Scientists at the Nevada National Security Site (NNSS) recently built and tested a brand new Dense Plasma Focus (DPF) device, sponsored by the Site-Directed Research and Development (SDRD) Program. Unlike other NNSS DPF systems, which are large-scale, stationary research platforms, the newly developed Falcon DPF is a compact, portable system that can be used to accomplish mobile applications.
“This work has opened a new frontier of pulsed power and plasma science at the NNSS and enhanced our nation’s nuclear defense capabilities,” says NNSS’ Senior Engineer Brady Gall, who is leading the project as a principal investigator.
The DPF systems at the NNSS reliably create very short, high-intensity neutron pulses. This has made the technology a useful tool in recent and upcoming Stockpile Stewardship experiments. In principle, these characteristics also make the DPF an ideal tool to detect the presence of special nuclear material (SNM) when it may be hidden or inaccessible to visual inspection. However, in practice, the NNSS’ existing large-scale DPF systems were incompatible with these applications because they require small, portable and easy-to-operate neutron generators. The Falcon DPF system was created to address this need for a potent short-pulse neutron source that could be easily transported and operated.
The goal of the project was to shrink the NNSS’ existing and well-established DPF capabilities to a mobile form-factor while maintaining excellent neutron performance and uncompromising dedication to safety. The first two years of the project were used to design a new plasma source and pulsed power driver, research and test new lightweight hardware and energize the system for neutron production. In the project’s third year, the team has partnered with scientists from Los Alamos National Laboratory, Sandia National Laboratories and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory to use the Falcon DPF to detect SNM. A preliminary experiment at the NNSS’ Radiological/Nuclear Countermeasures Test and Evaluation Complex facility was just completed and a test at the Device Assembly Facility is scheduled for later this summer. These tests will demonstrate that the Falcon DPF can be used in mobile applications.
“This was one of the most invigorating projects I have worked on here at the NNSS,” said Master Technologist Michael Blasco, who worked on the project with Engineer Michael Heika and Technologist Joseph Bellow. “We were faced with many challenges along the way, but as a group, we were able to overcome these hurdles and complete our objective of creating a portable DPF.”
Moving forward, the Falcon DPF team anticipates continued development and testing of portable neutron source technology. The team is actively seeking a transition into a long-term programmatic environment and is working to finalize a patent on intellectual property developed as a result of this project. Under the guidance of the SDRD program, the Falcon DPF team has applied for an R&D 100 award, which celebrates new and innovative technologies introduced across a wide range of scientific practices.