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September 11 Attacks Cable News Network the first station to break the unfortunate news of the September 11 attacks to the World with Anchor Carol Lin delivering the first report of the devastating event. Since the Trinity Test in July , the U. These were done to test new weapon designs and also to ensure the reliability of older ones. When the Cold War ended, the U. The goal of the test ban treaty was to hinder new nations from developing nuclear arsenals and limit the capabilities of nations that already had them.
Subcritical testing to maintain the arsenalAfter the U. S moratorium went into effect, the U. Department of Energy created a massive program called the Stockpile Stewardship Program to maintain the safety and reliability of U. Instead of crudely blowing up weapons to produce a nuclear explosion, scientists at facilities like U1A in Nevada began conducting what are called subcritical tests.
There is still a big bang, but no nuclear chain reaction. Rather, these experiments produce data that researchers feed into elaborate supercomputer programs built using the massive amounts of information collected from earlier live tests. Using these subcritical tests and earlier data, scientists can simulate full-scale detonations with incredible accuracy and monitor the current arsenal without blowing up nuclear warheads.
What could be going wrong in the bombs? All nuclear weapons currently in the U. Put simply, hydrogen bombs work by using a smaller nuclear bomb — akin to the bomb dropped on Nagasaki — to detonate a second, much more powerful bomb.
Nearly all the components of a nuclear weapon can be replaced and updated except for one piece — the explosive plutonium core known as the pit.
These pits are what trigger the second, larger explosion. The weapons in the U. The main concern of people pushing to resume testing is that the plutonium pits may have deteriorated from their own radiation in the 25 years since they were made and will not properly trigger the second fusion stage of the explosion. Since most of the previous tests were done on much younger bombs with newer plutonium pits, supporters of testing claim that the subcritical tests cannot accurately test this part of the process.
The deterioration of the plutonium pit is a valid concern. To study this, researchers at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory used a far more radioactive type of plutonium and artificially aged the metal to simulate the effects of what would be equivalent to years of radiation on a normal plutonium pit. However, these scientists do not suggest that it is necessary to conduct live nuclear tests. Decades of experimental studies by nuclear weapons laboratories have led experts to believe that the U.
Additionally, a new, billion-dollar facility is currently being built in Nevada that will provide even finer detail to the data from subcritical test explosions.
Once subcritical test facilities are up and running, it is relatively inexpensive to run experiments. So is it politics? Currently, nuclear powers around the world are all improving the missiles that carry nuclear warheads, but not yet the warheads themselves. With little evidence, the Trump administration has sought to sow suspicion that Russia and China may be secretly conducting very low-yield nuclear tests, implying that the countries are trying to build better nuclear warheads.
In response, movement towards testing in the U. The Senate Armed Services Committee recently approved an amendment to spend US million to cut the time it would take to conduct a test if the president ordered one. Some officials seem to believe that a resumption of U.
But we believe the opposite to be true. Even though the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty has not entered into force, nearly every nuclear power on earth has more or less followed its rules. But if the U. No other country, aside from Russia, has as robust a foundation. If the ban were broken, it would give other countries like Iran, India, Pakistan and China a chance to gather huge amounts of information and improve their weapons while the U.
When it comes to the U. This article is republished from The Conversation, a nonprofit news site dedicated to sharing ideas from academic experts. The authors do not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and have disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.