Nevada Test Site to get nuke project

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LAS VEGAS - The Nevada Test Site will receive a major nuclear physics project from another U.S. Department of Energy laboratory, and the agency's Nevada office could receive $35 million a year to operate the machine.

A pulse-powered generator, called Atlas, is under construction at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. It will be completed and tested, then moved to the test site, 65 miles northwest of Las Vegas, late next year.

The Atlas generator will be reassembled, certified and ready for operation in 2002. The generator is used to examine nuclear weapons materials under high pressure and high stress.

''It's an important technology that we were hoping to get,'' DOE spokeswoman Nancy Harkess said Thursday. ''It is very prestigious.''

Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., said about $30 million has been approved for completing the project at Los Alamos.

The funding for operating the machine, estimated to cost $35 million a year, is under development, he said.

The generator will provide important information for keeping the U.S. nuclear weapons arsenal safe, Reid said.

It is a logical move from New Mexico to Nevada, he said, because the Energy Department is conducting subcritical experiments at the test site to study how plutonium and other materials in the weapons work. The experiments do not create a nuclear chain reaction but allow scientists to examine nuclear materials in a blast with high explosives.

''The importance of this decision is that Atlas adds to the spokes in the wheel that builds a true science base for assuring the safety of the stockpile,'' Reid said.

A smaller part of the project, the Pegasus, will one day arrive at UNLV. With the Atlas at the test site, better cooperation between the national DOE laboratories and the University of Nevada system is expected, Reid said.


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