PLUTONIUM SEEN LASTING LONGER
By WALL STREET JOURNAL Staff Reporter
November 30, 2006
New studies by the Department of Energy show that plutonium, the most
critical element used in the nation's nuclear-weapons arsenal, may
last longer than previously thought, easing some safety and budget
concerns about aging warheads.
The studies, done by Lawrence Livermore and Los Alamos national
laboratories, indicate that plutonium may remain unchanged for 85
years or longer. They show that degradation of the heavy, explosive
metal "will not affect warhead reliability for decades," according to
Linton F. Brooks, administrator of the National Nuclear Security
His agency uses a multibillion-dollar "stockpile stewardship program"
to check nuclear weapons as they age. Unofficial estimates put the
number of plutonium-based weapons in U.S. stockpiles at about 10,000.
He noted that other factors, including the decay of conventional
explosives and other materials used in warheads, will continue to
require monitoring and replacement programs.
Because plutonium was first produced in significant quantities in the
1940s for the nation's nuclear-weapons programs, relatively little
was known about how the metal might change with age during World War
II and the ensuing Cold War buildup of nuclear weapons.