Fusion of lab efforts on W80 work

Los Alamos, Lawrence Livermore and Sandia national laboratories will "utilize the full breadth" of their assets to meet stewardship requirements for the W80 warhead, under terms of an agreement approved by the National Nuclear Security Administration.

The agreement, signed in early January, aims "to accomplish a more balanced workload at the nuclear laboratories and tend to the current needs of the national stockpile." Los Alamos and Sandia will continue to have sole responsibility for assuring and certifying the safety, reliability and performance of the W80 Mods 0 and 1. The W80 Mod 0 is a warhead for the Navy’s Tomahawk cruise missile and Mod 1 is carried by the Air Force’s air-launched cruise missiles.

The W80 Life Extension Program to refurbish these warheads is now assigned to Livermore and Sandia laboratories, which will be responsible for the modified design. These laboratories will be responsible for assuring the safety, reliability and performance of the refurbished W80 warheads, Mods 2 and 3, as well as any potential future mods — Mod 2 will be the refurbished Navy warhead and Mod 3 the Air Force version. The Mod 2/3 design approach is based on the refurbishment option approved for development by the Nuclear Weapons Council at the conclusion of the Phase 6.2/6.2A study completed last fall.

The Nuclear Weapons Council is a high level DoD/DOE group responsible for a wide range of actions related to management of the nuclear weapons stockpile.

"This agreement is an important step for NNSA toward making optimal use of the capabilities of all three laboratories in supporting the national stockpile," said Michael Anastasio, AD for Defense and Nuclear Technologies. "It will be a challenging assignment for Livermore. We are relying on close cooperation with Los Alamos during the current transition period and later through their peer review of the life extension design."

The agreement signed by Directors Bruce Tarter, John Browne of Los Alamos and Paul Robinson of Sandia calls for "timely sharing of knowledge sufficient to accomplish W80 refurbishment, protocols for exchanging design information" and "full communication of significant finding investigations and surveillance data among the three laboratories."

Inter-laboratory peer review will remain an important element of confidence and DOE management, with LLNL continuing to serve as the peer review lab for certification issues related to the W80 Mods 0 and 1 and Los Alamos serving as peer review for development and certification issues related to the refurbished W80 Mods 2 and 3.

Charles McMillan of B Division will lead the Laboratory’s W80 Life Extension program, which is scheduled to provide the "first production" unit of the refurbished warhead in early 2006. The five-year effort will involve a core group of about 30 Lab scientists and engineers with other skills "matrixed in" as needed.

"This is a collaborative effort that will require the labs to work closely together and will tap the scientific capabilities and unique research facilities at all three laboratories," McMillan said.

Divided into six distinct phases reflecting the original development steps of the warhead, the refurbishment program will involve experiments at Site 300’s Contained Firing Facility, LLNL’s High Explosives Applications Facility, the Dual Axis Radiographic Hydrodynamics Test (DARHT) facility at Los Alamos, and use of the latest Accelerated Strategic Computing Initiative (ASCI) codes.

"Simulation is an important part of this project," McMillan said. "As codes come to maturity, ASCI’s already critical role in the life extension program will become even more important."

Noting that the W80 has been deployed for almost 20 years — roughly its originally anticipated duration in the stockpile – McMillan said, "the purpose of the program is to replace any components that have limited life and enhance the surety of the system.

"There are technologies and materials available today that weren’t available when the W80 system was first developed," he said.

In the absence of underground nuclear explosive tests, "Life Extension" involves conducting scientific experiments, engineering tests and computer simulations addressing all aspects of the W80 warhead performance.

The three labs will share surveillance data gathered through the DOE’s Stockpile Evaluation Program, in which components of a weapon, randomly selected from a system in the stockpile, are probed and tested for potential defects resulting from aging. If a part shows signs of wear or fails to perform its function, a special investigation is conducted and a decision is made as to whether remanufacturing, perhaps with some design modification, is required. Representatives from Sandia, Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore are now working out the details of information-sharing protocols.

The labs are also jointly "baselining" the warhead — establishing a modern understanding of the system. "We’re fortunate that some of the scientists who originally designed and developed the W80 are still around to serve as a resource," McMillan said, adding, "They’re an invaluable asset to this effort." That work should be completed by the end of the year.

The "re-balance" of nuclear weapons work between Los Alamos and Livermore was part of the U.S. Senate Energy and Water Development Appropriation Bill for the year 2000. The objective of the legislation, stewarded by Sen. Pete Domenici, R-New Mexico, was to "eliminate duplication and create a more effective and efficient structure to respond to mission requirements."

April 20, 2001


Don Johnston