NRL's Plasma Physics Division Employees Receive Prestigious DOE Award

5/5/2004 - 24-04w
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Members of the Naval Research Laboratory's Plasma Physics Division have received the prestigious Department of Energy (DoE) National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) Defense Programs Award of Excellence. The NRL research team, along with teams from Sandia National Laboratories (SNL), Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), Bechtel Nevada Corp., Titan Pulsed Sciences Division, and Mission Research Corp., were cited for their "development of the Cygnus Pulsed Power-Driven Flash X-Ray Radiographic Source for SubCritical Experiments," which is a significant contribution to the National Stockpile Stewardship Program. The NRL award recipients include Drs. Gerald Cooperstein, Robert Commisso, David Mosher, Paul Ottinger and Joseph Schumer, of the Pulsed Power Physics Branch, plus Drs. Stephen Swanekamp and Frank Young of Titan/JAYCOR Inc.

The Defense Programs Award of Excellence was established in 1982 to recognize individuals or teams for significant achievements in quality, productivity, cost savings, safety, or creativity in support of the Nuclear Weapons Program. It is an annual award program that recognizes the contributions of work performed by the NNSA Defense Programs employees in support of the Stockpile Stewardship Program.

Dr. John Maenchen, manager of Advanced Radiological Technologies, at Sandia National Laboratories, in Albuquerque, New Mexico explains that this achievement required an integrated national team working together to define, develop, and implement a state-of-the-art pulsed-power-driven high intensity electron beam system providing a unique and essential flash radiographic x-ray source required for nuclear weapon certification SubCritical Experiments (SCE) at the Nevada Test Site. No such system had ever before been considered, as extrapolation beyond demonstrated technology was required in the accelerator, in the pulsed power flow, and in the high intensity electron beam load. This is the first of an anticipated series of pulsed-power-driven flash x-ray radiographic capabilities to be deployed for SCE, and is therefore the most important, demonstrating that this compact and inexpensive technology can provide critical data which has been missing until now. The success of the Cygnus accelerator system, which is the prime diagnostic for the Armando SCE, is therefore an enabling step for the future and serves as a shining example of inter-laboratory cooperation where the best assets of each are merged to provide an important asset for the NNSA. The multi-laboratory team effort would not have been possible except for the superb dedication by all partners, working extended hours and outside their usual laboratory-scope confines to identify and solve complex technical and organizational problems. The very best skill sets from across the nation were joined together to create this unique NNSA capability essential for the certification of a strategic nuclear weapon system.

The NRL team's contribution to this large, multi-laboratory team effort was the development of the rod-pinch radiography source, the key enabling technology that made the capability possible. Dr. Sidney Ossakow, Superintendent of the Plasma Physics Division, noted that the Cygnus project officer advised him although the two large Cygnus pulsed-power generators and the preparation of the underground laboratory at the Nevada Test Site consumed the bulk of the project cost, the project would not have gone forward if the NRL rod-pinch diode capability had not been demonstrated to have the millimeter-diameter x-ray spot size required for this application.

NRL discovered the rod-pinch-diode phenomenon in 1977 during a pioneering research effort in electron-beam pinch-formation processes in low-impedance diodes. In 1996, NRL recognized that the DoE labs had a need for improved high-resolution sources for pulsed hydrodynamic radiography. From 1997 to 1999, NRL used its in-house R&D research funds to demonstrate improved resolution with better understanding in a geometry suitable for radiography. A radiographic demonstration on NRL's Gamble II pulsed power facility in 1999 convinced LANL of the utility of the rod-pinch diode and allowed LANL to proceed with planning subcritical nuclear weapon experiments using radiography. Cygnus was specifically designed to drive the rod-pinch diode. Since then, important contributions to this continuing Cygnus radiography effort have made by Drs. Bruce Weber, David Hinshelwood and Raymond Allen of NRL's Pulsed Power Physics Branch, and Dr. Stavros Stephanakis and Mr. