IFSH Expert Visits US Nuclear Weapons Research Facility

Tour of the tunnelling work at a US nuclear weapons research facility for the new ZEUS and SCORPION experiments, which cost two and a half billion dollars and are used to research plutonium under shock compression.

Located in the Nevada desert is the expansive site of the Nevada National Security Site (NNSS), which was primarily used for nuclear weapons testing by the United States in the past. Today, it serves as a research location. Here, the US works on detecting nuclear weapons tests and maintaining and modernizing its nuclear arsenal. From November 29 to 30, IFSH researcher Christopher Fichtlscherer was a guest there.

As one of in total 13 non-governmental experts in arms control and non-proliferation, he was invited by the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) of the US Department of Energy. The reason for this was the US's efforts for transparency, to demonstrate that they are not violating the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) with their experiments. This visit offered a significant opportunity for open dialogue and insights into the operations of the NNSA, particularly in terms of maintaining nuclear weapons stockpiles and non-proliferation projects.

Christopher Fichtlscherer, who works in collaboration with colleagues from Princeton University and the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology on methods to verify compliance with the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty(CTBT), especially for tests with very low explosive power, gained valuable impressions and knowledge relevant to his research through this visit.

During the visit, among other things, the current facilities were inspected where the US conducts experiments on the shock compression of plutonium. Additionally, the sites were visited where two new experiments, costing a combined two and a half billion dollars, are to be realized in the coming years: the 'Neutron-Diagnosed Subcritical Experiments (NDSE): ZEUS' and 'Advanced Sources and Detectors (ASD): Scorpius'. These two experiments aim to research plutonium under shock compression.

Further details about the NNSA event can be found in the NNSA article about the transparency visit.

More information about Fichtlscherer's research can be found in this article by the Arms Control Association.