Physics Division

Dynamic plutonium experiments

Since the end of nuclear testing the nation has had to rely on sophisticated computer models to ensure the safety and reliability of the nuclear weapons stockpile. This program is known as science-based stockpile stewardship. Despite possessing the world’s fastest computers and most advanced modeling capability, the behavior of materials under dynamic loads that occur in a nuclear weapon are difficult to accurately model. The Dynamic Plutonium experimental program carries out experiments at the Nevada National Security Site on plutonium driven by high explosives. 

These experiments are needed to measure and understand the behavior of plutonium under extreme conditions. Physics Division has unique capabilities in high-speed x-ray imaging and velocimetry (measuring the velocity of fast moving material) under these challenging conditions. 

The Cygnus x-ray machines located 1,000 feet below ground at the U1A complex of the Nevada National Security Site. Cygnus is capable of producing nearly 5 rads dose 1 meter from x-ray source.
The Cygnus machines fire the x-rays into the Zero Room.  The experiments are carried out in the Zero Room behind a large bulkhead and heavy steel door, where high-speed cameras are used to record the x-ray images. This work is supported by the National Nuclear Security Administration and is central to Los Alamos National Labortory's mission in stockpile stewardship.



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