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Nonproliferation and Counterproliferation Programs

Fact Sheet

Sandia National Laboratories supports DOE with research, development, and analysis for intelligence, proliferation detection, arms control, and verification technology. Sandia has one of the oldest and largest programs of such work in support of U.S. national security policy. This work continues to complement our nuclear weapon research and development responsibility, which provides requisite expertise for knowledgeable nonproliferation and arms control R&D activities.

Under the sponsorship of the Department of Energy's Office of Nonproliferation and National Security, Sandia has created a program and facility known as the Cooperative Monitoring Center (CMC). At the Center, national security specialists from around the world can evaluate potential roles that technology might play in helping to solve the pressing regional security problems which have largely overtaken bilateral Cold War issues as the dominant national and international security problem of the 1990s. The Center has been configured to allow regional participants to see and experiment with a wide variety of technological approaches to arms control, confidence building, environmental, and other national security problems. Examples include satellite monitoring systems, unattended ground sensors, on-site inspection support systems, etc. Because the technologies involved are outgrowths of DOE's multi-decade nuclear weapon and arms control programs, the CMC truly represents a "swords to plowshares" program. This facility, located in Albuquerque, is a unique national resource which has already successfully hosted participants from the former Soviet Union, the Middle East, South Asia, and the Pacific Rim.

The Verification and Control Technologies program includes R&D on a variety of systems, technologies, and processes applicable to the detection of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and verification of agreements for transparency and arms limitations. An increasingly important aspect of all these program areas is Sandia's activity in information management, fusion, and analysis.

Sandia is developing new nuclear detonation sensors for improved detection of explosions in the atmosphere. Instrumentation systems currently being deployed on the Global Positioning System constellation of satellites will soon provide continuous worldwide coverage.

We have initiated development of satellite-based systems and technology for detecting and characterizing nuclear proliferation activities. Such systems could have potential application to the detection of chemical weapons, biological weapons, and missile development as well.

Sandia has projects to develop chemical sensors related to nuclear and chemical weapons, ultraviolet light detection and lidar ranging technology, radiation detection sensors, remote video surveillance systems, and the nondestructive determination of particulate compositions. In some instances, component technology will be incorporated into unattended, and possibly remote, ground-based sensor systems.

We develop synthetic aperture radar systems for a wide variety of treaty verification and nonproliferation applications. We are also exploring the integration of synthetic aperture radar with other imaging data and automated data analysis as methods for dealing with the large volume of data from such systems. Synthetic aperture radar will be used to evaluate all-weather as well as day-and-night aerial inspection capabilities.

Tags and seals are currently being considered for use in securing key elements associated with the Chemical Weapon Convention, weapon dismantlement, and the containers designated to transport and store U.S. and Russian special nuclear material. Sandia has also broadened the tag and seal effort to include the technological area of information integrity, which covers the general application of tags and seals over a wide range of monitoring applications. New data-authentication techniques are being developed to provide security for remotely monitored, sensor-based sealing systems.

Development of seismic technology for detection, location, and identification of underground and underwater nuclear explosions is continuing. In line with the emerging geopolitical climate, the emphasis of this program has shifted from the monitoring of bilateral test limitation agreements to global monitoring of a comprehensive test ban, as well as monitoring of proliferation-related nuclear testing.

During the cold war, Sandia and the other DOE Defense Programs laboratories worked as a team with DoD to design, develop, manufacture, and maintain a credible, safe, secure, and robust nuclear deterrent. In carrying out that mission, the laboratories invested in extensive capabilities for research, development, product realization, and testing of nuclear weapons. These capabilities include state-of-the-art theoretical and simulation methods using the world's fastest computers, advanced materials laboratories and process control technologies, systems engineering and technology integration skills, and an extensive set of field test capabilities. In addition, the laboratories developed sensors and information systems to support the requirements for monitoring and verifying international arms control agreements. These systems include both space-based and ground-based global nuclear detonation detection sensors and the information networks and data processing capabilities to integrate them.

These skills, capabilities, and facilities can be readily applied to the counterproliferation challenge, and the successful teamwork relationship we have had with DoD for the last half-century can still be a formula for success. Some DOE weapons programs facilities, such as the underground nuclear testing facilities in Nevada, will have to be maintained in a state of readiness even though testing of nuclear weapons is unlikely to resume in the foreseeable future. These facilities can provide a cost-effective test bed for counterproliferation technology development in conjunction with DoD. It would be a prudent use of the government investment in these facilities to employ the DOE nuclear weapon laboratories to help resolve critical technical issues related to counterproliferation. This activity should be in partnership with the armed services, the DoD laboratories, and industry groups who will provide the actual counterproliferation hardware.

Sandia is a multiprogram laboratory operated by Sandia Corporation, a Lockheed Martin Company, for the United States Department of Energy.
Media contact:
Larry Perrine, lgperri@sandia.gov (505) 845-8511

Last modified: August 6, 1997

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