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U.S. Conducts First Subcritical Nuclear Test Since 2021

On May 14, the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration successfully carried out a subcritical experiment in the Principal Underground Laboratory for Subcritical Experimentation (PULSE) facility at the Nevada National Security Site.

The experiment was the first in what has been called the Nimble series, and was conducted in partnership with Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. The series will also be supported by Los Alamos National Laboratory.

In what might be termed the oxymoron of the century, the test was to “support the safety, security, reliability, and effectiveness of America’s nuclear warheads,” according to the official readout.

A subcritical nuclear test is one which “uses fissile materials but there is no self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction. Most subcritical tests employ weapons grade plutonium (Pu-239) in various configurations. In recent years, subcritical tests have been conducted underground at the Nevada Test Site. Subcritical tests also can be conducted using an isotope of plutonium with a higher critical mass (Pu-242) which allows test devices to more closely resemble actual nuclear weapons triggers in size and shape. Both kinds of tests also can be conducted in some cases in vessels above ground,” says the Los Alamos Study Group.

These types of tests allow the U.S. to skirt its self-imposed moratorium on nuclear explosive tests enacted in 1992. This is the third such test under the Biden administration.

“The Nuclear Security Enterprise will use the results of this experiment to improve our modeling and simulation capability, part of the science-based stockpile stewardship program that NNSA has led for over 30 years. This experiment and all 33 previous U.S. subcritical experiments were consistent with the zero-yield standard of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty,” the NNSA statement said.

The administrators for Hiroshima and Nagasaki have lodged protests with the White House and the U.S. ambassador to Japan in the wake of this test, reported Sputnik.

“Such a conduct is totally unacceptable as it betrays the wishes of the hibakusha [victims of the U.S. atomic bombings in Japan] who have been appealing that ‘no one else should suffer as we have,’ and millions of others who seek the abolition of nuclear weapons. On behalf of the atomic-bombed city of Hiroshima, I vehemently protest and demand that all future nuclear tests be canceled,” Hiroshima City Mayor Matsui Kazumi wrote in a letter to U.S. President Joe Biden and U.S. Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel on May 18.

“Nagasaki Governor Kengo Oishi and Nagasaki City Mayor Shiro Suzuki have also sent similar letters to the White House and the U.S. ambassador,” Sputnik reported.