GSN, April 2, 2007).
The Dual-Axis Radiographic Hydrodynamic Test facility features two enormous electron beam generators that create X-rays to produce images of extremely fast-moving materials. One beam generator has been working, but the second was postponed for years and could now be tested at full power as soon as this week, according to a laboratory release. Scientists expect to conduct the first full test involving both beams in early summer.
“The achievement of this capability at DARHT is a major accomplishment in stockpile stewardship,” said Glenn Mara, the New Mexico laboratory’s principal associate director for nuclear weapons programs, in a press release. “Such tools assure the continued safety, security, and reliability of the nation's nuclear deterrent without the need to return to nuclear testing” (Los Alamos National Laboratory release, Jan. 29).
The Energy Department’s National Nuclear Security Administration has pursued the DAHRT facility for years, but has faced numerous technical obstacles. If the facility achieves full operations this year, it would be two decades after the project’s inception, according to a 2004 report by nuclear weapons expert Christopher Paine of the Natural Resources Defense Council.
“It also will be considerably less capable than planned, thereby conveniently bolstering the argument that NNSA needs an even more powerful and capable radiographic facility,” the report says. “Weapons lab managers have perfected the art of turning costly technical failures into categorical improvements for the next big machine” (Greg Webb, Global Security Newswire, Jan. 31).
Meanwhile, laboratory managers have disclosed that an equipment failure allowed a small release of radiation last week in a chemistry laboratory, the Albuquerque Journal reported yesterday (see GSN, Oct. 25, 2007).
As technicians worked with a sample of germanium 68 — a radioactive isotope used for medical imaging — the safety cell holding the material lost power to its negative pressure system. Such systems are designed to prevent any gaseous leaks from the cell.
Some of the germanium did leak and triggered radiation alarms at the site, initiating an evacuation, the Journal reported. Parts of the building remain closed, but could reopen this week said laboratory spokesman Kevin Roark. Tests for radiation exposure among some workers came up negative.
“All the safety systems worked exactly as designed,” Roark said (Raam Wong, Albuquerque Journal, Jan. 30).