Scientists Spruce Up Nation's Oldest Nukes

Scientists Spruce Up Nation's Oldest Nuclear Bombs to Extend Their Shelf Life
Associated Press
Jul. 05, 2006

LOS ALAMOS, N.M. Jul 4, 2006 (AP)? Los Alamos National Laboratory scientists have helped a federal defense agency refurbish its first B61 nuclear bomb, part of the country's effort to certify its nuclear-weapons supply without underground nuclear testing.

The National Nuclear Security Administration's so-called Life Extension Program involves scientists and engineers from around the country opening up the bombs, then refurbishing them with new parts to make sure they still work and last longer.

"Our nuclear weapons were never intended to last this long, and they were not designed to be taken apart, so it is a credit to our scientists and engineers across the complex who have come together to deliver this unit on time," said Tom D'Agostino, NNSA's deputy administrator for defense programs.

D'Agostino compared the program to rebuilding a 30-year-old car with a new carburetor and timing belt so it will last longer. Agency officials said the program should make the B61 last another 20 years.

First produced in the 1960s, the B61 is the oldest weapon in the nation's nuclear stockpile.

The refurbishing program began in the late 1990s, D'Agostino said, and is expected to be complete by 2009. The total cost is about $470 million, though he didn't specify how many bombs will be refurbished.

"It demonstrates an exercising of the nuclear-weapons complex in a manner that hasn't been done in a fairly long period of time," D'Agostino said.

He stressed this is not a new nuclear weapon. The agency said the country hasn't produced any new nuclear weapons since the end of the Cold War.

The NNSA also refurbished the W87 weapon through the Life Extension Program, D'Agostino said. Last week, agency director Linton Brooks announced the country's last W56 warhead had been dismantled.

Information from: The Santa Fe New Mexican, http://www.sfnewmexican.com

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