US Scientists Seek Nuclear Reliability Without Explosions

Scientists responsible for ensuring the functionality of nuclear weapons in the U.S. stockpile are gearing up to transport essential components to the Nevada desert in November to prepare for underground testing.

Since the implementation of an underground test ban in 1992, national defense laboratories have been unable to verify the effectiveness and reliability of nuclear warheads. However, Energy Department officials have recently unveiled a $1.8 billion project named Scorpius, described as “tickling the dragon’s tail,” to address this issue without conducting nuclear explosions.

This project aims to move beyond theoretical models, allowing in-depth research into nuclear implosions. According to Jon Custer, head of the Sandia project, this approach could become operational as early as 2027.

The “tickling the dragon’s tail” strategy alludes to its experimental nature as it approaches but avoids reaching the point where nuclear materials initiate a chain reaction. The primary question scientists seek to answer is whether U.S. nuclear weapons remain functional.

In contrast to past practices of nuclear detonations for such evaluations, Sandia National Laboratories is developing a high-energy electron beam injector, a crucial component of the Scorpius project. This complex machine, comparable in length to a football field, will be situated approximately 1,000 feet underground in Nevada.

Jon Custer emphasized the necessity of ensuring the stockpile’s functionality, drawing a parallel to a car left idle in a garage for decades and the uncertainty of its starting capabilities after prolonged inactivity. The United States’ nuclear deterrent program has not conducted an underground nuclear explosive test in over 30 years.

The Scorpius project involves multiple laboratories, including Los Alamos National Lab and Lawrence Livermore National Lab in California. Los Alamos National Lab is also engaged in an ambitious project to produce plutonium cores, a crucial component of nuclear weapons.

This scientific endeavor seeks to address concerns regarding the functionality and reliability of the aging nuclear stockpile, marking a shift from traditional nuclear testing toward innovative experimental methods to maintain a credible deterrent.

Without any underground nuclear testing for nearly three decades, the U.S. faces a critical challenge— ensuring the continued functionality of its nuclear weapons stockpile. The Scorpius project, aptly called “tickling the dragon’s tail,” represents a groundbreaking effort to address this concern.

By moving beyond theoretical models and embracing experimental innovation, scientists aim to meticulously analyze nuclear implosions without detonating atomic explosions. This endeavor underscores the nation’s commitment to maintaining these weapons’ functionality and reliability.

As the project progresses, it serves as a testament to the determination of the scientific community to navigate uncharted territories and safeguard the integrity of the U.S. nuclear arsenal in an ever-evolving world.