NNSS News (April - June 2019)

Scientists can better detect underground nuclear explosions thanks to NNSA’s Source Physics Experiment


Saturday, June 22, marked the end of the second phase of the Source Physics Experiment (SPE) at the Nevada National Security Site (NNSS) with the completion of the fourth and final underground, chemical explosion.

The experiment has greatly advanced U.S. abilities to detect underground nuclear explosions conducted by foreign nuclear weapons programs.

“The SPE brought together teams from across the Nuclear Security Enterprise to execute complex experiments that delivered high quality data to improve our scientific understanding of underground explosions and strengthen our Nation’s global monitoring capabilities,” said Dr. Brent K. Park, NNSA’s Deputy Administrator for Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation.

Research teams from NNSS, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Sandia National Laboratories, and the University of Nevada-Reno collected data about the unique signatures generated by this experiment using high-resolution accelerometers, seismometers, infrasound sensors, and high-speed video.

The program began in 2011 to understand how geology – specifically granite –affected seismic waves generated by underground nuclear explosions. Phase two began in 2018 and examined how alluvium, a rock weaker than granite affects the signals.

Data collected during each phase of the SPE has helped to improve U.S. capabilities for 3D high performance computer modeling of underground nuclear explosions and enable more accurate yield estimates.

NNSA makes the seismic data collected from the SPE available to researchers around the globe for analysis via the Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology website at http://www.iris.edu/hq/.

Celebrating 40 years (and counting!) of opening history’s doors to the public

NTA 40 years
The ribbon-cutting ceremony of the CIC Reading Room in 1981

May marks the 40th anniversary of the Nuclear Testing Archive (NTA), the official information center for unclassified information regarding the nation’s Nuclear Weapons Testing Program.

Prior to the NTA’s 1979 opening, records from more than 1,000 test activities – including the Nevada National Security Site, Pacific Proving Grounds and Trinity Test Site – were disseminated throughout different locations, from the National Laboratories to the various locations of the National Archives to Department of Energy (DOE) and Department of Defense Collections. In 1978, Congress called for access to Atomic Energy Commission historical documents to be publicly accessible. Thus, the Coordination & Information Center (CIC), now known as the present-day NTA, was created in 1979.

Administered by the DOE National Nuclear Security Administration Nevada Field Office, the NTA serves to collect, consolidate and preserve historical documents, records and data related to U.S. nuclear device testing.

Located at 755 East Flamingo Road in Las Vegas, the NTA has served more than 111,000 visitors in its four-decade lifetime. Researchers and the general public alike have access to more than 398,000 indexed documents and 100 videos from more than 110 agencies. Among the NTA’s most unique artifacts is a journal from world-renowned nuclear chemist Glenn T. Seaborg, who is credited with the discovery of plutonium in 1941, when he was chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission.

“We got the diary of Glenn T. Seaborg,” said Martha DeMarre, who has served as manager for 30 of her 40 years with the NTA. “He kept a daily diary throughout his research. That’s more than 15,000 entries we have indexed into our library.”

NTA 40 years
A view of the current archive collection

Serendipitously, DeMarre would later meet Seaborg during a 1994 meeting with a fellow DOE historian. “I held my own in a discussion with Seaborg,” said DeMarre. “I’d call that a success.”

Today, the NTA primarily receives inquiries from the general public, veterans, historians, the DOE and other government agencies or contractors. Between 500 and 600 visitors visit to the NTA each month. Its physical location features a public reading room, research area for in-depth studies and computer access. The virtual space, http://www.osti.gov/opennet, houses the hundreds of thousands of bibliographic records from the NTA collection.

The people who serve the NTA are another invaluable asset to the collection.

“No two days are the same, and you can’t ever predict what’s going to happen,” said DeMarre, who pursued science academically, but always maintained a love for history. “[This role] is the perfect marriage of the passions that I have. To find your passion is to find your calling.”

Bruce W. Church, who was instrumental in the formation of the NTA in the 1970s and 80s as a DOE management official, assisted DOE and Department of Defense officials throughout the congressional hearings process.

“In my view, the collection in the NTA is a national treasure and impossible to place a value on,” said Church. “These documents preserve history. It is a tremendous financial investment, and the collection can’t be duplicated.”

The NTA is open 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. For more information, see https://www.nnss.gov/pages/resources/NuclearTestingArchive.html.

Gears of Government Award

Experiment at NNSS earns Gears of Government President’s Award

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA)’s Nevada National Security Site (NNSS) is among the teams honored with the Gears of Government President’s Award for its Kilopower Reactor Using Stirling Technology (KRUSTY) experiment with NASA. The accolade celebrates the contributions of federal employees and teams who make profound differences in the lives of U.S. citizens.

The partnership between NASA’s Glenn Research Center, NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, DOE, NNSA, the NNSS, Los Alamos National Laboratory and Y-12 National Security Complex resulted in the successful demonstration of a new nuclear reactor power system that could enable long-duration crewed missions to the moon, Mars and destinations beyond.

