CT scanner checks on well-being of aging U.S. nuclear weapons

Jan 25, 2010 By Suzanne Bohan

A sophisticated X-ray machine co-developed by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory scientists began providing its inaugural batch of high-resolution images of nuclear weapons' innards this month.

The National Nuclear Security Administration, which oversees the nation's weapons laboratories, is hailing the machine as a breakthrough in assuring the safety and reliability of the nation's aging nuclear weapons stockpile.

"We are fortunate to have dedicated scientists working together from across the nuclear security enterprise to develop cutting-edge tools to monitor aging in critical weapons components," said Thomas D'Agostino, administrator of the agency.

The 20-foot-long CT scanner is installed at the Pantex Plant near Amarillo, Texas, where the nation's only nuclear weapons assembly and disassembly facility is operated. Researchers there teamed with Livermore scientists to develop it.

Because of a congressional ban on building new nuclear weapons, many warheads in the nation's stockpile are decades old. Yet it's essential to assure their continued reliability to serve as a credible deterrent against attack, nuclear security agency officials say.

The CT scanner, which goes by the acronym CoLOSSIS, is modeled after the same machines used in medicine to look inside the human body without making an incision. But X-rays from this machine are much more powerful, enabling them to move through heavy metal. CT scanners yield precise 3-D images.

Until the scanner became fully operational this month, the other alternative for determining if critical nuclear weapons components were defective or sound was to cut into weapons and disassemble critical parts. With a federal ban on even reassembling the component -- also a costly procedure -- it meant the component was ruined.

"One of the exciting things about this is it's nondestructive," said Patrick Allen, deputy program manager for the Livermore Lab's enhanced surveillance program, which monitors the arsenal.

The first user of the is Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. The lab is using it to assess critical components in the Air Force's B61 gravity bomb, which is designed for deployment by high-speed aircraft.

Explore further: And so they beat on, flagella against the cantilever

3.7 /5 (3 votes)
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

U. S. envisions a new generation of nuclear weapons

Mar 19, 2007

Almost 62 years after detonation of the first atomic bombs, the United States is considering controversial proposals to produce a new generation of nuclear weapons and revamp its nuclear weapons complex, according to an article ...

Security breach at Los Alamos

Jun 15, 2007

The Los Alamos, N.M., National Laboratory reportedly breached national security by sending classified nuclear weapons information over the Internet.

Recommended for you

And so they beat on, flagella against the cantilever

17 hours ago

A team of researchers at Boston University and Stanford University School of Medicine has developed a new model to study the motion patterns of bacteria in real time and to determine how these motions relate ...

Tandem microwave destroys hazmat, disinfects

20 hours ago

Dangerous materials can be destroyed, bacteria spores can be disinfected, and information can be collected that reveals the country of origin of radiological isotopes - all of this due to a commercial microwave ...

Cornell theorists continue the search for supersymmetry

22 hours ago

(Phys.org) —It was a breakthrough with profound implications for the world as we know it: the Higgs boson, the elementary particle that gives all other particles their mass, discovered at the Large Hadron ...

How did evolution optimize circadian clocks?

Sep 12, 2014

(Phys.org) —From cyanobacteria to humans, many terrestrial species have acquired circadian rhythms that adapt to sunlight in order to increase survival rates. Studies have shown that the circadian clocks ...

User comments : 0