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Nuclear Test Site Far From Ready, U.S. Audit Finds

September 17, 2002|From Associated Press

LAS VEGAS — With equipment mothballed and experts retired, the Nevada Test Site is not ready to meet an Energy Department goal of resuming underground nuclear weapons experiments within three years, a new report said.

Energy Department Inspector General Gregory Friedman said it would take funding and a presidential order similar to that needed to develop a new type of weapon to quickly resume nuclear testing at the vast federal reservation 65 miles north of Las Vegas.

Replying to a Bush administration order to review nuclear testing readiness, the Energy Department had said this year that it would take 18 to 36 months to prepare the site.

Nevada's lawmakers in Congress say they support renewed testing, if there is compelling evidence that deems it absolutely necessary for national security.

However, the inspector general released a report last week saying that federal investigators found equipment unused for a decade wrapped in plastic and mothballed.

Investigators said almost half of the department's nuclear testing experts have left, and that almost half of the remaining employees can retire in five years.

Basic equipment is not ready, such as a processing plant used for preparing material to plug holes above buried nuclear weapons. Investigators found that the plant has been dismantled since 1992.

The report said it would take an additional $5 million a year for two or three years to ready the site for experiments. Current funding is about $10 million a year.

The report urged the department to hire and train experts, develop a plan to test and replace equipment, and update its testing readiness and computer programs.

Officials of the National Nuclear Security Administration, which operates the test site, agreed with many findings, but they disagreed with the investigators' assessment, saying the test site could conduct experiments if necessary.

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