In addition to delivering a one-of-a-kind, safe, secure facility to support the project, the NNSS also provided extensive personnel who are uniquely trained and qualified to perform high-security, one-of-a-kind experiments such as Kilopower.

Two years prior to the Kilopower experiments, NNSS employees began providing support for the project by readying the rooms to be used in the National Criticality Experiments Research Center – located within the Device Assembly Facility (DAF).

A hardware installation on the Kilopower assembly at the NNSS

Every day there’s a cadre of people at NNSS facilities, such as the DAF, who enable scientists from National Labs and other governmental agencies to conduct high-level, high-security experiments like Kilopower. Total, more than 100 NNSS employees – design and systems engineers, technicians, project managers, administrative professionals, project control specialists, procurement specialists, and construction and safety basis personnel – were involved in supporting the Kilopower project.

The experiment was conducted from November 2017 to March 2018 at the NNSS; it included a full-power demonstration for 28 hours and showed that the system could operate under multiple system failures.

Kilopower is a small, lightweight fission power system capable of providing up to 10 kilowatts of electrical power – enough to run several average households – continuously for at least 10 years. Four Kilopower units would provide enough power to establish an outpost.

The prototype power system uses a solid, cast uranium-235 reactor core, about the size of a paper towel roll. Passive sodium heat pipes transfer reactor heat to high-efficiency Stirling engines, which convert the heat to electricity.

For more information about the award-winning KRUSTY team, visit https://www.performance.gov/gearawards/KRUSTY-Team/ or https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KZQ2u2AVrkU.

“The CXR software talks to the equipment to get it to run. It’s interesting to watch our Control Room’s subject matter experts move back and forth to correct and fix any issues before going forward,” says Hansen. They conduct one last check, a diagnostic hold, to see if each stage is ready.

JASPER's new X-rays make experiment results more reliable

The team at the Joint Actinide Shock Physics Experimental Research (JASPER) facility at the Nevada National Security Site (NNSS) is proud to have recently conducted a two-stage experiment: validating the new flash X-ray (FXR) with the NNSS-designed continuous X-ray (CXR), to ensure they will function properly for future experiments supporting stockpile certification.

In partnership with Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), the JASPER team, led by NNSS Principal Project Manager Mark Hansen, installed a new CXR system in October and the new FXR system in November, then conducted tests in December. After perfecting scientific techniques, the January experiment proved to be a success.

“Our own NNSS people developed the upgraded CXR system at the North Las Vegas Facility,” Hansen said. “We did the initial testing and development there, then installed it here at JASPER. While used with the FXR, our old CXR system was becoming unreliable, which affects our velocity measurements. The new system provides easier maintenance with quicker rebuilds. The new upgraded system also simplifies our process for the experiments.”

Right before the two-stage FXR/CXR experiment, the green shows the system is ready to go.

The FXR is an imaging system used to measure velocity of the projectile on a JASPER experiment.

“To do this, we’re taking pictures of the projectile at two different locations to measure velocity, which delivers an accuracy of 99.9 percent,” Hansen said. “The FXR provides accurate velocity measurements that assist in the experimental data, which validates the weapons in our stockpile.”

The FXR works together with the CXR, a prompt trigger for the experiments. It’s the first trigger the projectile sees that initiates the start time of all diagnostics (similar to a start button on a camera), and looks at all the signals as the projectile travels toward the target. It also starts the clock to close the ultra-fast closure valve, which is used for containment. This is the critical part of the CXR, ensuring closure for complete containment within the primary target chamber.

Hansen mentioned that the Nevada Operations Group did a market study and found a CXR system to meet JASPER’s needs.

“The new CXR system’s communications was developed in-house,” he said. “We did the initial testing and development on it in North Las Vegas.”

The breach end that is now loaded with the propellant and is electrically connected, ready for the experiment.

Hansen added that our LLNL customer is pleased with the performance of the new CXR system.

“With the old system, it took us over an hour to bring it up initially. The new CXR only takes two minutes. This obviously cuts a lot of time out of the process.” This was particularly demonstrated in March when JASPER conducted its 10th experiment over a nine-week period. “This is a significant uptick in frequency,” he said.

See more about the JASPER facility in this video.

Nevada National Security Site promotes next fire chief

Chief Brian Dees

Position leads more than 70 Site Fire & Rescue employees, supports Nye County

Former Nevada National Security Site (NNSS) Fire Marshal Brian Dees is the Site’s next Fire & Rescue (F&R) chief.

Chief Dees assumes the role with more than 13 years of experience at the NNSS. Joining as a fire inspector in 2006, he was promoted to deputy fire marshal in 2008 before becoming deputy chief of support services in 2012. Chief Dees became the fire marshal in 2015.

“I’m looking forward to continuing my relationship with the folks of the NNSS, our customers and offsite partners,” said Chief Dees. Often the closest first responders, the NNSS F&R team provides rural Nye County with ongoing life safety response at no charge. “I hope to bring the years of experience I’ve had as a fire marshal to continue NNSS F&R’s legacy as a premier department that meets all requirements.”

