. antex is 8. high-seeurity Department of Energy ..facility named for its location in the Tex a.

s panhandle, It is, protected by gun-toting guards wearing spit-shined combat boots. "Some of the guys say' that if we just took down a couple of fences, it woul d look like a prison," s ays administrative program manager Jerry Hemphill, one

of nearly 3;000 employees,

In -Ianuary, Pantex officials allowed P'OP'ULAR S.cIEN:C~E inside, the: complex's razor-wire fences for an unprecedented. tour, Building 104·) a new ,$,30millioi structure' of:fici8.ny known as the Weapons Special. Purpose Bay He.. placement Complex, was, etill undergoing safety tests. and had, not yet been classified, Since our visit, it has. gone "bB···In' d the f - hi :_, .',.-e l;ence·, ''''according to Tom w~Wamton,~ public affairs officer at Pant-

chain reaction took place at St.agg ield on the University of Chicago campus, st _. lew . .. Jus. a £i'. -..' years ago~ th.-. Unilli,1.it:U ··.:w,.·s.. ,WW, th-,'Iv': 80- .....' ~·t _e ,.. -4- .... ...1 s· f· .... te "","_..l! . o V),e: Union had a total of about ,50JOOO nuclear weapons in their -l·-...... S··~;1 r.,........ oeen di stockpiles ...some 01f tho nese weapons ha ..... d be '. , II ave WJ.~:'.Y isman4J.],e . ThIe S- ra'.e_glC Arm is Reduetti .on Tr , (ST·· ~A DiT) ell ~ d. I '.:'t t .,\_'_,". ,1."\e' .. I reaty "';;.: ll1.. I·· Cw s. L ,for eutti __ the nuclear I warhead I count from around 9 :'1. .. n,~ 000 _' _-_ ... .. _. -. __ per side to 6~OOO per side .. START II~esigned to. eliminate multiple-warhead, land-based. miesiles=weuld further reI
1 . • •

.

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:,·1,' .o ... uuce the ' .,....+ .. ate''.' g.t.c=we~ponsarsena_s to 3"; 5·.0. 0'- ...._,-.. S ide TI· he '.-.. ~liT- '. ._" -... :. . per , !e,. e 'United States has. already withdrawn aim short-range and naval nuclear weapons formerly stored abroad" and the Russians say' they no longer targ-et the United States with
...JI.,-.
C .- .. .,.' '.,-

j. " ... '.

1

I",

intercontinental ballistic missiles. Can 'we:sigh with relief, and at long last
• '. • w'

lay out fears of nuclear holocaust. to rest?' Tr-- ati e~' n ot only e II £0'-' ·r--· Cl --,
a; , •

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the nations born. of its breaknpagree with the United, States that it is now

tax, It is. here that the next chapter in the epilogue of the Cold War is being written. The Soviet Union is. dissolved, and

time to reduce the stockpile of destruetive energy' stored, up since that day, a litt!t~: more than 50 years ag-o, when the first controlled nuclear

Il...

uum b. ( ). .5 II!., k .rear urGen downl i'nla "ou;r mCli)Or subassemblies (CIa!""' fer), 'w,h'i~hI Fe' di's- '
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A 1... nuclear' 6')

~alldled_5epar'aitely~ The [bDmb hIS about 6/S 80 pariS, SimI' Glf
!L~ Wo'l ~

d an ,-ISP II.y,e.d
t

an "his table.

~e

the dismantling of warheads, but, also for ·the destruction of missiles and other delivery systems. And the production plants for 'fissionable materials-e-the pluto", nium and 'uranium that power nuclear weapons=etand idle. But despite, all these changes, no government has . k ~'b'l · inany _ p1- t r:d estroy or 'rna: .iB tota 1'1'In,s(}CeSS1·-' e :1t.s ,. ans to __ y ventory of fissionable materials, Nuclear firepower is not going out of existence-s-merely into storage, in the fear that Nazi Germany's scientists would be first to implement a concept known to all physicists since the 19,30s~nuclear fiasion. That concept Inflated physics} once a concern only of theorsti cians and tabletop experimenters.". into a huge 'industry and a major instrument of national power, Despite Ge-rmany~s.defeat in the spring of 194.5; the bomb program hastened to its conclusion: Two atomic bombs were dropped on, Japan in August of that same year, The' world was stunned by this new force. The physicists. who

had, created it foresaw the future-vthat 'the Soviets 'would have the bernb soon (th,ey did" by 19.49) and that an arms race would follow, Now that race has finally end .. , ed, and. the eompetitors=who together spent more than a trillion dollars to create their nuclear weapons complexes =-are making plans for the dismanfling of their arsenals. This is. a positive step, but not one that will soon bring an
end to the 'mess caused by nuclear weapons, In their 'farce to 'produce weapons, the cold-warrir g nations contaminated land, air, and 'water with radioactive materials and

