Nuclear weapons

  • Nuclear weaponsSandia makes sure U.S. nuclear weapons deterrent remain effective, credible

    It may sound strange to say that nuclear weapons must survive radiation. Sandia National Laboratories says, however, that as part of its mission of ensuring the nation’s stockpile is safe, secure, and effective as a deterrent, the laboratory must make sure crucial parts can function if they are hit by radiation, especially a type called fast neutrons. Sandia developed a new way to do that after its facility for creating fast neutrons, the Sandia Pulsed Reactor (SPR), was shut down due to increased post-9/11 security concerns about its highly enriched uranium.

  • Nuclear wasteFire shuts down nuclear repository, but DOE still recognizes operator for “excellent” performance

    Five days after an underground truck fire closed the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), the Energy Department (DOE) awarded Nuclear Waste Partnership (NWP), the operating contractor of the nuclear repository, $1.9 million for “excellent” performance during the past year.Shortly after the truck fire, WIPP was shut down because of radiation leak, Still, “No federal or contractor official has lost their job, been transferred, been moved off the WIPP contract or otherwise held accountable. No leadership has changed at the federal level. No company has lost a contract,” noted an industry observer.

  • Nuclear weaponsBarksdale AFB to be upgraded so it could store nuclear weapons on site

    In 2009, the Louisiana congressional delegation successfully fought for locating the Global Strike Command at Barksdale Air Force base. Barksdale, home to the Global Strike Command, is No. 2 on the Air Force’s priority list of nuclear weapons storage areas set to receive an upgrade so Barksdale can safety store the U.S. nuclear weapons and load the weapons onto B-52s. The B-52s stationed at Barksdale AFB currently fly to other installations to load nuclear weapons onboard. Language inserted last week into the bill that funds the Department of Defense (DOD) for FY15 requires the Air Force to develop a detailed plan within ninety days of the bill becoming law on how it will modernize the U.S. five nuclear weapons storage areas, including the one at Barksdale Air Force Base.

  • Nuclear proliferationGame of marbles inspires nuclear-inspection protocol

    Modern cryptography combined with simple radiation detectors could allow nuclear-weapons checks to be carried out with almost complete security. That is the conclusion of scientists in the United States, who have used computer simulations to show how a beam of neutrons can establish the authenticity of a nuclear warhead without revealing any information about that weapon’s composition or design.

  • Nuclear proliferationEngineering nuclear nonproliferation

    University of Virginia engineering professor Houston Wood’s career demonstrates the important role that engineers can play in making the world a safer place. For more than two decades, Wood has helped governments determine whether nuclear programs in other parts of the world are being dedicated to peaceful or military purposes. In recent years, Wood has been working to determine the break-out time that Iran would require to develop a nuclear weapon if it stopped allowing the International Atomic Energy Agency IAEA) to inspect its nuclear facilities.

  • Nuclear weaponsA farewell to (nuclear) arms: A novel technique could facilitate nuclear disarmament

    A proven system for verifying that apparent nuclear weapons slated to be dismantled contained true warheads could provide a key step toward the further reduction of nuclear arms. The system would achieve this verification while safeguarding classified information that could lead to nuclear proliferation. Their novel approach, called a “zero-knowledge protocol,” would verify the presence of warheads without collecting any classified information at all.

  • Missile defenseBadly engineered missile defense systems deployed “because there was a rush”

    In 1983 President Ronald Reagan launched the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) to build space- and ground-based missile defense systems. The space-based component was abandoned as impractical, and the focus shifted to Ground-based Midcourse Defense systems (GMD). Despite disappointing results and program test failures, Congress and the George W. Bush administration pressed forward with spending billions on acquiring systems of questionable reliability. “We recognize the problems we have had with all the currently fielded interceptors,” Undersecretary of Defense Frank Kendall old an industry gathering in February 2014. “The root cause was a desire to field these things very quickly and very cheaply; we are seeing a lot of bad engineering, frankly, and it was because there was a rush.”

