Experiment at Nevada Nuclear Site – What You Need to Know

viktorio / shutterstock.com
viktorio / shutterstock.com

A federal agency has confirmed it conducted a “subcritical experiment” at the U.S. nuclear testing site in Nevada to gather information on “materials used in nuclear warheads,” leading to reactions from North Korea and Russia.

The test occurred at the Nevada National Security Site last week and did not trigger a fissile chain reaction, according to the NNSA (Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration).

NNSA, in a news release, said that the experiment performed as predicted, consistent with the self-imposed moratorium on nuclear explosive testing that the United States has held since 1992; it did not form a self-sustaining, supercritical chain reaction.

The agency plans to increase the number of such tests to collect data on nuclear weapons materials without using explosions. The last known U.S. nuclear explosion test occurred in 1992, and since then, Washington has observed a self-imposed moratorium on such testing.

Marvin Adams, an administrator for NNSA defense programs, credited the success of the subcritical experiment to collaboration across their enterprise and investments in science and technology. Subcritical experiments are essential to “collect valuable information to support the safety, security, reliability, and effectiveness of America’s nuclear warheads,” the release stated. The data will help to improve “modeling and simulation capability.”

No additional details about the test were provided. According to the agency’s website, subcritical tests use chemical high explosives to generate extreme heat and pressures applied to special nuclear materials in a laboratory 1,000 feet underground without causing a self-sustaining chain reaction. Computers model the data collected.

Late last year, the NNSA conducted an explosion at the Nevada National Security Site to enhance the United States’ ability to detect low-yield nuclear blasts in the future.

Corey Hinderstein, an agency deputy administrator, stated in a previous release that these experiments further efforts to develop new technology supporting U.S. nuclear nonproliferation goals. They aim to reduce global nuclear threats by enhancing the detection of underground nuclear explosive tests.

The Nevada National Security Site (a/k/the Nevada Test Site) is a remote location in Nye County that has been used since the 1950s for nuclear weapons testing. Over 1,000 nuclear blasts have been conducted there, according to research. More than 27 subcritical tests have been carried out since 1992.

North Korea responded to recent testing in Nevada and accused the United States of engaging in a “dangerous act.” As usual, North Korea’s foreign ministry, through state-run media, declared it would not tolerate any strategic imbalance or security vacuum on the Korean peninsula.

North Korea conducted at least six nuclear tests between 2006 and 2017 and has frequently test-launched missiles into the Pacific Ocean, displaying a disregard for maintaining the balance and security it claims to value. The isolated, communist country has warned of a potential seventh test.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova remarked that, based on the United States’ description of the test, the Kremlin does not believe any nuclear treaties were violated. She indicated that the action did not violate the U.S. moratorium on nuclear tests or the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.

Russia de-ratified the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty last year. The United States signed but never ratified the treaty. Russia and the United States are the world’s biggest nuclear powers, holding about 88 percent of the world’s total inventory of nuclear weapons, according to the Federation of American Scientists.

Meanwhile, on Tuesday, Russia’s Defense Ministry announced it would conduct tactical nuclear drills near Ukraine, accusing the West and NATO of taking “provocative” measures.

According to the ministry, Russian troops are practicing combat training tasks such as obtaining special ammunition for the Iskander operational-tactical missile system, equipping launch vehicles with it, and covertly advancing to the designated position area in preparation for missile launches.

The ministry also said its troops will be “equipping aviation weapons with special warheads, including the Kinzhal aeroballistic hypersonic missiles, and flying into designated patrol areas.”