By Barbara Ferry
The New Mexican
An anti-nuclear activist group claims Los Alamos National Laboratory
is conducting secret plutonium explosions at LANL. The Los Alamos
Study Group of Santa Fe is raising questions about classified "subcritical"
explosions that the group's director, Greg Mello, alleges have started
up at LANL.
A Department of Energy spokesman in Albuquerque said he could not comment
specifically on the experiments because they are classified. But
DOE spokesman Al Stotts said there are ongoing not new experiments at
the lab that "use a variety of materials and high explosives to help
understand the behavior of materials." The activity "doesn't represent
a safety hazard for employees, the public or the environment," Stotts
Critics have said subcritical tests violate the spirit of the Comprehensive
Test Ban Treaty, which is intended to stop new designs of nuclear weapons.
Department of Energy officials say subcritical tests are needed
to ensure the safety and reliability of the nuclear weapons stockpile.
Subcritical nuclear tests are used to test nuclear weapons components
but stop short of actual nuclear explosions. They have been conducted
at the Nevada Test Site in an underground tunnel, most recently in September
with the "Cimarron" test of a plutonium pit designed at LANL.
Plutonium pits are the cores of nuclear weapons.
But Mello believes subcritical explosions are being performed at LANL
under the code name "Appaloosa" as well as in Nevada. The LANL
experiments, Mello said, involve detonating plutonium in a steel container.
Plutonium is a radioactive metal that when compressed by explosives
sets off a nuclear chain reaction. "Blowing up plutonium is an
intrinsically dangerous activity," Mello said. Mello bases his
claim that the lab has begun detonating plutonium on documents he received
from the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board, a five-member advisory
panel that conducts inspections of LANL and other defense sites, and
reports to the Department of Energy. In a November letter to Assistant
Secretary of Energy for Defense Programs Vic Reis the safety board raised
concerns about a top-secret project that was scheduled to start at the
Safety board chairman John Conway wrote that he was concerned "that
because of inadequate planning, there may not be sufficient time or
talent for effective reviews of safety prior to commencement of these
startup activities." Conway asked for a full report on the project.
Reis' response to Conway was classified but an unclassified cover letter
refers to "confinement vessel integrity," and assures the board that
the vessels are safe.
Mello interprets this to mean that the secret project questioned by
the safety board refers to containment explosions.