Las Vegas Sun

November 23, 2017

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Atlas experiment held at Nevada Test Site

A powerful pulse of electrical current crushed an aluminum shell at the Nevada Test Site on Wednesday, the first experiment on a transplanted laboratory generator designed to test materials similar to those used in nuclear weapons.

The Atlas equipment was moved from Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico to the Test Site in October 2002 in order to allow scientists to conduct checks on the safety of nuclear weapons in the U.S. stockpile without underground nuclear detonations.

The Atlas Pulsed Power Facility drew scientists from Los Alamos, the Test Site and Bechtel Nevada, manager and operator of the Test Site, to perform the first physics experiment to prove the generator is ready, said Darwin Morgan, spokesman for the National Nuclear Security Administration.

Scientists generated a powerful current -- roughly four times the kick of all the electrical power on Earth -- to create pressures millions of times greater than normal to test materials similar to those used in nuclear weapons, Morgan said.

Atlas implosions allow scientists to study behavior of materials at extreme conditions, similar to those in an exploding nuclear weapon.

During the experiment, the 650-ton Atlas generator discharged an electrical current through an aluminum cylinder about the size and shape of a tuna can, Morgan said.

The current caused the liner to implode at extreme speed.

Three years ago the Atlas generator had performed similar experiments in Los Alamos. From the time of the transfer, scientists have improved design tools to create the implosion, tools used to build the hardware and diagnostic tools to measure results.

The Test Site's experiment Tuesday became one of the best predicted and best understood high precision implosion experiments ever, Morgan said.