The detonation of nuclear weapons may affect equipment even at great distances from the explosion. This means electronic weapons systems and related equipment may malfunction when exposed, even at a distance, to radiation from an opponent’s weapons. Because of the wide variety of materials used to build weapons and military equipment, studying the effects of nuclear radiation on a variety of materials and under varying conditions is key to understanding the vulnerability of U.S. weapons.
In this area of research, simulations had always been an attractive alternative to live tests because live tests were more expensive and produced more explosive power and radiation than laboratory tests. But since 1992 the U.S. has had a moratorium on nuclear testing anyway, so in 1994 the Department of Energy established the Stockpile Stewardship Program to allow for continuing understanding of the stockpile in the absence live tests.
Today simulations based on giant computer models and laboratory experiments remain the only available method to assess the reliability and safety of our nuclear stockpile as it ages. Simulation work involves testing of existing systems to assess their vulnerabilities to radiation, predicting problems as the stockpile ages, developing ways to harden future systems, and remanufacturing weapons and components as necessary.
Z has been crucial to the effort in all areas – it has allowed scientists to study materials under conditions similar to those produced by the detonation of a nuclear weapon, and it has produced key data used to validate physics models in computer simulations. Also, by contributing to the remanufacturing of weapons components as replacements become necessary, Z plays an important part in supporting the engineering and research facilities that underpin the country’s deterrence policy.