The atomic bomb was developed by the United States

:nium~2:a.5:" used in nuclear
bomb makers

toxic chemicals, As much, as 15 percent of the former Soviet Union's territory is now estimated to be unfit for hu ... man habitation .. In the United States, the cleanup is expeeted to take decades and win cost at least $.200 billion. Weapons disrnantli ,',g in the 'next few years will add to this legacy an estimated 2,5 tons of highly enriched ura .. · nium and ten tons of plutonium" Nat-ural. uranium ore is mostly madre up of uranium .. 238; lese than 1 percent is the chain-reacting isetope ura ..
weapons, 'Tb obtain U,·235" extract it from U -238, a. slow and trementechnology, Reversing the 'process" however, is easy: Just mix 'U~235jback. into

dously expensive process that requi re s complex

natural uranium to produce a slightly enr iche d. fuel th ·at e, t ... . carn_- b . .~'e con ... ~
sumed in subma- ~ rme or civil-,~
:::;:::

Disa.ssenlbling
a nluellear

G.ling rid of its ,radi'oa live

BY KEVIN CAMEI,ON

,-

ID STORY OF PANI
I

-THE
irrl:

ITED STATE· ,

SPEC:IAL DELIVERY
Weapo,n,s arri~e at ·P'ante.x

armareld'~ gbJia:rd-edl!

trucks known as Safe 8ec.u~e Tra,ctor-trailers,~ or SSrfs. 'Aad~o and ~atenile equiip;ment eFl,a:ble~s ~6ve,rn m,ant offici aJ s ~Q track truekS' wher:eaoolJts
at~U times.

..,..rII.~.,...".

j''Elars! t~e Department of Energy Has dtsassemb!1ed diose to 50! 0'00 wea,p ons, Not: ai! o,f I' "e W!lapan&jl howeverm have been "eti red Some w·e re taken apart for te's'~ing., . ~g-aiCQ UlliCU. -'.IJIJ an· dJ>1iIii;r..i:3~. Ih\~n i"aOOOi'8' ·m·t;!I........a '0:'+th'e' JIi'd -W' e' re~trof:itt.edto oreat~ 11ew·weapQlns,. W:eapofls arrive at Pame'x in arlmored., guarded '1.rucks and 8lre stated lin bunk:ers. (see illustraf[on:s at right. The' weapons ~r.e inspected, separated ~nl0 sobass~emblie5! and fin-.I~~boJ~erlcown ~1iOO'indiV1~~ua·1 'for' parts r~elh1g ot d;i's,.. osal Workers separate Me ; errlica explosive;s and [radii oactve maie~ :r:iI:eiJs. then s·tore fhe weapons.l' plutonium pits. PahtQ~ has the ea pac lity· to dlils$SemrSle
!.

, .' on now its dis,ass1embl,y·. (!m'ph)1,ee'$, WOr.K on ,about feu r nuclear w·~.apons, wpes in a. y's.af:t. o;u~ of about ·30 in U1'9 U~S.arsenall. Bunng the past 40-pliUS

; .. was ORlee'resporJ·s.ibh~ for a.sbl i~lg wea.pons ~lbUi: K'S mere imPQr:~
f

IIISASSI.IlY tEl L
chemllical explosives, th~, eo nta i'rling rad:ij@la,_e;tivm· mate fica I g,oe's to a 'I'Ge,II:'" b tJ rjeli bEH:1te~atb. morle than 15 f:·eet 'Of gtavel and tSsntt There." BxplosixtBS ars S6 . he Ired i{)c..

n ,i!t co n tm,hilS, s:ens,itiv~
pDrt~on Dlf the we.aJPon

·'-"~lilJd·

.~_I

I

."~ Q ' . ·.. -.I-~

I"'n

8=61'bomb

A wea,pon su ~-n as U, e
ItS

broken dewn

wn~GEIare fu rtbe r re clUced

tntar its ~n.dlaS5em:blilesl

to the u S2iL1l0S of ir:reUvid tJ fa

I

,~\Jt

SiPSe!

2i!OOO weapons, P~lfyear. But al that rate~1he 1~~,lanf soon ~l1Jnut o~storage wm o

:crushed beyOnd ~e.C:·gnifiian;
~

parts, Parts 'that are not reused 01 reqydled are

I?roposa~ now on thee tab~e'would aJiow P.:antet1<1''b). eXp81Mdthe· stora'g'e, spacs"fo'r p[is~
IQ

p~ $, which are no longer se .-.~ -wa~to be made ~~t() ew bomb conge. a n 'hioI1WOIJ~a rel.llai~ af tt1,e plant lOr an

feu plurtblllum

; ~~ntle!lrn" period of: slx to ten yearsl .A~r that ~ '~e pits coufrdbe moved! to another storage
~ .• hi! .• =~:all!Vi _S·\J. ~ n ii:.i"/n ~Qver ~ s +e

