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Explosives performance key to stockpile stewardship

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As the U.S. Nuclear Deterrent ages, one essential factor in making sure that the weapons will continue to perform as designed is understanding the fundamental properties of the high explosives that are part of a nuclear weapons system.
“As we move forward with our stockpile and as it’s aging and as we’re replacing components, we want to make sure that we have confidence that those materials perform as intended,” said Dana Dattelbaum, a chemist in the laboratory’s Shock and Detonation Physics group. “And that we are also continuing to improve on safety.”
As nuclear weapons go through life extension programs, some changes may be advantageous, particularly through the addition of what are known as “insensitive” high explosives that are much less likely to accidentally detonate than the already very safe “conventional” high explosives that are used in most weapons.
“We’re very interested in understanding chemical dynamics in extreme conditions,” said Dattelbaum. “Chemical reactions are occurring in very extreme environments with very fast reaction rates, and we really don’t fully understand the first bond-breaking steps and the subsequent bond-breaking steps as an explosive detonates.”


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