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Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL)

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL)

K. LEE LERNER

The Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), located near the University of California Berkeley campus, is operated by the University of California for the United States Department of Energy (DOE).

Founded in 1952, LLNL initially served as a nuclear weapons research and development facility. Research eventually expanded to serve a wider scope of science and engineering projects. Although LLNL's primary mission is to develop technologies that safeguard U.S. nuclear weapons, LLNL applications are also used to prevent proliferation of nuclear weapons technology and to verify existing treaties regarding nuclear weapons development and testing. In addition, LLNL research projects serve biomedical research and environmental interests.

LLNL responsibilities for nuclear weapons safety also include ensuring that the stockpile of U.S. weapons remains reliable. This role became especially important after the U.S. committed to a comprehensive nuclear test ban in 1995. As part of its Stockpile Stewardship and Management Program (SSMP), LLNL must certify the reliability of nuclear weapons without detonation testing. SSMP programs also involve scientists and engineers from Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), Sandia National Laboratories, and production facilities at Pantex, Savannah River, Kansas City, and Oak Ridge.

LLNL personnel maintain a special interest in predicting the impact of aging on the nuclear stockpile. Weapons-grade uranium, plutonium, and subcritical elements change over time and preventing weapon degradation is a critical concern in ensuring weapon reliability. LLNL developed ultrashort-pulse laser technology, which provides for more efficient use of weapons-grade materials used to refurbish weapons. Certification of the nuclear stockpile requires separate and independent inspections by at least two SSMP component laboratories. The dual certification approach enhances inspection confidence.

LLNL scientists and engineers are also responsible for weapons design, subcritical testing (nonexplosive testing) at the Nevada Test Site (a nuclear weapons test site adjacent to the Nellis Air Force range complex located approximately 65 miles from Las Vegas), and the development of sensors that can be utilized in noninvasive and nondestructive weapons surveillance tests. Highly sensitive standoff sensors allow the accurate measurement from a safe distance of trace amounts of airborne contaminants emanating from a suspected weapons facility. In addition, low-level radiation sensors help identify potential nuclear threats. LLNL hydrodynamic experiments allow scientists to evaluate explosive detonation and implosion phases in the nuclear detonation sequence.

Other LLNL facilities include a High Explosives Applications Facility, Nova Laser Facility, Flash X-Ray Facility, and the National Ignition Facility (NIF) that hosts the largest laser in the world. High-speed supercomputer facilities that are a part of the Accelerated Strategic Computing Initiative (ASCI) allow improved modeling and database assembly.

To facilitate the identification of biological weapons, LLNL scientists developed a mini-PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test that can be used for in situ analysis. Polymerase chain reaction is a technique in which cycles of denaturation, annealing with primer, and extension with DNA polymerase, are used to amplify the number of copies of a target DNA sequence by hundreds of times in just a few hours.

Environmental safety is enhanced by LLNL initiatives in plutonium disposal.

In addition to developing technologies utilized in monitoring the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, LLNL programs also develop technologies used to monitor the Chemical Weapons Convention. LLNL scientists are actively involved in securing the former Soviet Union nuclear stockpile now held by the Russian Federation.

FURTHER READING:

ELECTRONIC:

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. March 24, 2003. <http://www.llnl.gov/> (March 24, 2003).

United States Department of Energy, Office of Science. National Laboratories and User Facilities. <http://www.sc.doe.gov/Sub/Organization/Map/national_labs_and_userfacilities.htm> (March 23, 2003).

United States Department of Homeland Security. Research & Technology. <http://www.dhs.gov/dhspublic/display?theme=27&content=374> (March 23, 2003).

SEE ALSO

Argonne National Laboratory
Brookhaven National Laboratory
DOE (United States Department of Energy)
Environmental Measurements Laboratory
Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
Los Alamos National Laboratory
NNSA (United States National Nuclear Security Administration)
Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL)
Pacific Northwest National Laboratory
Plum Island Animal Disease Center
Sandia National Laboratories

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