Listen

News 88.9 KNPR
Classical 89.7 KCNV

member station

KNPR

Are Nuke Tests Coming To Nevada Again? And Are They Needed?

teapot_met_001.jpg

By Photo courtesy of National Nuclear Security Administration / Nevada Site Office/Wikimedia Commons

Operation Teapot, the Met Shot, a tower burst weapons effects test April 15, 1955 at the Nevada Test Site.

Nevada since 1951 has been the site of the detonation of nuclear weapons both above and underground.

But the last test was in 1992.

John C. Hopkins is a retired nuclear physicist who ran the nuclear weapons program at Los Alamos National Laboratory. And with a new president, he’s raising questions about the potential for new nuclear tests in Nevada.

Hopkins told KNPR's State of Nevada that nuclear tests might be needed simply to tell if the nuclear weapons currently on hand still work.

“I think that it could be very difficult indefinitely to maintain the stockpile without some level of nuclear testing,” he said.

Hopkins said the weapons might be fine over the next couple of years but they're not meant to last forever. 

However, he warned that it's been so long since nuclear tests have been done in the United States, the current crop of nuclear physicists wouldn't have the knowledge to do them right away.

“I don’t think there are enough people around who have had hands on experience with nuclear testing to field a test today.” 

In addition, he added, it would take a huge sum of money to restart the testing program, because the equipment is old.

“There is a lot of work to be done and a lot of catching up to do if we were to start again,” he said, adding that reviving testing would really be more like reinventing it because the technology is older and some of the equipment isn't even around anymore.

Support comes from

And he would worry about the possible effect on Las Vegas, which has grown to more than two million people. The Las Vegas Strip, he also said, is now home to several high-rises which could be more affected by the tremors from an underground nuclear blast.

“Before we resume testing, there would probably be some national emergency. Some overwhelming reason to resume testing because the political uproar would be terrific otherwise,” he said. 

Editor's note: this story originally aired in May 2017.

Guests

John C. Hopkins, nuclear physicists, retired, Los Alamos National Laboratory

You won’t find a paywall here. Come as often as you like — we’re not counting. You’ve found a like-minded tribe that cherishes what a free press stands for.  If you can spend another couple of minutes making a pledge of as little as $5, you’ll feel like a superhero defending democracy for less than the cost of a month of Netflix.