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September 5, 2001

Design begins on new Weapons Evaluation Test Laboratory for NNSA Pantex Plant

AMARILLO, Texas — Design has begun on a new Weapons Evaluation Test Laboratory (WETL) at the National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA) Pantex Plant near Amarillo.

Tests conducted at the new facility will detect and predict possible aging effects on U.S. nuclear weapons systems and components.

Construction of the new WETL is scheduled to begin in October 2002 and be completed by March 2004. The facility should be occupied and operational by October 2004.

Sandia National Laboratories has operated a WETL facility at the Pantex Plant since 1965. The current WETL is the only facility in the nation that conducts system-level non-nuclear testing on U.S. nuclear weapon systems and components.

It houses some $90 million worth of equipment that is a unique national asset, says Bill Norris, Sandia manager of the assessment program that includes WETL.

The facility plays an important role in NNSA’s Stockpile Evaluation Program, which monitors the reliability and safety of U.S. nuclear weapons systems, relying heavily on test and evaluation of samples drawn from the stockpile.

Moving from detection to prediction
The new WETL, a $22.2 million project funded by NNSA Defense Programs, will provide approximately 30,000 square feet of state-of-the-art laboratory, test support, office, and storage space. Existing test equipment will be relocated from the old facility to the new WETL.

The equipment includes two underground centrifuges that are designed to provide high-onset ‘g’ (gravity) environments during weapon system tests. Space will be available to support other activities, including non-nuclear explosive testing, component testing, and static-free rooms for handling devices that are vulnerable to damage from static electricity discharge. Hoist systems will be available to maneuver test beds, equipment, and other heavy items.

The WETL also will provide capabilities that the existing building cannot support. For example, the new facility will allow Sandia to perform enhanced investigations and provide an upgraded infrastructure to facilitate advanced technologies for detecting aging and other subtle trends that could affect weapon reliability.

“The new WETL represents a major improvement in capabilities that will allow our stockpile surveillance program to move from a defect-detection mode toward a lifetime prediction mode,” says Norris.

In addition, the new facility will incorporate modern structural integrity and environmental controls, decrease operations expenses, and improve workflow efficiencies. Building systems will be designed to meet federal guidelines for energy efficiency.

The architectural firm Hayes Seay Mattern & Mattern (HSMM), based in Roanoke, Va., has been awarded the $1.2-million design contract for WETL. HSMM has completed 17 major projects at Pantex during the last eight years and currently has six active projects on the site in various stages of completion.

Sandia is a multiprogram laboratory operated by Sandia Corporation, a Lockheed Martin Company, for the United States Department of Energy under contract DE-AC04-94AL85000. With main facilities in Albuquerque, N.M., and Livermore, Calif., Sandia has major research and development responsibilities in national security, energy and environmental technologies, and economic competitiveness.

Sandia media contact:
John German, jdgerma@sandia.gov, (505) 844-5199

Sandia project manager:
Georgianne Peek, ghpeek@sandia.gov, (505) 844-9855

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