Los Alamos National Laboratory

Los Alamos National Laboratory

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Supercomputers are essential for assessing the health of the U.S. nuclear stockpile

Supercomputers provide assurance by simulating nuclear weapons performance
March 25, 2013
Graphic of a missile being tested through computer simulation

Los Alamos uses supercomputers to make high-resolution 3D simulations that help to assess the health of nuclear weapons like this B-61 bomb.


  • Managing Editor
  • Clay Dillingham
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The nuclear weapons in the U.S. stockpile were designed and built to be replaced with new designs and builds every 10 to 15 years. These weapons have lived beyond their expected lifespans.

Supercomputers provide the high-resolution 3D simulations needed for answering key questions about the reliability, safety, and security of the U.S. nuclear stockpile


  • The nuclear stockpile is aging.
  • The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty prevents underground testing to see if and how well the weapons in the nuclear deterrent will work.
  • But supercomputers can provide high-resolution 3D simulations of weapons to help assess their reliability, safety, and security.

The threat is real. The security challenges confronting the United States in the 21st century are complex and multifaceted, and they demand the best science, technology, and engineering to be resolved.

North Korea, despite international sanctions, continues to pursue both nuclear-weapon and ballistic-missile technology. On January 24 of this year, following action by the United Nations condemning the December launch of a missile, the North Korean Defense Commission issued the following statement: “We are not disguising the fact that the various satellites and long range rockets that we will fire and the high level nuclear test we will carry out are targeted at the United States.”

Shortly thereafter, North Korea conducted its third nuclear weapons test.

Equally intransigent, Iran recently informed the International Atomic Energy Agency that it would introduce new centrifuges to its main uranium enrichment plant near Natanz. These will advance Iran’s capabilities toward having a nuclear weapons program.

The United States and its allies depend upon the reliability, safety, and security of the U.S. stockpile of nuclear weapons as their primary deterrent against nations making nuclear threats. But the weapons in the stockpile are aged beyond their expected lifespans. The questions this poses are: Will these weapons still work? If so, how well will they work?

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