The ex plosi VieS hem isp~,e~ical .shal1lls cut away trern the plutonium core, are burned cutdoors.
I

ian power reactors, Without the extraction technology, the mixture is useless for bomb production. Plutonium, however, is a problem ..Nonexistent in. nature, 1 toni , t d ·'1 PIIU,:_cDlum.is creat e. m nuclear reactors bv i d' .. nat..y irra hating ' ural uranium with neutrons, Unlike 'U~2c3S,plutonium can be-chemically extracted from any mixture 'with ease .. Arms control experts believe plutonium is relatively safe, in fixed sto-rage at military bases or dismantlement centers, The cost of such storage is ,estimated at $1 to $2 per gram, or between $3:00 million and ,$,600 million per year worldwide-vnot too much to pay for protection against the unauthorized use .of this dangerous, cancercausing material. /
/

Greater risk occurs in transit. A. special armored "white train' 'W'8 son ce used to con vey U. S,. nuclear weapons to Pant .. the nation's only dismantlement cenex,

ter. Now a 'fleet of 70 special armored trucks, escorted by heavily armed guards, transports weapons to. the 16,000.-

acre plant, located east of Amarillo, Texas. The bombs", warheads, anti artillery shells that the trucks transport to Pantex are delivered to an area called Zone 4 and temporarily stored in "igloos," bunkers made of reinforced <concrete covered 'with at least three feet of soil, From the igloos, weapons are moved to buildings, that are designed for inspection, assembly; and disassembly -h.c. ··1114·t 4· ~Ull1!. , .•... ... ,. r tH8S. B ildirng 10'4;, one such :I.SlCll1LiIlY, con t ams ellg ht k
n

)

Nue
'WEAPOIIS JIIOUli,1
l 1

NSDI
The wea:p,one are te1mpQrari ly stored ~n€Url"OO'V~ erred concrete bunk:,efs e.al~et:l~'i,glhlO~St'~ giant A forklift moves 5 ,000·p-lund oone'-rate bloeks away from ttle 19~oodoo,rs to permit access.

NICENIE

Techn~e ~an~~ak~ apart: weapons in
"bays! ~~ l1ieh w

DISMSIMB;LY BAY
iors, Ttl e

inne r doors san not be opened untilt the outer Cloors are elosed. Weapons, ~altea to carrtees, are· ronaid into he bay,s
thmbl'§~,rr th,e ta'~'gelr;doers.

walls, 81'01 p a

ncJJ,v,eth'ick!

heavy'

-

The steel conta iner goes,. 'to an

SIORAG'E

tonium and w'~apo!nsare',stored in separate iglloo,g~but 'Ihe

igfloo f-or

i,

II1~ef~m~tora'ge. s

PI u-

PlUID, I The, :bomtY.s 'Gare~a plltrt:,oniurm

i~rjt~

[lg! nos are. 'oi 'ide~tticBJli constni ction.

'0f mertal-is praced "n a me't84': hOll:de:(;, whi-c,fj IS eta red ~nside an il1suJllated stee i con1,ai ner,

~(lveJngdw~th a protective jeaok,et

.-

.

,~I

~~bays,.t==-large,heavily shielded rooms. The walls consist of

15 feet of earth sandwiched between a pair of two-footthick Iayers of concrete, and the entranees are protected 'by 1)100·'pound doors. The floors are made from, paint chips that are 'mixed with polyurethane to form a spongy material deemed unlikely to set off explosives, While! there is little danger of a nuclear detonation, it's possible that the chemical explosive of a weapon could blow Up' during the disassembly process. If that were to happen, the room's shielding would help contain the; blast, In one of the bays, technicians operate a powerful X-ray machine that can penetrate 15 inches 'Of steel, "You want tc k'now' 'W'h61.:·) lie weapon sys t' ma con;dition is b ~ you t' th o .. e lit on i nerore

dismantle it," explains Randall L., Hodges, production 80,pervisor for nondestructive evaluation. 'Iechnicians place a weapon on a Iarge turntable, Film is attached to a screen behind the turntable; pointed at the weapon is a linear accelerator suspended from a gantry-s-a jumbo version, of the X,·,ray machine your dentist points at your cheek, A, computer automatically controls the movement of the 'turntable- and. Iinear accelerator, and. the technicians can watch the X,-ray image as it's being made Then they can add false-color enhancement to detect flaws, After the X... ray inspection, the weapon goes to an, assembly/disassembly bay, "You use e ssenti ally' the same
~'~IPUlAI S(IEN1(E APRH ] '9 9:3: • 67
1

