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Nevada Test Site facility might be used to dismantle nuclear weapons

A facility at the Nevada Test Site that was designed at the end of the Cold War to handle nuclear bombs is being considered for a upgrade to help the United States meet its arms reduction goals.

Discussion of the need for a $30 million upgrade of the Device Assembly Facility is scheduled on the House floor this week.

The money is sought in the House Appropriations energy and water bill to ease some of the nuclear weapons dismantlement burden at the Pantex Plant in Texas.

Darwin Morgan, a spokesman for the National Nuclear Security Administration’s Nevada Site Office in North Las Vegas, said the idea behind the proposal is to “give the agency better flexibility at working toward its dismantlement goals.”

By retrofitting the Device Assembly Facility so that certain warheads can be safely taken apart, the Pantex Plant could be used more efficiently to dismantle systems that consist of larger numbers of warheads, Morgan said Monday.

According to the bill’s report, Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman has told Congress that the Pantex Plant “is the single most inefficient element of the current nuclear weapons complex.”

That is of particular concern because the United States has increased stockpile reduction obligations to meet during the next two decades.

Construction of the Device Assembly Facility began in the mid-1980s and continued for about another 10 years.

The facility is a 100,000-square-foot complex covered by compacted earth and hardened to contain the detonation of high explosives. The facility was designed and built to assemble nuclear test devices before they would be moved underground for detonation.

Since full-scale nuclear weapons testing was put on hold indefinitely by the United States in 1992, the facility has been used to assemble subcritical experiments that are designed not to erupt into nuclear chain reactions. The effort is part of the science-based stockpile stewardship program that relies on experiments and physics tools to check the safety and reliability of the nation’s stockpile.

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