Argonne National Laboratory

views updated Jun 11 2018

Argonne National Laboratory


Argonne National Laboratory is operated by the University of Chicago for the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). Located in Argonne, Illinois, the lab is divided operationally into five principle divisions: Physical, Biological & Computing Sciences; Advanced Photon Source; Energy & Environmental Science & Technology; Engineering Research; and Operations.

Argonne scientists collaborate on several projects related to nuclear safety. Argonne's International Nuclear Safety Center (INSC) is dedicated to improving safety related technology and safety protocols for nucler reactorsincluding reactors in the former Soviet Union. Funded by DOE's Office of Nonproliferation and National Security, INSC scientists maintain an extensive database related to a variety of nuclear facilities. The INSC database is organized so that researchers can quickly access site-specific information on reactors around the world.

Argonne scientists provide technical support to several agencies involved in stemming proliferation or use of weapons of mass destruction. As of 2003, Argonne's national security related programs supported research dedicated to developing technologyand providing expert guidancerelated to arms control and nuclear, chemical, and biological counter-terrorism.

Argonne developed technologies include methods to track nuclear fuels and to support nuclear waste cleanup of spent fuels.

Argonne scientists have developed an electrometallurgical treatment process to handle spent nuclear fuels. The treatment process uses electrorefining techniques that separate uranium, radioactive wastes, and inert materials in sodium bonded metallic fuels. In preparing nuclear waste for disposal, the electrometallurgical treatment process allows the isolation and removal of uranium and also allows the remaining waste into a ceramic or a metal alloy by heating and compressing a composite of borosilicate glass and zeolite (a mineral that incorporates fission waste products). Components of the metal alloy are derived from the steel cladding used to encase the fuel in the reactor. By restricting plutonium accessbinding it with waste productsthe plutonium is placed in a form that reduces or eliminates its potential use in a nuclear weapon.

In support of several agencies, Argonne scientists are capable of providing field measurements of radiation exposure dangers and of guiding decontamination efforts associated with reactor decontamination and decommissioning. Part of the decommissioning effort is dedicated to ensuring safe disposal of nuclear fuels so that the fuels can not be used to manufacture nuclear weapons.

Argonne engineers collaborate on efforts to develop sensitive detectors capable of identifying concealed nuclear materials.

Argonne personnel provide technical expertise to Federal Bureau of Investigation counterterrorism operations and aid in domestic infrastructure assurance programs designed to improve security at critical U.S. infrastructure sites. For example, Argonne's PROTECT system, developed by the Decision and Information Sciences Division, features an integrated detection, communication and response program to secure subways against chemical attacks.

Argonne research also includes efforts to improve instruments and sensors capable of detecting chemical and biological agents. As a part of the Joint Chemical Aid Detector Program, Argonne researchers developed portable cyanide-gas microsensors. Engineers are especially interested in developing hypersensitive detectors capable of identifying trace evidence of dangerous chemical or biological agents and developed a series of portable biochip microarrays that are capable of detecting bioagents, including anthrax bacterium.

Argonne's Advanced Photon Source (APS) allows study of the 3-D structure of toxinsincluding Anthrax toxins. Micro Array of Gel-Immobilized Compounds or MAGIC chips were developed by Argonne researchers to identify biological pathogens and disease related genetic mutations.



Environmental Measurements Laboratory. National Security. <> (March 16, 2003).

United States Department of Energy, Office of Science. National Laboratories and User Facilities. <> (March 23, 2003).

United States Department of Homeland Security. Research & Technology. <> (March 23, 2003).


Brookhaven National Laboratory
DOE (United States Department of Energy)
Environmental Measurements Laboratory
Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL)
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

National Laboratories

views updated Jun 08 2018

National Laboratories. Since the mid‐twentieth century, the U.S. government has supported hundreds of science and technology laboratories, many for military purposes. Those designated national laboratories combine wide‐ranging research and development programs with administration by the Department of Energy (1977) as government‐owned, contractor‐operated facilities. Although the national laboratory system traces its roots to World War II's atomic bomb project, only three have maintained significant roles in designing, developing, and engineering nuclear weapons: Los Alamos (1943), Sandia (1948), and Lawrence Livermore (1952). The two other major wartime laboratories, Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Argonne National Laboratory, abandoned military‐related work. An additional three national laboratories created subsequently—Brookhaven National Laboratory, Fermi Nation al Accelerator Laboratory, and Idaho National Engineering Laboratory—rarely performed any.

Until the early twentieth century, new military technology normally originated outside the military establishment. Although individual soldiers might have a hand in invention, manufacturing rather than innovation tended to characterize the century‐old network of army arsenals and navy shipyards. In 1915, however, the creation of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) inaugurated a new era.

Advisory to be sure, NACA (1915–58) also directed a premier research facility, Langley Aeronautical Laboratory in Virginia. Not only did NACA become an interwar byword for cutting‐edge military (and civilian) aeronautical research, it also provided the Office of Scientific Research and Development with a model for organizing American science in World War II. Government contracts with well‐established academic and industrial organizations became the normal route for military research and development during the war and after.

Ultimately, the most renowned instance of this new partnership was the Manhattan Project. To produce a totally new weapon, the atomic bomb, the army's wartime Manhattan Engineer District contracted with universities and corporations for the necessary applied scientific research, engineering development, proof testing, and manufacturing. Facilities created to further the project included what would become the national laboratories, all inherited by the Atomic Energy Commission (1947–75) when it succeeded the army team.

When the war ended, only Los Alamos, the New Mexico laboratory managed by the University of California, remained in the weapons business, though it soon had company. The laboratory's weaponization group (responsible for converting designs to functional weapons) moved to Albuquerque, changed its name to Sandia, and became an independent engineering laboratory in 1948. The following year, its management passed from the university to Bell Telephone, succeeded in its turn by Martin Marietta in 1995.

Concerns about the development of thermonuclear weapons underlay the 1952 establishment of the third nuclear weapons laboratory at Livermore, California. Originally a branch of the University of California Radiation Laboratory (now Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory), Lawrence Livermore became independent in 1971, though still under university management. To provide weaponization support for the new laboratory, Sandia in 1956 opened its own branch laboratory in Livermore.

Los Alamos, Lawrence Livermore, and Sandia were responsible for designing and developing every warhead in America's entire nuclear arsenal. And although the research, development, and testing of nuclear weapons remains their core concern, they expanded their scope far beyond any narrow military requirements into such areas as computers, lasers, and biomedical technology.
[See also Atomic Scientists.]


Richard G. Hewlett, et al. , A History of the United States Atomic Energy Commission, 3 vols., 1962–89.
Thomas E. Cochran, et al. , Nuclear Weapons Databook, Vol. 3: U.S. Nuclear Warhead Facility Profiles, 1987.

Barton C. Hacker

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Argonne National Laboratory