Los Alamos National Laboratory

Los Alamos National Laboratory

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Passing good judgment, part 1: weapons designers with nuclear testing experience

The nuclear weapons designers who developed their skills during the years of nuclear testing are voicing concern about whether new designers are receiving the training they need to maintain the nuclear deterrent.
February 1, 2014
Passing good judgment, part 1: weapons designers with nuclear testing experience

The first generation of nuclear weapons designers is handing off its responsibility for maintaining the nation’s stockpile to a new generation, skilled at running supercomputer simulations of nuclear weapons but untried by nuclear testing.

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Without experiments the Lab could become just a library of ancient nuclear secrets for the last few nuclear monks.

Full-scale nuclear tests of new weapons designs sometimes gave very disappointing results because nuclear weapons design is an incomplete science. Before the testing moratorium, weapons designers developed good judgment from both their successes and their mistakes, as revealed by the tests. To develop good judgment in the absence of testing, the second-generation designers require more experiments, including new ones that provide new kinds of data and test the designers. But today experimentation is lagging far behind designers’ needs because of risk aversion to failures and scant funding. Those obstacles are putting the future of the U.S. deterrent at risk.


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