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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 49, August 2000

US Conducts Pioneering Simulation, Starts Work on Tritium Plant

On July 20, the US Energy Department announced that, on April 30 this year, it had completed a pioneering, full-scale 3-D supercomputer simulation of a thermonuclear nuclear weapons explosion. The simulation took 42 days to run, and involved the Los Alamos, Lawrence Livermore, and Sandia national laboratories. Previously, the Department had only run 2-D computer simulations. See Documents and Sources for related details and announcements.

On July 27, Energy Secretary Bill Richardson officially marked the beginning of construction at a new, $400 million Tritium Extraction Facility at the Savannah River Site in Aiken, South Carolina. Tritium is a radioactive isotype of hydrogen, described in a Department Press Release as "an essential component of every weapon in the current and projected US nuclear weapons stockpile." As the press release explains, no new tritium has been produced in the US since 1988, and the Savannah River Site "is meeting current stockpile requirements by recovering tritium from dismantled nuclear weapons and from routine tritium reservoir exchanges from the existing nuclear stockpile." However, because "tritium decays at a rate of 5.5% per year, the tritium in each nuclear weapon must be replenished periodically as long as the nation relies on a nuclear deterrent."

Reports: Computers simulate nuclear blast, Associated Press, July 20; Energy Secretary Bill Richardson breaks ground for new tritium facility at Savannah River site, US Energy Department Press Release R-00-200, July 27.

© 2000 The Acronym Institute.

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