Prior to joining the NNSS, Chief Dees served in the U.S. Air Force for 21 years, where he worked as a firefighter up to the role of assistant chief.

Chief Dees replaces Chief John Gamby, who is retiring from the NNSS after 40 years.

For more information about NNSS F&R, see https://www.nnss.gov/pages/facilities/FandR.html.

Clark High School places first in National Science Bowl Division Team Challenge

Clark at National Science Bowl

Back-to-back Nevada Science Bowl champions from Clark High School came in first place at the DOE National Science Bowl's Division Team Challenge (DTC) in Washington, D.C., April 28. Nevada Science Bowl is hosted annually by the Nevada National Security Site.

Testing through real-world science and engineering problems, the DTC tasks must be completed in 60 minutes. Clark High School was awarded $500 for its science department as first prize.

Though the five competing students did not move on to the double-elimination rounds of the National Science Bowl, they proudly represented the strength of science, technology, engineering and mathematics education in Nevada.

As the Feb. 2 Nevada Science Bowl winner, Clark High School was awarded $5,000 for its math and science departments and an all-expenses paid trip to compete in the nation's capital.

Sponsors of the 2019 Nevada Science Bowl included the DOE NNSA NFO (signature sponsor), MSTS, DOE Environmental Management Nevada Program, Bureau of Reclamation, SOC, Navarro, jgms and the National Atomic Testing Museum.

Registration for the 2020 Nevada Science Bowl, Jan. 31 to Feb. 1, will open this summer. The winning team will advance to next year's National Science Bowl, April 30 to May 4.

From intern to post-doctoral scholar, student leads key research for NNSS

Jesse Adams

Doctoral research by an on-site intern will shape the way data are analyzed for experimental programs at the Nevada National Security Site (NNSS).

Following three summers as an intern, Jesse Adams will join the NNSS as a post-doctoral researcher this May. A soon-to-be graduate from the applied mathematics program at the University of Arizona, Jesse is also the recipient of the school’s 2019 Al Scott Prize Lecture. The accolade is presented to a student nearing the completion of his or her capstone research and includes the opportunity to present at the university as well as funding for educational materials.

“Jesse’s doctoral research is some of the most impactful I’ve ever seen over my years in academia and the DOE research enterprise,” said Dr. Aaron Luttman, NNSS data analytics and wireless sensor technologies program manager and Adams’ Ph.D. co-advisor. “We’re very excited to have Jesse joining us as a post-doctoral scholar this summer. We know he’ll make great contributions to the scientific work being done at the NNSS.”

On April 12 at the University of Arizona, Adams shared his research regarding the development of the Site’s statistical methods for image processing. His work encompassed creating new computer methods for deconvolving very large images from X-ray systems. Through an approach called Markov Chain Monte Carlo, Jesse built schemes that supply information about uncertain quantities measured in data. In turn, this helps the team compare what Jesse’s computed to numerical simulations.

“After we do a large experiment at the Site, our group is on the hook for the data analysis,” said Dr. Marylesa Howard, NNSS signal processing and applied mathematics supervisor. “Once we process the data, the labs compare the data product versus the simulations. Having uncertainty quantification, essentially error bars, from Jesse’s work is something we can regularly implement into that paradigm that will significantly increase the value of our data product.”

Adams was first introduced to the NNSS during his master’s program at the University of Montana, where he met Dr. Howard.

“They had an opening,” said Adams. “I applied, got it and ended up enjoying working for the group so much that I came back. After my second summer, NNSS got a contract with the University of Arizona and had my research funded. I got to present this research at a few different places and conferences in different parts of the U.S. and received external funding to go to a conference in Australia.”

“Supporting graduate students’ doctoral research is an outstanding approach to training future NNSS scientists and engineers while they’re still in school,” said Dr. Luttman, who added that the team is collaborating to write Adams’ thesis research for publication in an academic journal. “Rather than learning on the job when they start as full-time employees, they begin on day one as fully trained staff members, ready with the skills needed for our unique national security applications.”

As Adams joins the NNSS full time, more than 60 incoming students are preparing for internships this May. Student Programs includes opportunities for post-doctorate, graduate, post-baccalaureate and undergraduate students at NNSS locations across the country.

“We’ve had wonderful experiences bringing interns into our group,” said Dr. Howard. “The summer program allows us to vet students before hiring full time. It’s like a very long interview for both them and us.”

The success has been such that Dr. Howard’s team will continue its research relationship with the University of Arizona by bringing another student from its graduate program to the NNSS this summer for doctorate research.

“The NNSS program for working with graduate students is the best pipeline we have to develop the next-generation scientific workforce,” said Dr. Luttman. “Our university collaborations allow us to establish long-term relationships with professors who help us grow young researchers into the creative and collaborative scientists needed to solve the nuclear security problems of the future.”

For more information about NNSS Student Programs, visit https://www.nnss.gov/pages/NFO/MSTSStudentPrograms.html.