Scientists charged with ensuring the United States’ aging stockpile of nuclear weapons is ready to go — if necessary — say they will begin shipping key components to the Nevada desert next year to prepare for underground trials they call “tickling the dragon’s tail.”
National Defense laboratory experts have not been able to physically validate the effectiveness and reliability of nuclear warheads since underground testing was banned in 1992. But Energy Department officials announced Thursday that They were about to bring together the technology needed to achieve the best possible solution.
Starting in 2027, the $1.8 billion Scorpius project will go beyond theoretical computer modeling to study in much greater detail the conditions encountered inside the final stages of a weapon’s implosion nuclear but without a nuclear explosion, said Sandia’s Jon Custer. project manager in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Scientists call it “tickling the dragon’s tail,” Custer said, because the experiment comes close to, but falls short of, the point at which the fission of nuclear material sustains a continuous series of chain reactions.
The hope is to answer many crucial questions about whether the country’s aging nuclear weapons still work as intended.
During the Cold War, these questions were answered by triggering nuclear explosions. In the 1950s and early 1960s, explosions sent mushroom clouds into the skies over the deserts of New Mexico and Nevada. Testing was then limited to underground explosions, which ended in 1992.
A decade in the making, the new era of testing moved to the next phase at Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico, where workers began assembling the high-energy electron beam injector considered the most Scorpius complex, Energy Department officials said Thursday. .
The experimental machine, as long as a football field, will ultimately be installed 304 meters underground at the Nevada National Security Site.
“Clearly we need to know that the stock will work if needed,” Custer said.
“If you had a car sitting in a garage for 30 to 50 years and one day you put the key in the ignition, are you sure it will start?” He asked. “This is the age of our nuclear deterrent. It has been more than 30 years since we last conducted an explosive underground nuclear test.
Los Alamos National Laboratory in northern New Mexico and Lawrence Livermore National Lab in California also play roles in the project.
The injector being assembled at Sandia is a linear induction accelerator that will generate a high-energy electron beam to collide with a metal target generating X-rays that penetrate the test objects. As the plutonium is compressed with the high explosives, a detector will convert the X-rays into images recorded by a sensitive camera capable of capturing images at speeds of 1 billion per second.
These nanosecond portraits will be compared to images of the same events generated by the supercomputer codes to verify their accuracy.
Scorpius will be fully assembled in an underground complex at the facility formerly known as the Nevada Test Site, where scientists have been conducting subcritical experiments since 1995 and nuclear testing dates back to 1951. The facility is located approximately 104 kilometers north of Las Vegas. .
Custer said the surface facilities have tested the explosive behavior of other materials, but the Scorpius experiments will use real plutonium, which is unique.
“Nothing else behaves like that,” Custer said. “So the question before us is this: are we introducing precise data on the behavior of plutonium into our codes?
Josh Leckbee, who led injector development and design for Scorpius, said this would build confidence in existing and new designs.
Plans for the complex project have been the focus of proposals reviewed over the past decade during a vetting process within the Department of Energy that finds and removes conceptual and technical errors before funding can be committed . Final approval came late last year.
“We look forward to establishing this capability in 2027, conducting the first subcritical experiments using these new capabilities to support our nuclear deterrent and once again demonstrating our technical prowess as a nation,” said Dave Funk, vice -chair enhanced capabilities for subcritical capabilities. Experiments at the Nevada National Security Site.
This article is originally published on nouvelles-du-monde.com