I

Fa'mni~lrfuels I~ke, oa~and gasolilrl~ dedve theilf ene1rgy mrom, ~he o el~ectrical force'S 'that bind one atom to ano~her in ctlemica~ co m.. , pounds. These forces, are med~ated bV the' :n egati:ve~ry'cha~ged e ectrons o'rbiting ~very atom's tiny nucleus, N'uelear ,energy e,xlsts itl ~:he'far sltron'geJ~sh onorrange forces that homd ~heate mit: nu,.. cleus toglsth sr. 'The, nucleus, is, lmade up of positively charged protons and !In.c:harged neutrons-send ls 2:,,000 or rn~re· tlmas ihe's'vliieJ than the el~ectron cloud Sillrlround.ing i~, Bei~ngposii~ively ch,8Irgled! the, protons rs pei each other ,siron gly..To ,confine ~he'm in. the t~ny nucleus, the nuclear torces lmust b.e eno!rmoUls~y POW'8IITul. Mos~ atomlc n IJ'clrei are s~abl,e--ti1e' f'omes, hol'diI1g ~hemiOQletne r are subs·tantiailly' greate'r than the forces te,ndiingl to make them fly apart. A few'types erie unstabl,e:; in ,8, given pop'Ula.ti~on~ k,no!wn a ,,...,.:j:.' ·1[1' .1'81 ri 1Il·.h· .d I . . f.racnon 'WI,· d' .n,e!QlrSite 'W~U a set tl.me pence reheasing f r:ag~ -~,~n menta. and ,8, lot o,f' energy. F.o,r a t·me., sci·en1:is~ believ,ed fhere was no wa.'j' to rielea,se th~:s ene~rgyon demand~ IBut. in 1932,. En~ g.ish p hyEdciiiSt S,j r JaJmes IClhadwlick discovered the exists'nee of 'the neutron, ,B 9cause i~ has no o.harge~, a free, neutron can ap-' preach and 'en~:ar the nucla·us without: being ·electrii\caUty repelled, Just months beiore Wor'ld Wair I[~ beg\an, Gennan physicists, Lfse Meitner and OttO' Frisch discovelried that hiittin'g ~he nucleus ot 'a Uir,an~um atom wli~h a neutron causes the nuci:eus to break apart -to 'fissi,on-with considerable release of ,energy. Abso'rption of the extra n9umroln makes the al,ready overs ized u ran:ium n UCl'9US sillightiY' bi'gge r; red uCii'ng the ~!gri p'JJ,of 'the short ..range n uolear forces eno ug hi to' a~llow n udlealr' fiss~iQn. When phys.icists learned tha,t each such u ran iu m flss lon re ~eages two or more neuieons, th,sy' knew at once that n uoles,r explo,sives, 'wer,e. a, possibiliitlty., The neutrons rei~easedby fi.ssiion could hit other nuclei, 'OClJusing ,8, rpron~ipt chaJiln· reacflon. ' Scientists developed methods 'for IP:repar1n,g h~:gtlpurtmy· uraniiu m and .. plutonium in quanUt'ies sumci~ent.for use in bombs, by 1945. W'rth ·the, bomb ingr1edients in hand" ,pl1iY,$,icists, had to figure, ·OW how 10 produce an eXlP'~OSiVlere~!ea,seof ,ene'rgy fro,m ~hem.~ a sima'!! chunk n of fissionablie material, many ol 'the neutron,s produced by flsslon escape from the su mace befor'8 they can hilt aili1oti~ler nucleus and cantin ue 'the [reaction. The big,ge1r' the ,oJn unk, !hle farther the neu'Irons must travelto ir!eac:h'~hesUlrf'ace, and th1e more U'ke,ly ~heyare '[0 hit ,and 'fission ,other nuclei. At a particu,lar size termed 'the critical m ass en ough neutrons hit other n ucl ei 1:0, produce a chal n reaction, Th,e p rob lelm was 1:0'bund a bomb in 'whfch ~he critics! mass 'wouilld come toglether quick y-otherwi;se'r the, chain rea,cUon wou~d blow 'the de'vice apart befJore, any large,·ens.rgy re~lea,se could occur. Us.ing Lllmnium,~orne sub-crhlcal mass could be' Ii red into, anothe-r in a gun bSJrel! cre\a;ting a crit~cal mass tha.t would' produce a nu.. ellear expl~os'ive,yje:~d P Ilwton ilbJ m W'Ci$ diff,erent Unavoi:daJb,le, imp,~riUes, em itited so' many' ne utrons ttl at a piuton ium ~~g un-type:~ bo mb would begi n react! ng p'rema~u~e!ly! lowing itself apart before a sig,nificant percentage, of b '~he rnaterl al could fiss:~on. The sollutionl was the con capt: ,om imolo.. " ~" Ii' ,~ SII'on. BY' p:llaclng ,8 S!dg htl su·~ ntu::ail mass O~i pI·· I Um ··d ,9 a . ..:.y b-crtti 'II ,-0 U"on InS,I,.: sphar~cal she~II,ofconvennonal cllhemical·exp!llosives.~ 'then detonating tne e,xplosive's sy~mmetrical~y" tfie ~:).Iuto,ni.um can be cornpressed 'very quiJck'~y=im:ploded. The Budden inere~e ~ndens ifly makes, neutrons more ~ i~k,elyto h it the tighter"'packed' nuclei, causjlngl the, mlater,~amto becomre ,supercritllcaJ~ and beg in fissio,ni nlg~ IModem bOlmbs oontain two· layeirs of chemrncal e,~p'losiv,es.. T~'N:! in 11err :Iayer of fast-bu rni ng che'm i~caleXlplosiv,es is covered b,y a composite layer o.f both f~t-, and sIO'w~bur1n~ng explosives, I(see n... lustra tiol1), ,arranged! as m ultiple~j~exlPk~sive lenses ~ 'line,s€) le:nses, ~ tlrans,fo rm sphert:ca ~deto:nat~onwaves o,rtginating from each detat
1
i
c

