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British nuclear test on 23 February 2006

On 23rd February Krakatau will erupt 1000 feet below the ground at the Nevada test site. Krakatau is a joint British and American “sub-critical” nuc lear test. It involves part of a nuclear weapon. The Krakatau test is a direct nuclear hazard because of the danger of radiation from the test. It undermines moves to tackle the proliferation of nuclear technology. How can we expect Iran to listen to our calls for restraint when we are testing parts of nuclear weapons ? The test is also a step along the road to designing a new British bomb. The test device consists of plutonium surrounded by high explosives. The explosive is detonated to compress the plutonium. The experiment is not designed to produce a nuclear yield but it is a key part of nuclear weapons’ research. Krakatua is the latest in a series of tests called Stallion. The first test in the Stallion series, Vito, was a joint US/UK experiment on 14 February 2002. A second name used for this test was “Etna”. Vito/Etna was “designed to answer questions about ejecta and spall associated with plutonium. Ejecta is a violent spray of particles propelled from a material’s surface when it is compressed by a powerful shock wave. Spall is the breakup of material from the explosive shock wave reflected back from the surface” The focus on ejecta explains why two of the tests were named after volcanoes. The US carried out further tests in the Stallion series on 29 August 2002 (Mario), 26 September 2002 (Rocco) and 25 May 2004 (Armando). After Krakatua, the final test, Unicorn, will be carried out later in 2006. These tests will provide data for the US nuclear weapons programmes: “Krakatau and Unicorn will provide the critical real-time performance data the national laboratory’s 3-D computer codes need to certify our nation’s nuclear deterrent”. The British government is also likely to claim that the test will help be to maintain the safety and reliability of the existing Trident warhead. But this is only part of the truth. The computer codes can be used both to verify existing weapons and also to model new warheads. In the case of the US programme the data will play a key role in the Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW) study. The initial focus of RRW will be to design a plutonium pit for a new Trident warhead that may replace W76. The study has been asked to design a warhead that would be available by 2012. Britain uses a copy of the W76 and the scientists at Aldermaston will be very interested in RRW.