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News

Los Alamos National Laboratory's Atlas machine begins experimental work

DOE/Los Alamos National Laboratory : 07 June, 2007  (Technical Article)
Researchers at the Department of Energy's Los Alamos National Laboratory performed the first liner implosion shot on the Atlas pulsed power facility recently. This successful experiment demonstrated that the Atlas facility is ready to support the Laboratory's research work relating to the certification of the nuclear weapons stockpile.
In the shot, the 650-ton Atlas pulsed-power generator successfully discharged approximately 20 million amperes of current through an aluminum cylindrical shell or liner about the size and shape of a tuna can, causing the liner to implode at very high speeds.

The purpose of this first experiment was to demonstrate Atlas was capable of the implosion quality that had been obtained with an earlier Los Alamos pulsed power machine, Pegasus II. Pegasus II produced the most uniform, symmetric and controllable implosions ever achieved. The experiment also demonstrated successful delivery of electrical energy at high currents and voltages and successful collection of complex data at the Atlas facility.

Essentially, Atlas is a giant power multiplier using energy that is accumulated slowly and stored in the machine's capacitor banks for sudden release into a roughly four-inch-diameter liner. As the electrical current surges through the Atlas machine, it crushes the targets at velocities nearly high enough to escape Earth's gravity, 22,000 miles per hour or 10 times the speed of a high-powered rifle bullet, and at pressures that occur at the center of the earth, or millions of times that of Earth's atmosphere. During the few millionths of a second that it is operating at full strength, the tremendous electrical output of Atlas is roughly equal to four times the world's total electric power production.

The Atlas pulsed-power facility was designed as a tool to provide basic physics data suitable for validating the computer codes used for weapon certification and to help scientists improve the models in those codes.

Atlas was conceived in 1993 as part of the Department of Energy's strategy to maintain the nuclear stockpile without the use of underground nuclear testing. The Atlas construction project began in 1995 with engineering design and component tests.

Under the current plan, the powerful Atlas will conduct approximately 17 physics experiments for the science-based Stockpile Stewardship Program at Los Alamos before being disassembled and moved to the Nevada Test Site next year.

After being reassembled, certified and prepared for continuous operation at the Nevada site, Atlas will continue its mission supporting stockpile stewardship as a tri-lab (Lawrence Livermore, Sandia and Los Alamos national laboratories) resource and as a state-of-the-art research facility providing experimental opportunities to investigators from many laboratories and academic institutions.
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