A controversial U.S. underground nuclear weapons test scheduled for yesterday was delayed because of technical problems, according to administration and congressional sources.
Department of Energy (DOE) officials say they expect that the nuclear test, nicknamed Mighty Oak and designed primarily to determine effects of radiation on new strategic warheads, will take place today, sources said.
The test has drawn protesters to the Nevada Test Site and objections from Capitol Hill because it could trigger the end of an eight-month Soviet test moratorium. Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev said last month that the first U.S. test after March 31 would cause him to order resumption of Soviet nuclear weapons tests.
The delayed U.S. test, which was first planned by the Defense Nuclear Agency more than a year ago, would have taken place as President Reagan was discussing the next summit during a farewell talk with departing Soviet ambassador Anatoliy Dobrynin.
Secretary of State George P. Shultz said nuclear tests were discussed, but White House spokesman Larry Speakes denied suggestions yesterday that the test postponement was related to the Reagan-Dobrynin meeting.
To emphasize the administration's determination to continue its planned nuclear testing program, one source said two more U.S. nuclear tests would take place this month.
One, code-named Jefferson, is set for April 23-25, and will test the reliability of a nuclear weapon now in production, sources said. A new on-site monitoring system, called Cortex, will be used to record an accurate measurement of the yield of the explosion.
Last month, Reagan invited Gorbachev to send Soviet scientists to this test and observe the operation of the Cortex monitoring system. In a speech yesterday, Gorbachev said, "We, naturally, have not accepted and will not accept it."
While the Soviet leader is publicizing his approach to end all superpower nuclear tests, Reagan is pressing to get agreement on a new procedure to monitor tests as a step toward ratification of the 1974 threshold test ban treaty. That pact limits both sides to underground tests of 150 kilotons or less. The bomb dropped on Hiroshima was 12.5 kilotons, or the equivalent of 12,500 tons of TNT.
Reagan has said that underground testing is necessary to maintain confidence in the nuclear arsenal and that he will not abandon testing as long as nuclear weapons are needed to deter war.
On Capitol Hill yesterday, Sens. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Charles McC. Mathias Jr. (R-Md.) held a news conference with five colleagues to criticize Reagan's determination to continue tests.
Mathias called on the president to submit the threshold treaty for ratification, and Kennedy asked for a resumption of negotiations for a comprehensive ban on all tests.
Sen. Gary Hart (D-Colo.) said Reagan's increase in funding of new weapons production shows that the president is "not serious about negotiating" and that there is "little prospect of serious advances while this administration is in power."
Kennedy said he thinks that Reagan's "primary reason" for continued testing is the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), his so-called "Star Wars" research program. A potential new SDI weapon is the X-ray laser, which is produced by the explosion of a hydrogen bomb.
One experiment in the Mighty Oak test would measure the lethality of X-rays produced by the explosion, sources said.
At the Nevada Test Site, about 200 antinuclear protesters demonstrated at the gates of the facility, while 89 have been arrested and were charged with trespassing. Bond was set at $250 each.