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Scientists debate need for nuclear tests

PHILADELPHIA, April 11 (UPI) -- Aging, deteriorating nuclear weapons are like vintage cars with corrosion problems, but their condition can't be checked by blowing them up, U.S. experts say.

The warheads were designed to be used, not to last forever, physicists say, and they simply may not work anymore. The problem is how to test their viability when exploding a warhead would violate U.S. policy in place since 1992, the Philadelphia Inquirer said Sunday.

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"On average, these weapons are 30 years old. One of our weapons just had its 40th birthday," physicist Bruce Goodwin said.

Last week's agreement with Russia to cut nuclear arms 30 percent underscores the importance that the remaining weapons need to work, he said.

Research scientists at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory are trying to wriggle out of this conundrum by using a combination of supercomputer simulations and experiments, the most ambitious of which is a $5 billion laser tool which will attempt to simulate a controlled version of an exploding hydrogen bomb, the Inquirer said.

Goodwin said the goal is to thoroughly understand the nuclear weapons so they can predict what will happen without the need to test them.

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"I realized we'd need a computer that was a million times better than the best machine available at the time," he said.

Princeton University physicist Frank von Hippel says the United States maintains more than 1,000 nuclear weapons on "hair trigger" alert, with Russia having more than that amount aimed at us, the Inquirer reported.

"Obsessing about whether there's a 1 percent chance they might not work is just crazy," he said.

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