lin ~ boml{~~o~.I.st; .nd S~oriuf~i ngaxplOsi~ form lID euterlayaf .~
lo_t

,expletive r,nses~ creallng a un.la,nn detonltion wave latused on ~ llh. plumarum pit,. The tJlP1;per'ads CIlI. a ~ammer 10 (,om press lfite, pit~ ~ $
nator, il'nloa unilonm, ~nward moviing detonatlon wave focus,ad on .. 'the pi utonl u m pj t The ,ctl emlie,s[1 explos ives accele rats a, slPheJ~call component ~alled the 1ttamperr/r·e~lect:or-inw'8rd at htglh speed (severam miles per second), The tamperlreilector, sornefrnes made in m ultip~e layers of d~rffereni1tt ater.ia,lis, acts as a ham mer to com preea th e pit m to the! GrUical stags" A space ilrlside the tampler/tr,e'~lector alllOw.s "t to gaiiin vlelocity before striking the pit. The tamiper/refl,ecilor also refieets neutron s back intO the' p!'UI~on~'Umii~to inc reaselts rats .i01l rep action, and 'it .s~ ows the in [~ialrats of 9xlP,ans~on of the reactingl plt, kee'ping: j,ts densit.y high as llong as possible,to prolong tlhe reacfion for a [9reatsr ,e.xp ~os.iveyie ld. A 'f'ew neutrons a Ire' needed to. tMigge r the 'fissio 11 process, 111 ,earilty de~dgns, the hollow' center of title p:llutoniium pit c,on~ained an lnlnator, a device, that: e·mi!tted ns ut ron s, IlinIcu;rem des r gns~ neutrons are iI1jected into the bomb core by a SlPeclal-purpose V,Qcuum tu~e. The first ~mp~osl~on bombs used 1: to 1:'3pounds o~ p' utonEuUlr-,?J, 1
.
.

sphere a liittl'Q ov,sr three

inches. in dlarneter=-and about 2,,000 pounds of' ell em leal exp,losh/,e,. R;fdil~"U9dco'mpu,ttlgr model.s O'f' ibom b physics have· perlmlitted g,reat reduction:s in size~ 'C;urrent i:mlP~o", sion ..typs, bom,bs can be built ,at ~eastas smal'l as a baske~ban and

i

j

can 'wei'gh .as Iittle as 50 pounds. !PhysiciSts, knew' :in 19,4.0 th;at even an .atomit(: bomb would be a n11iinorIPower source ,comlpa.red 'with the mlBchanism the,t drives the sun ,and othe r sta.rs-~nuclear w~sion. At the pressure in the co re of! a star,. pai r.s om hydrogen nuclei fuse '~O form he,llj'um nucl:e11i"Wlith 'a

fa.'cilitie,s· for either production or dism.antlem,ent,/~ says G erald W" ,Johnson" th,e' sen~or Department of E,neJ"gy of·, :ticial at. the, plant. Insid.'e the h;eavily' 'red'n:fo,:r',ced b,8!'y~ workers bre,ak down weapons into subasse'm,blies,. The ve'l"satile B=!61 bomb that's ,c,arried by Air For,ce' ,and Navy plan"es, for ex,ample, is broken ·into four sections: the ;·ose con,e, a center section ,containing radioactive m,ate:rials, an. armin.g s,ection". and .a '·taI] ,secti on' that contains a pa.rachute. 10 le,arn how to take th,e weapon apart" wor:ke,rs train o'n a simulato'r th.at looks just like
1

th ... real thing; b·ut has 'mock radioac,tjYe eompone:n'ts .. ~~ It 'takes workers as long as three' weeks, to dis.assemble s til! , S,nm· -I,e w··a iQlp:·O·.'n-:: ~ut· ,. s'_,.'B··,-,6··, 1 c'!,~ .., "e·' tak',· ,on a·,p'a·· 'rt r'· 'D a'b; 0'-·,u-,t a ':. Oln· ,,' ,I " . day~, After the bomb is broken dow,n into its four sub;;; :a.,ss.emblie·s,th,e 'nose -cone is sent to a Department of Ener,gy plant in, Kansas Cfuty~ 'The segment eo:ntainin,g the 'radioactive material and che:mical ,explosf'v'Bs, known as the ~'physics pa,c'kag,e/' usually goes to anothe'r buil1.ding fO'r sp1ecial ha'nd'liing~ The remafunin.g' parts. are returned to oth,e'r· fa.cilities, for f,euse-, o:r "disfigured.'" to proteet s'eicr,et
'U
I _ .

