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  Key Issues Nuclear Weapons Issues Testing Press Release, First Subcritical Test

First Subcritical Experiment Scheduled for July 2

For Immediate Release
June 30, 1997

News Media Contacts:
DOE HQ: Chris Kielich, 202/586-5806
Nevada: Darwin Morgan, 702/295-3521
Los Alamos: Jim Danneskiold, 505/667-7000

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The Department of Energy has scheduled the first of two upcoming subcritical experiments -- physics experiments to obtain scientific data on the properties of nuclear materials -- for July 2. The experiment, named Rebound, is sponsored by the Los Alamos National Laboratory at the U1a Complex at the Nevada Test Site.

The scientific experiments will use chemical high explosives to generate high pressures that will be applied to nuclear material. The configuration and quantities of explosives and nuclear materials will be such that no nuclear explosion will take place. Thus, the experiments are consistent with the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). They are called "subcritical" because no self-sustaining nuclear fission chain reaction will occur. Scientific data will be obtained on the behavior of plutonium by the use of high-speed measurement instruments.

The JASONs, an independent group of scientists, reviewed the designs of the first two subcritical experiments. They concluded that "these particular experiments will add valuable scientific information to our database relevant to the performance of our nuclear weapons, and that there is no conceivable scenario in which these experiments lead to criticality."

Subcritical experiments are essential to the United States' commitment to a world free of nuclear testing while maintaining a reliable nuclear deterrent. These experiments are integral to the department's stockpile stewardship and management program, the plan to maintain the safety and reliability of the nuclear weapons stockpile in the absence of underground nuclear testing. This confidence in safety and reliability is required by the President as a condition for his support of the zero-yield CTBT.

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