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Clinton sees how computer can simulate N-blast

To help his argument for a ban on nuclear testing, President Clinton saw for himself Tuesday whether a computer can give scientists the same information they used to get by detonating bombs in the desert.

The president toured the Los Alamos National Laboratory to learn more about the "Blue Mountain" supercomputer, which can simulate a nuclear test. He also checked out the computer's skill at transportation prediction and weather forecasting.The visit was designed to help Clinton "speak from firsthand experience" when he proposes a comprehensive test ban treaty to the Senate this year, said Robert Bell, Clinton's senior director for defense policy and arms control.

In his State of the Union address, the president said that a ban would prevent the creation of more dangerous nuclear weapons and make it harder for unfriendly nations to develop them.

"The point of the treaty is to `ban the bang,' not to `ban the bomb,' " Bell said. "Ratification by the United States and others will constrain non-signatories to this treaty by, in effect, establishing an international norm against testing."

The Los Alamos laboratory was established in 1943 as part of the effort to create the first atomic weapons. It is operated for the Department of Energy by the University of California.

Clinton's fiscal 1999 budget proposal includes $517 million for the Accelerated Strategic Computing Initiative in which the Los Alamos lab and two others in Albuquerque and California would be able to develop faster supercomputers and other methods for maintaining the nuclear stockpile without testing.

The laboratories, Bell said, play a pivotal role in meeting some of the safeguards the president will submit to the Senate with the proposed treaty.

Among the safeguards is maintaining the ability to resume testing "should the treaty no longer be enforced, for whatever reason, in the future," Bell said. The last nuclear test was conducted in 1992, and in 1993 Clinton extended a moratorium on underground testing that had been issued to respond to post-Cold War political changes.

After his stop in Los Alamos, Clinton will go to Albuquerque to highlight his balanced budget plan at a rally.