IIo:.>Q",..

_ . ':I'

b-'

II;'

I, '

.'..

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'"

68 • F' POLAR S( liE~( [ APR IL ] 9 9 3,
1 ~I

·I.CLEAR ilEA -lTV

NU:VlMEJAL NIIIII.ON SH1JIDlN'GW

these cans, and they must pass herculean tests: a 30"{oot drop to a slab" a 40~inehdrop to a spike, a 1,475°F fire for 3·0 minutes, immersion in water for eight hours, and a load of 6·",500pounds for 24 hours. Inside" the. secondary is a "wrapper" of heavy uranium .. 238..The wrapper covers. a sealed cylinder of lithium deuteride and ,8; central plutonium rod, The' lithium deu ... teride is pyrophcrie--dt ignites spontaneously if exposed . ;. " .' F'I-h 'lll d. to aIr-so 'it reqmres specual .care. r'rne pJ!U!toni .onium roc 18 removed, cased, and stored, Any other valuable materials are recovered, and the t'18:St is ground to bits.
". B -61's "primary" ~i ts fissionable: Clore-=ms dismantied at Pantex in one of the plant's 12 "gravel gerties," ssmiburied struetures in 'which a. thick gravel-andsand leap covers a 4cell ,;'with reinforced walls ~In. the event of an accidentalchemical explosion that might disperse plutonium, '''the grave] would rise a few feet and set~le down, containing the radiation," explains ,Jerry Hemphill, Workingin the gravel-covered cells, gloved technicians

FIRS' "'SIMI HAtil~ ' '..

UrnllUM ."111111'

lClr.ftt.l1'II Inll r 1'A1lII ,;J,~p rU1M~ ;JIII~

"iii ft·

.

SKOMD S,TAGE

1lITR0li (IWUIEL ill

adi~nr~ crfindritd Issamlll¥-. lIIe fusion fue~ lith- m deull!ri'de :i_s, ""eti f between a 1U-238uwrappef' and II g~park pllgN.I 0l.235 ~r plutonium.
if

Iln lhis tlhennonL1~febr levice X~ra,s from '. ,6·s·sionbamb iridale' fUl$'ioDi'nan
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wearing lead aprons and shielded face masks remove the primary's outer casing', Inside, they may find an "electric blank,ee;=8 heater designed to maintain the chemical explosives. at ,an. optimal temperature, Beneath the blanket is. the spherical ,sh'eMEof explosives, protected by ·8 close- fitting j acket, Thirty ..two or more exploding-wire detonators are bonded to the outside of the spherical primary; their job is to. symmetrically ignite the chemica] explosives." Each detonator is connected=through high-speed, solid-state switches-to its own eapaeitor, Like a car engi n 8·" an atomic bomb has a capacitor discharge ignition, Located near the detonators are thermal batteries, de1

vices that have a. long shelf life and can deliver a lot of

hydrogen~lfusioil bomib=-1Jr H-bom~was, poas~blle,. -,Mathem.a~ician ·Stajnle'y' Ula,m tl'nd physicist Edw8rrdl Tener devised ,8 means 5)'f Ulsiiing an-atomic exploslon's generolJs output of soft .K-r;a.ys.to' comoress and liinitiia.te 'fUl$liOn in a (:yl~ rica]l assernnd b~y outside '~he spherical atom lc bo mb ~ or primary ('see' i III sfrau tmon)~A radliat~onchannel conducts. a fracnon of the atomi~c prin1Bry·~sX..ray output onto nhe, surtace ()f the fusion asse,mlOly. The fusion fuel-a dry, c-eramh::li'I<:9sa.~t, ~ithiumdelJjtlerilde~15 confined ib,etwe'sn a, nWlrappe r" of u ran iu m-·238 and a. fliiss;lionabl',e inner rod , P * -. .e ,;um Of' U -",'..:, '~ ca'!1 e·d th s' ,,_ '11<'" . PIIUQ. ,_ ~- -, 0 'f - I'Uilon~ . 2--'35 " nl' ILl - .spa'
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hUQ,e energy release, If thi.s process could be initiated on 'Ea,fitttl~e,

current on demand, During the arming sequence, the batteries charge the capacitors" which discharge across the detonators when the firing signal is given, While the bomb is being disassembled, the detonators and their capacitors. are shorted, so that external electromagnetic fields cannot somehow induce ,8 discharge.

