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How Stockpile Stewardship Replaced Nuclear Explosive Testing

Robert Hanrahan

National Nuclear Security Administration

From 1945 to 1992 the United States conducted more than 1000 nuclear explosive “tests”. The test was a centerpiece of the nuclear weapons program. Beyond weapons certification, “tests” were used to explore weapons physics, develop advanced concepts, prove safety and reliability, and train the people who maintained the US nuclear deterrent capability. The training aspect was perhaps the most important aspect of “testing”; the real “test” was for the laboratory personnel who designed, built, deployed and diagnosed nuclear devices. In 1992 after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the cold war, President Bush instituted a moratorium on nuclear tests. On July 3 1993 President Clinton extended the moratorium and it has remained the policy of the US to the present. In 1995 the science based stockpile stewardship program was established to maintain nuclear weapons capabilities without the use of nuclear explosive testing. I will discuss how the “Big Science of Stockpile Stewardship” (Reis, Hanrahan and Levedahl, Physics Today, Vol 63, No. 8, 46-53) has been applied in place of testing to allow continued certification of the nuclear stockpile and train the next generations of stockpile stewards. The success of stockpile stewardship to date is illustrated by the ability of the NNSA laboratories and manufacturing plants to assess weapons system lifetimes, conduct life extension programs, and to maintain the ability to design and assess weapon designs outside of the current stockpile without the need for new testing.

Dr. Robert Hanrahan Jr. is a nuclear engineer (BS 1987, MS 1990) Materials Scientist (PhD 1994, University of Florida) and attorney (JD, GMUSL 2010). He joined the Los Alamos National Laboratory as a graduate student in 1991 and was a staff member in the Materials Science Division focused on aging and lifetime prediction of nuclear weapons materials for most of his career. In 2007 he joined the NNSA as federal employee assisting in the management and technical oversight of the stockpile stewardship program.

Disclaimer: Any opinions expressed in this presentation should not be construed as the policies or views of the US Department of Energy or The National Nuclear Security Administration.