Nuclear Weapons: Technical Resources
The post cold war nuclear weapons research, design, and testing
program, called Science Based Stockpile Stewardship, has been justified
as a means to understand the processes of aging in nuclear weapons,
and to guarantee that each weapon in the U.S. arsenal remains in
working order. Without full scale nuclear testing (which was the
primary way of evaluating aging weapons and new designs prior to
1992) the National Laboratories have resorted to a program of advanced
computer modeling/simulation, subcritical nuclear explosives testing,
and a whole new gamut of new ways to carry out their nuclear weapons
Pit Production Options, Jonathan Medalia, Congressional Research Service, Nov 20, 2013 (pdf)
Plutonium in Warhead Cores (“Pits”) Stable to 150 Years, Los Alamos Study Group press release, Dec 6, 2012
"The United States Plutonium Balance, 1944-2009," Jun 26, 2012, (pdf 1MB); update of "Plutonium: The First 50 Years," Feb 1996 (pdf 5MB).
"The Proposed Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Nuclear Facility (CMRR-NF): New Realities Call for New Thinking," (pdf 181KB) Dec 10, 2010
"U.S. Plutonium 'Pit' Production: Additional Facilities, Production Restart are Unnecessary, Costly and Provocative," (pdf 242KB) Mar 2, 2010
"Lifetime Extension Program," JASON Executive Summary, (pdf 81KB) Sep 9, 2009
"Pit Lifetime," JASON's review on plutonium aging, JSR-06-335, The Mitre Corporation, (506KB pdf) Nov 20, 2006
"A Little Primer on Plutonium and Poverty in New Mexico," (pdf file of brochure)
Los Alamos Study Group letter to Secretary of Energy Hazel O'Leary, (pdf) Oct 22, 1996
LANL Plan to Detonate Plutonium Poses Risks to Region, May 14, 1997
photo: The WMD Way of Life: Pit production equipment (?) in Los Alamos parking lot (jpg), Jan 2006
Since the United States' last full nuclear weapons test at the Nevada
Test Site in September of 1992 all subsequent nuclear weapons explosives
tests have been subcritical. A subcritical test is similar to a
full scale nuclear detonation in that a plutonium core and other
weapons grade elements are subjected to compression under a high
explosives blast, but the implosion is not sufficient to sustain
the criticality necessary for the process of nuclear fission.
Contrary to popular belief, the U.S. Military, Department of Energy,
and the nuclear weapons laboratories never stopped designing new
weapons. Some are modifications on pervious designs such as the
B61 which became the B61-11. Others such as the proposed earth penetrator
and low yield nuclear weapons will be new designs.
Between 1945 and 1992 the United States conducted over 1054 (official
count)  full scale nuclear weapons tests on air, land, and sea,
and even in space. Major test sites included several sites in the
South Atlantic, Bikini Atoll, the Christmas Islands, Enewetak, and
Johnston Atoll in the Pacific Ocean, Amchitka in Alaska, Rifle,
and Grand Valley in Colorado, Farmington, Alomogordo, and Carlsbad
in New Mexico, Hattiesburg in Mississippi, and approximately 904
nuclear explosions in Nevada at the Nevada Test Site.
"Subcritical" Nuclear Tests Have Apparently Begun at Los Alamos, January 13, 1999
1. Department of Energy, Nevada Operations Office.
United States Nuclear Test: July 1945 - September 1992.
DOE/NV - 209 Rev 15 December 2000.