Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

Charles Verdon

Charles Verdon

Principal Associate Director for Weapons and Complex Integration

Innovative Problem Solving Strengthens Stockpile Stewardship

As Science & Technology Review often showcases, Lawrence Livermore's national security mission is deeply rooted in our commitment to the Stockpile Stewardship Program. The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) charges three national laboratories—Lawrence Livermore, Los Alamos, and Sandia—with ensuring the safety, security, and effectiveness of the nation's nuclear stockpile. Our responsibilities include developing and deploying capabilities that predict, assess, and certify nuclear weapons performance in the absence of nuclear testing. Stockpile stewardship efforts have led to important scientific breakthroughs and increased our understanding of thermonuclear processes and high-energy-density (HED) physics. In addition, Livermore's ongoing investments in this area often result in discoveries and developments that benefit other Laboratory programs.

Although stockpile stewardship is a forward-looking endeavor, it requires understanding the past. Founded in 1952, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory was established during a critical period in U.S. history, when aboveground nuclear weapons testing was under way. The films that captured these experiments have mainly served as archival footage of a bygone era by are now being recognized for their scientific worth. When the films were made, the technology did not exist for completely and accurately measuring blast characteristics such as optical density, fireball size, and other factors necessary for calculating energy yield. Fast-forward to the 21st century, and Livermore's Film Scanning and Reanalysis Project is applying advanced capabilities to extract and analyze data before these films decay beyond usefulness.

As the feature article, Preserving the Past to Protect the Future, describes, the project team had to determine the right combination of technologies and expertise for film scanning, digitization, and analysis. Some solutions (such as open-source software) required customization, while others (such as a specialized film scanner) were completely new to the Laboratory. Livermore's high-performance computing resources have also been applied to manage the millions of high-fidelity data points now available. The team takes a thoughtful, inventive approach to answering time-sensitive questions posed by the films, which contain the only measurable evidence of an isolated experimental period. This information helps improve three-dimensional simulations that predict a device's effects, which in turn increases our confidence in assessing the legacy stockpile and weapons life-extension programs. In addition, the films are captivating reminders of the power of nuclear devices, underscoring the importance of our mission in service to NNSA.

More broadly, the film project epitomizes the Laboratory's approach to any national security challenge—assemble a multidisciplinary team, leverage the best technology, and deliver the right solutions. The highlights in this month's issue illustrate this strategy across a range of fields. The highlight, Plutonium Isotope Standard Enhances International Safeguards, describes a newly developed plutonium reference material, which will enhance nuclear safeguards worldwide. The international collaboration draws on Livermore's analytical expertise and mass spectrometry technologies to ensure isotopic purity. Livermore's work in advancing nanoporous materials science with the development of low-density foams is described in the highlight, Additive Manufacturing Helps Reinvent Nanoporous Materials. The Laboratory's additive manufacturing capabilities play a key role in fabricating new parts for HED experiments. The final highlight, Sudden Changes at Ultrahigh Pressure, discusses the Laboratory's work to improve our understanding of physics with experiments that subject matter to extreme conditions. Computer simulations of million of atoms combined with accelerator experiments help Livermore scientists develop a predictive theory of nonequilibrium transformations.

This year, the Laboratory celebrates its 65th anniversary. As in the past, our current and future missions will require the kind of innovative problem solving that has become a hallmark of this Laboratory. Regardless of the challenge—whether it is studying deteriorating film strips, preparing radioactive isotopes, refining complex simulations, or developing new materials—Livermore scientists and engineers will find a way to address it in service to the nation.