weapons test.
Subcritical experiments use high explosives to create some of the physical conditions, such as pressure and temperature, that nuclear materials undergo in a nuclear weapon before reaching the critical stage. They are called 'subcritical' because they are not expected to reach 'critical mass'.
However, on 26 March 1963, in the Liver more Laboratory, a nuclear excursion and subsequent fire took place during a subcritical experiment in a shielded vault designed for critical assembly experiments. The excursion was estimated at 4 X 1017 fissions and was followed by oxidation of the enriched uranium metal in the assembly. (from Operational Accidents and Radiation Exposure Experience Within the United States Atomic Energy Commission, 1943-1970, U.S. Government Printing Office: Washington, D.C., 1971.)
* What you can do
More information is available from previous PMA and Shundahai Network alerts about nuclear weapons testings, which are listed on-line at http://www.converge.org.nz/pma/ntest.htm
For more information about the Western Shoshone people, the Nevada Test Site, the Yucca Mountain High Level Radioactive Waste Repository (the latest outrageous plan to inflict even more toxic radioactive poisons on the Western Shoshone), check out http://www.shundahai.org
* To let the US and British governments know what you think about their continued nuclear weapons testing programme, write or fax their diplomatic representatives here in Aotearoa. Contact details: * US ambassador - Charles Swindells, US Embassy, PO Box 1190, Wellington; tel (04) 472 2068; fax (04) 471 2380 or 472 9804; * British High Commissioner - Mr Richard Fell, British High Commission, PO Box 1812, Wellington; tel (04) 924 2888; fax (04) 924 2831.
In both instances ask them to forward your letter / message as a matter of urgency to their respective governments.
* You could contact the offices of various NZ government politicians and ask them to publicly condemn the latest US and British nuclear weapons test. Contact details: - phone calls and faxes (all to be prefixed by 04 by those of you out of Wellington, by + 64 4 by those of you receiving this overseas): - Helen Clark, Prime Minister, office - tel 471 9998, fax 473 3579; Jim Anderton, Deputy Prime Minister, office - tel 471 9011, fax 495 8441; Phil Goff, Minister of Foreign Affairs, office - tel 471 9370, fax 495 8444; Matt Robson, Minister of Disarmament and Arms Control, office - tel (04) 470 6561, fax (04) 495 8462; The Cabinet (collectively), office - tel 471 9743, fax 472 6332. Letters should be addressed to the relevant person and posted (no stamp needed) to Parliament Buildings, Wellington.
Additionally, it would be useful if you could send copies of your letter/s to Keith Locke, Green Party Spokesperson for Foreign Affairs, tel 470 6709, fax 472 6003; and a copy of your correspondence and of any replies to PMA for our files.
Below is the US Department of Energy media release which confirms that the nuclear weapons test took place.
14 February 2002
DOE News Media Release
National Nuclear Security Administration Scientists Conduct Successful Subcritical Experiment at Nevada Test Site
The National Nuclear Security Administration's Los Alamos National Laboratory successfully conducted Vito, at 1:30 p.m. (PST) today, at the Nevada Test Site. Data from monitoring instruments confirmed that, as expected, the experiment remained subcritical. No critical mass was formed, and therefore no self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction occurred.
Vito was the 16th subcritical experiment conducted at the Nevada Test Site. The United Kingdom participated in the experiment under the terms of the 1958 Mutual Defense Agreement.
The experiment was designed to answer questions about ejecta and spall associated with the physical properties of plutonium. Ejecta is a violent spray of particles that are propelled from a material's surface when it is compressed by a powerful shock wave. Spall is the breakup of material from the explosive shock wave reflected back from the surface.
Scientists conduct subcritical experiments in order to obtain technical information in support of the National Nuclear Security Administration's program to maintain the safety and reliability of the nation's nuclear weapons stockpile without underground nuclear testing.
Nevada Operations Office News