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News

Successful Los Alamos experiment supports weapon maintenance

DOE/Los Alamos National Laboratory : 04 April, 2006  (Technical Article)
Using the world's most powerful flash X-ray machine, Los Alamos National Laboratory successfully captured a high-resolution X-ray image following detonation of a mock-up of imploding weapon components. The experiment, conducted at the Dual Axis Radiographic Hydrodynamic Test Facility, supports continued maintenance of a key nuclear weapon component of the U.S. nuclear deterrent, without a return to underground testing.
Over the next few months, the Los Alamos team will compare the radiographic image with computer models, closely examine any differences and refine the models so they more accurately represent weapon behavior.

'The Los Alamos success of hydroshot 3625 is a testament to the integrity and technical excellence of Los Alamos stewardship of the W76. I am extremely pleased with the great work you've done,' said Everet Beckner, deputy administrator for defense programs with the National Nuclear Security Administration.

'The Laboratory continues to perform extremely complex non-nuclear experiments to provide key data for the National Nuclear Security Administration's program of stockpile stewardship,' said Mike Burns, acting deputy associate director for Weapons Physics at Los Alamos.

DARHT is a high-explosive firing site equipped with a flash X-ray machine that records interior details of dense metal objects to create images of mock-ups of nuclear weapon components at the moment of implosion. Hydrodynamic experiments measure the implosion characteristics of weapon components using simulated materials, which permit scientists to evaluate some crucial aspects of nuclear weapon performance.

The experiment was the most recent in a series designed to gather key data needed by NNSA's Life Extension Program for the W76 warhead on Trident submarine-launched ballistic missiles.

A large number of the Laboratory's technical and operations support staff were responsible for successful execution of the experiment.

This hydrotest at DARHT required close, extensive cooperation between the Laboratory and the Los Alamos Site Office of the National Nuclear Security Administration. Several technical divisions made important contributions to the experiment, supported by the Principal Associate Directorate for Nuclear Weapons Programs. They were Dynamic Experimentation, Engineering Sciences and Applications, Applied Physics, Manufacturing Systems and Methods, Physics, Materials Science and Technology, Chemistry, Security and Safeguards, and Performance Surety.

The experiment demonstrates that Los Alamos can do major hydrodynamic experiments such as this one, sub-critical and small-scale experiments, and research, development and testing of high explosives in support of the Laboratory's mission.

The first axis of DARHT has been providing high-quality images to NNSA's stockpile stewardship program since late 1999 in several hydrodynamic experiments and dozens of smaller high-explosives experiments, all of which have provided images of unprecedented resolution and clarity.

At DARHT, electron accelerators produce intense, penetrating X-ray beams that, like a flash bulb, can freeze the motion of objects moving at explosively driven speeds of more than 2,000 miles an hour. Electrons used for the snapshot are accelerated to energies of 20 million volts, and are converted to X-rays that expend that energy in just 60-billionths of a second. The second axis at DARHT, when completed, will enable stereoscopic and time-sequenced views of hydrodynamic experiments.
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