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nel dh"ects ~ntense X ..tr,ay ene'rgy 'from ·the e.xp.lioding Iprtm,ary onto the surface! o'f the fusion a5semibilly'~ causing n to vaporize exolosive'ly. This causes the' fuston acSs:emtb~iy to j~rec,oil" inward~ 'compressing i,tself to 'itts ~:gnttion po~nt.Si mu Ita~eOUlsl~y'~ neutrons, entle1r the now,-cr~t~fca~ t~spark.p.~ug!~ caus:ing it to. fission, ~Intense neutron 'wluxconverts the U~.23;f3, wrapper to nssiionabl,e form, and it too explodes, This Uf!plie reaction traps the fusion fueil tor an extend ed timle perloo at very' h~ghtemperature and pressure, incireas,ing 'ttle ~ fusion yi€'ld As a bonus, the iUtJh ~um i11 the Iithi urn deut,eride ~ s transmuted ii:nto tlr.itium!, 'which itse,lf peu1~,c~patesin the, fuslon reacnon. Such a weapon is th us a fiiiss,ion- fus;~on-'fission device. In this wa·'. .an ii'm'" o f3ri·l1lg. ato mie prlrna '~J' O-"f~8' f'ow,. 111~il'o,"*o"'1\~of energ"',1 can rv .J~I . ".. p.I ~ r\~.. ttl.. J" tr;~ggelra sH~~ver.aI·~hundrrod~ki~oton secondary, which 'can itt" fusion
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Illgnition of the fuston assem'bly begins when the radiiia.tion chan-

The' chemical explosives on the exterior of the spherical primary are high-density (almost twice that of 'water}" high-energy stuff, far more energetic and fast ... burning' than dynamite, yet very resistant to 'unintended! discharge from shock or heat, 'Work,ers, use a water-jet saw to cut through the dark, waxy material, revealing the bomb's core, The hemispherical shells of high explosives that are removed are later burned on. trays in an open field,

~urtl tr\~gger ml~,ich a la.rge·r .secofN]1 fusion shl.g,em,-;K~ C.

recovered from the mangled parts, which are sent away for recycling or disposal, The total cost for disassembling

design, information. Gold and other precious. metals are

a single weapon i.s between $10,.000 and $25,,000.. Som·e weapons, like the B,-61 bonib, are two-s,tage th,ennoD'uclear arms. The,se types contain .a fusion asslem:bly know.n simply as the "'se,condary.;" Pa.ntex s,ends .se,condlari,es. 'to the 'Y~12plliant in Oak Rid.g,e., Tenn,., for storage or disa.sse·m bly. Each, seconda.ry· is, shi pp,ed in a double-

With. the explosives removed, technicians can see a protective plating of gold or another .inert material. B'6neath it ia steel-gray beryllium; Of' ura.ni'um-,238-the spherical tamper, As the chemical explosive wave .rush.. es inward, the tamper's mass, acts as a hammer that strikes the plutonium pit-the bomb's fuel-s-from all directions simultaneously. The pit is suspended in the center of the hollow tamper's inner cavity, Thi s insignifican t-looking, gra pefru °i t-size 1um p contains energy' that can. 'level cities. Heavier than at lead ball of the same size, the sphere is perpetually warm from its steady release of energy. Plutomum is highly reactive, so the pit is, hermetically sealed. in, a jacke t of stainless steel or a similar metal, "If you can picture a grapefruit skin with 'the fruit removed," says Tom Walton, "the steel is like the yellow part O'~. the skin" and the

plutonium. ISthe white part just under th,e yel1ow~The in-,
The s.teel jack.et, pre¥ents th,e ]Plitt from giving off :parti.cles that could. be inhaled. or ing,es:ted, but it does not block the careinogenilc gamma radiati'on emitted by th,e
I[Continued on .page .102]
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tempt a run on the, short course, but spin ou.t after the first 'mile or SOF .'The short course makes 300 mph even more difficult, but the Mazda has enough power if the traction holds,

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laced, wi h chemical s, nothing grow's on the salt itself but where it thi it ur: ins 'near', the edges, d ark patches of desert soil show through and a few' weeds .a.e t k roo. t OV1e:rthe years, potash mi nirig operations pumping brine across,

take up informal nautical tactics to avoid. CO,I ,r sions, The: two courses are laid out on, the remains of an, inland sea that left its ancient beaches high on the side of the surrounding 'moun-

mental difference bel ween aerodynamie theory and practice, At about 230 'mph, the Mazda loses traction at the rear wheels, angles sideways, and then actually rises into the air-apparently

li~d~'ilie

that runs. on, the edge of the lake h ,8 ve ,g rad.ually redeposi t ed salt on the other side of the road, slowly shrinking the main lake bed. ,A "Save the Salt" com m i,t te e has been formed and the mining company has agreed to pump water back across the road, reversing the erosion. Unfort.unately, the project is caught up in, ,a gridlock of government studies, Thi sis di s~ concerting to the racers, who have seen the course shorten by more than b mile as the a. lake oed shrinks,
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interatate

flow OV[9r the rounded shape of the body-before landing [on the roof, an unpredictable aerodynamic aberration. Despite the damage, the car is re~ pair-able, " and Mederer VO\VS. be will return. 1, '\ViII the rest of the carni va 'ill , hoping for a dry track, and an ens

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addictive mixture, the spee d records at Bonneville' a kind of front ier that grabs the imagination 'but some'how still seems within reach of logger R~ B,~ John Slagle of [Grants Pass, Ore" Slagle is j! uet c imbi n g down from the cab of a 1948 In.. terns tional Harvester truck that once ran. the, mountain grades; a body selected because of its narrow, aerodynamic cab. He has rep laced. the

