Nuclear Weapons at Sandia

Weapons Researcher

World-class scientists and engineers come to Sandia to conduct breakthrough research in nuclear weapons. Sandia designs more than 6,300 parts of a modern nuclear weapon’s 6,500 components. Our state-of-the-art laboratories facilitate large-scale testing and computer simulation.

Sandia‚Äôs work is of the highest consequence and those doing the work face awesome responsibilities. Unlike other national labs, which focus on the physics package, Sandia‚Äôs work is to weaponize the physics package. Sandia must ensure that the other 95% of the weapon‚Äôs parts work perfectly at every point of contact with the delivery systems. This requires the broadest competencies in engineering, with a deep science foundation.

At the core of Sandia’s nuclear weapons program is warhead systems engineering and integration. It includes these products of weaponization: arming, fuzing and firing systems; neutron generators; gas transfer systems; and surety systems.


Sandia’s contribution to the nuclear weapons enterprise has changed through three major eras:

Cold War: Design, development, and testing of increasingly sophisticated weapons and more precise delivery systems.

Stockpile Stewardship (1992-present): Development of increasingly sophisticated tools to meet the challenge of preserving the aging stockpile in the absence of nuclear explosives testing (last test: Divider, Sept. 23, 1992). This work includes major diagnostic tools such as the Z machine and enormous advances in supercomputers and modeling and simulation to enable virtual testing of stockpile weapons.

Modernization: (present forward): Modifications and upgrades of aging weapons through life extension programs to improve surety and ensure safety, security and reliability.


Sandia plays a key role in the principle of deterrence. Our annual assessment of the stockpile, and the increasing importance of life extension programs and modernization, gives Sandia a unique position and increases the national impact of the Labs’ mission.

For more, On Deterrence is a documentary that presents a contemporary dialogue involving different viewpoints about the evolution of nuclear weapon deterrence since World War II and how deterrence may evolve in the future.