DARHT temporarily sidelined

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By Roger Snodgrass

The dual axis X-ray facility, described as a come-from-behind success story for Los Alamos National Laboratory this year, has suffered an accident and is back on the injured list.

Having been declared fully operational by the National Nuclear Security Administration in May and on track toward its first ever experiment using its second axis, the Dual Axis Radiographic Hydrodynamic Test (DARHT) facility misfired last week.

DARHT is meant to be one of the ultimate tools for analyzing the condition of nuclear weapons in the nuclear stockpile, by peering inside mock nuclear devices under near-test pressures with a double barrel of penetrating X-rays.

A laboratory official blamed the resulting internal damage on an unexpected result while the beam of high-energy electrons was being tuned. During the process, the beam is focused on a graphite stopper, until the beam is properly configured. At that point, the stopper is removed and the beam strikes a tungsten target producing X-rays. But on July. 31 the system to backfired before getting to that point, causing a “backstream” of atomized carbon from the stopper to flow back into the internal workings of the beam line.

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