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8pa~, --~~~-~-~~~~~~~~~~~--~~~~-~~~~~~_~ ~ir~t.a~ddra~gth'~ng'_lit~ ,B, child sitting Wlh:>th Unfortunately 'it doesn't. The car ,81;0in '1! tor weight, t 8 .. een a. 'wet year, eelerates off the line and disappears in and the salt is marginal at best. After the, distance, A few minutes later the the rain and. 'two d.ays of dry weather, radio announces there has been a the long track is still mush, and, the [crash, hut that Mederer has emerged short course is full of holes' that must unhurt from the wreck. be filled and scraped. Several cars atA videotape demonstrates the fnnda8
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huge engine pushes Slagl e"s ancient truck to well over '200 mph 'before' both front tires blowout, dropping the nose to two steel skis under the front wheels as it slides to. a halt, 'You know) to someone who loves engines, this is. Carnegie, HaU," hie-says, IISl
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plutonium, The amount of radiation that workers receive depends on how' [close to the plutonium they are, how long they are exposed, and how well
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government's limit for r a. di a tion workers. The average person who

d.oes not work around r adiation receives .8 little more than at third of a rem, per year- from natura] radiation,

out of storage space fer the plutonium -+t·_ '. ' '. im pI S.. .arou_n d the end of tl his ·s- imer ..,....," . u.. . .. There ,ate, two proposed! solutions: [Convert more igloos to pit storage or bezin stacking th e prit contamers on tai IBgIn sl ki top of each other inside the igloos. Current regulations prohibit both, of 1: r' _ '_ .~ these strateaies but ifTexas aporoves" · 'I . t an environmental impact assessment -:-,. "".:ed b pre,par-...y . e DO:-:'E -,_.-, Ie rules ... uld _ _~~ ooru., .. .~.jL ., . nit mterim s·!rage. b,e 'Cil,ange>d-, tc permit [f';:': . te · . ,,.. tor . ". 0
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are reserved for weapons). "We havre always [stored] pits here, but only temporarily;" says Hemphill.

piling' up at Pantex? Theodore. 'Taylor, a former bomb de:signer now concerned about weapons

the plutonium

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Guarded storage may be the best solution • ,'N'• ow:'e pt-.' in "interim" !o' ,Of1. ,:; z k ::'1 st - . age, plutonium could eventually be deposited. in sealed deep geologic fO'T1_

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proliferation" suggests uaing the space shuttle or heavy 'booster rock .. lets to shoot the world's supply of plutonium into 'the sun. The 'problem " h thi ," '. .h . . c nauenger'WlI1t.. this 1 d ea IS t at. a C"'-:h l"l type accident could have eatastroph.
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reactor waste, The land above such a site would have to be guarded for millennia; only half of the plutonium will havre decayed after 241000. years, But the Pentagon and the Department of Energy are in no hurry to

Until recently, the pits were sent to the Rocky Fiats plant outside Denver

to be made into new 'bomb cores, but that plant is, now inactive. Pantex cur .. rently has the capacity to dismantle approximately 2,.000 warheads per year,

but at that rate, the plant will' run

ti :'-.. '-, e,,t·-..k propose,.. nSJln,. un d er ,I:· . g'" -,.-.... 10n,~ 'h·" e; ~ -I" -.. " d . ground nuclear explosions to mix and vitrify plutonium into millions of tons of miles-deep roek=-making a highly diluted and inaccessible ore. But . if ythi agaIn, 1. an:' mg wen t wrong, the ~ ._ ,!_!>;II .. : comsequ... '-'.enees 'could b e se vere
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later be. "recy cled.~~The making of fresh bomb s from old is a long -88 tabIished practice. Like their American counte rpart, th e former Soviet republ ies have not yet developed firm plans for permsnent disposal. Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Belarus inifially agreed to 'return. their arms to. Russia. for dis-

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mantlement, but they ar,e nnw balk .. · ing at giving UP' these powerful bargaining chips ..Ukraine, in partieular, wants a guarantee of military
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When dense- cold air is displaced by a balloon, it imparts. more lift to the craft than thinner; warmer air does. Earthioinds' anchor 'balloon, which contained a fixed volume of chilly ground ..level air, accordingly gai ned about '900 pounds of weight as it rose into the warmer air in. the 'upper lay .. er of the. inversion, And the 'helium balloon lost about 200 pounds of lift as its charge of gas chilled, Thus the craft's ability to continue ascending suddenly vanished. The crew dropped 6,50 pounds of steel shot and water ballast and acti .. vated an on..board heli u:m replenish ~ "~. ,: _ I:' m .e nt S' Y stem b U t th,e SI'e ,ai,.,' .',1: ' actaons proved to. 'be too Httle an.d. too late to alter the craft's immense momentum. At the 'moment of impact, the anchor balioon's underside was about 30 feet shy of clearing the peak,
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