The U.S. government says it is deploying a geotechanical experiment to detect the hidden explosives buried in uranium and plutonium spent fuel assemblies in a nuclear weapons testing site in New Mexico.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission says the experiment was deployed last month at the Sandia National Laboratories nuclear weapons weapons production facility in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and is intended to help researchers better understand the process that causes a nuclear weapon to explode.
The experiment was conducted on site at the Albuquerque site by the Department of Energy’s Advanced Fusion Energy Research Center, which is the agency’s primary partner in the effort.
The research will examine the behavior of neutrons emitted by the fuel rods when they are detonated, and how the energy released from the nuclear weapon’s explosion interacts with neutrons in the surrounding environment.
The tests will help scientists better understand how a weapon detonates.
“It’s the first time we have used this technology on a nuclear device and it has been extremely valuable,” said Daniel Wahl, a physicist with Sandia who leads the Geotechnics Institute at Sandia and has been a technical advisor to the program.
“I’m not sure how it would have worked on a uranium or plutonium weapon.
We know the reaction of neutron emission is what creates the energy that gets created in the weapon.
But this is the first attempt to look at the reaction and understand how that energy is released.”
The experiments will also test whether the geotechesic process can detect weapons-grade uranium or nuclear plutonium that is used for weapons or as fuel for the nuclear power plant.
Sandia officials say they hope to eventually have a device that can detect these weapons, as well as any other weapon-grade materials that are used to make nuclear weapons.