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The race is on!

The arms race during the Cold War featured the US and Soviet Union competing against one another to have a greater military force.  It looks like another arms race, except on a much more relaxing level, is on again.  The Los Alamos National Laboratory and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory are competing to see which lab will be able to construct the first new nuclear bomb made in the United States in two decades.  In 2005, the "reliable replacement warhead" program was started to try and replace aging, unreliable bombs.  The new nuclear bomb has been under development for around a year in both labs. 

The designs from both labs must have the same explosive power as existing warheads in the US arsenal.  One of the goals of the contest is to have a new weapon that will not be as likely to accidentally detonate and one that will be much more secure than the weapons the US currently possesses.  Each laboratory's plans will be presented to the Nuclear Weapons Council with the council choosing a winner before 2007.

Interestingly enough, LANL also recently put out an announcement that the national laboratory is accepting proposals for the fastest supercomputer in the world, capable of operating at one petaflop -- significantly more than even the fastest supercomputers are capable of today.


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Humbug
By Griswold on 6/14/2006 9:49:41 AM , Rating: 2
quote:
One of the goals of the contest is to have a new weapon that will not be as likely to accidentally detonate and one that will be much more secure than the weapons the US currently possesses.


None of the currently US deployed nuclear weapons are in any shape or form likely to just detonate. The "fuse" on these weapons have been continously improved over the decades to avoid just that - something you can do without designing a new weapon.

There are other reasons to design new weapons, most of them are none you want the world to know about though...




RE: Humbug
By shadowzz on 6/14/2006 9:54:25 AM , Rating: 2
It's been a while since I've seen a nuke, but I was pretty sure I saw on H-channel or something that these things were designed to have the fuses integrated into the design ... meaning once the fuse deteriorates (it will after X years by design) the nuke is totally useless. I was pretty sure the program mentioned that the engineers designed it that way so no one accidentally dug one up 50 years later and used it.


RE: Humbug
By exdeath on 6/14/2006 10:33:54 AM , Rating: 2
There isn't really a 'fuse' so to speak, its a complex electronic ignition system using HMX as the main charge and electronic detonators with very stable and long shelf life primary explosives in the detonators.

The main problem with older nukes is the half life of tritium (hydrogen 3) is like 12 years. The solution was to use a lithium deturide (deuterium = hydrogen 2) which has a longer half life and produces the required tritium on site during detonation after it undergoes neutron bombardment from the initial fission reaction and resulting fusion chain reaction.

Not sure how long the lithium deturide lasts though before needing to be replaced. 40-50 years?


RE: Humbug
By Griswold on 6/14/2006 10:55:04 AM , Rating: 2
Beat me to it.


RE: Humbug
By shadowzz on 6/14/2006 11:02:27 AM , Rating: 4
christ there are a lot of nuclear physicians on this board. Either that or some of you have some realy twisted hobbies.


RE: Humbug
By kattanna on 6/14/2006 11:18:58 AM , Rating: 2
building a nuke isnt really all that hard.

the only real "hard part" is getting the plutonium.



RE: Humbug
By masher2 (blog) on 6/14/2006 11:23:02 AM , Rating: 2
> "Not sure how long the lithium deturide lasts though before needing to be replaced. 40-50 years? "

Deuterium is nonradioactive; it has no half-life. Lithium Deuteride is also (mostly) chemically stable.

However, you're confusing the usages here a bit. Tritium compounds were briefly used as the primary fuel for staged thermonuclear warheads...they have long since been supplanted by lithium deuteride. Tritium's primary use today is, however, in boosted-fission devices, which are much smaller, lighter, and more radiation-resistant, and thus the most common choice for missile-mounted warheads.


RE: Humbug
By masher2 (blog) on 6/14/2006 11:00:59 AM , Rating: 2
> "None of the currently US deployed nuclear weapons are in any shape or form likely to just detonate. The "fuse" on these weapons have been continously improved"

The risk isn't due to a fuse malfunction, its innate to the the so-called "physics package" of the device. When exposed to an external neutron flux, or a high-compression event (external explosion) there is a very slight but still nonzero chance.

Miminizing this risk further is a design goal of the new warhead...but there are other, more important goals. Maximizing safety during the manufacturing and assembly process, greater device longevity, less need for maintenance, testing, and verification, etc, etc. Essentially, the goal is a unit with very long 'shelf life', meaning we can meet detterent goals with a smaller, more reliable (and thus safer) nuclear arsenal.




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