LAWRENCE Livermore's involvement in energetic materials began at its inception in 1952, when the Laboratory instituted a research and development program in high explosives for nuclear warheads under design. Today, Livermore's high-explosives capabilities, with extensive facilities at the main site, Site 300, and recently, at the Nevada Test Site, are the equal of any institution's in the world.|
What makes Livermore's energetic materials work internationally distinct is its breadth and depth. At one extreme, as described in the article beginning on p. 4, chemists and physicists are working to increase the safety and performance of energetic materials at the molecular level. At the other extreme, Livermore experts are supporting the safe dismantlement of nuclear weapons and the disposition of their energetic materials.
The Department of Energy's Stockpile Stewardship and Management Program is the centerpiece of Livermore's national security mission. Underlying all of our stockpile stewardship activities is a dedication to assuring that nuclear weapons will continue to be as safe and reliable as they are today. The relationship of energetic materials to the well-being of the nation's nuclear stockpile is particularly strong. Activities range from assisting DOE plants in fulfilling their manufacturing mission to understanding the aging of high explosives in the stockpile and predicting their useful lifetime.
Current energetic materials research and development in support of stockpile stewardship focuses on several areas. In the important area of enhanced surveillance, we are developing new, minimally invasive methods of detecting the products of high-explosives decomposition as well as pursuing theoretical and experimental work to predict and characterize potential decomposition pathways. Our continuing emphasis on safety, performance, and reliability drives an intense effort to improve our ability to model the behavior of energetic materials under both normal and abnormal conditions. This research necessitates the acquisition of additional equation-of-state data and better modeling of the very complex coupling of thermodynamic, chemical-kinetic, and hydrodynamic behavior in a burning high explosive.
We also have a continuing responsibility to assist DOE's Pantex Plant in meeting the needs of the stockpile; we must also meet the requirements of our own hydrotesting programs. For example, we are currently doing research focused on improving the chemical synthesis processes for high explosives (e.g., a new route to the synthesis of the insensitive high explosive TATB), and we maintain a viable synthesis, processing, and assembly area at Site 300.
Department of Defense and Other Activities
Livermore's role in energetic materials has broadened beyond its primary nuclear weapon-related mission. Today, there are extensive activities in advanced conventional weapons, rocket and gun propellants, antiterrorist work, demilitarization, and industrial applications of energetic materials. We are actively assisting the Department of Defense in a wide range of activities in this area, particularly those focused on insensitive high explosives, environmentally sound demilitarization of surplus high explosives and propellants, and modeling the performance and safety of high explosives and propellants. Two current examples of Department of Defense projects are the development of molten salt as an environmentally benign means of destroying energetic materials and the exploration of new synthesis routes to reduce the cost of high explosives.
In support of Livermore's nonproliferation program, we are developing the means to reliably detect and identify high-explosive compounds and formulations, with the added interest of potentially determining their origin.
Providing the Scientific Foundation
The excellent science carried out at Livermore enables the outstanding advances in energetic materials research and development described above and in the following article. This work ranges from understanding detonation science at the molecular level to predicting structures for exciting new high explosives. This continuing excellence in the science and technology of energetic materials has made possible the wide range of Livermore contributions since its inception and promises significant breakthroughs in the years ahead.