  • Nuclear weaponsNumber of world’s nuclear weapons reduced, but modernization continues

    The overall number of nuclear weapons in the world continues to decline, but none of the nuclear weapon-possessing states are prepared to give up their nuclear arsenals for the foreseeable future. At the start of 2014 nine states — the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, China, India, Pakistan, Israel, and North Korea — possessed approximately 4000 operational nuclear weapons. If all nuclear warheads are counted, these states together possessed a total of approximately 16,300 nuclear weapons compared to 17,270 in early 2013.

  • Nuclear operationsNNSA says security at Y-12 National Security Complex has improved

    Retired Air Force lieutenant-general and now National Nuclear Security Administration(NNSA) chief Frank Klotz asserted last week that security at the Y-12 National Security Complexat Oak Ridge National Laboratory(ORNL) has improved significantly since a 28 July 2012 break-inat the plant when three aging peace activists, led by an 82-year old nun, managed to breach the facility’s supposedly impregnable perimeter security systems.

  • Dirty bombsUrgent need: Dirty bomb detection technology which does not rely on helium

    It has taken 4.7 billion years for Earth to accumulate our helium reserves, but these reserves are dwindling at an alarming rate, and will be exhausted by around 2025. The supplies we have originated in the very slow radioactive alpha decay that occurs in rocks, and there is no chemical way to manufacture helium. The Department of Defense and other agencies use Helium-3 (He-3) to detect neutrons emanating from Special Nuclear Material (SNM) in order to counter the threat of nuclear-fueled explosives such as dirty bombs. Since the supply of He-3 is rapidly drying up, the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) awarded a $2.8 million contract to Alion Science and Technology to develop a replacement technology which will detect neutrons without relying on He-3.

  • Nuclear facilitiesGuard fired for Y-12 breach says he was made a scapegoat for contractor’s failings

    Kirk Garland, a security guard at the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, was fired from his job two weeks after three aging peace activists, led by an 82-year old nun, managed, on 28 July 2012, to breach the facility’s supposedly impregnable perimeter security systems, then loiter, unnoticed, on the grounds of the facility, where bomb grade uranium is stored. The activists had enough time to spray-paint peace messages and Bible verses on walls, slosh the walls with human blood, and wrap one of the buildings with crime-scene tape. In an arbitration hearing, Garland argued that he was made a scapegoat for the larger failings of the then-security contractor,Wackenhut Services.

  • Radiation risksNew Mexico demands clarifications, reassurances on WIPP radiation leaks

    New Mexico’s environment secretary Ryan Flynn has ordered the Department of Energy (DOE) to explain how it will protect public health and the environment while it investigates a radiation leak at the underground Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP). The plant has not been in compliance with various permit requirements since the February underground fire and radiation leak, which eventually led to a plant shutdown.

  • Oxide conversionProblems continue to plague the Oxide Conversion Facility at Y-12

    Oxide conversion is critical to recycling weapons-grade uranium, making it useful in nuclear warheads or for other purposes. The Oxide Conversion Facility (OCF) at the Y-12National Security Complex has been operating inconsistently in recent years. A report by the staff of the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board(DNFSB) said there was a plan to resume operations the week of 7 April 2014, but that did not happen.

  • Nuclear weaponsSandia completes overhaul of key nuclear weapons test facilities

    Sandia National Laboratories recently completed the renovation of five large-scale test facilities that are crucial to ensuring the safety and reliability of the U.S. nuclear weapons systems. The work supports Sandia’s ongoing nuclear stockpile modernization work on the B61-12 and W88 Alt, assessments of current stockpile systems and test and analysis for broad national security customers.

  • Plutonium processingSouth Carolina withdraws MOX lawsuit against DOE, NNSA

    The state of South Carolina said Friday that it would not go ahead with its lawsuit against the Department of Energy and the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) in support of the Savannah River Site’s Mixed Oxide (MOX) Fuel Fabrication Facility. The dismissal of the lawsuit follows an announcement last Tuesday by the DOE and NNSA that construction will continue on the MOX facility through the end of the fiscal year. The two agencies made it clear, though, that they still plan to mothball the plant.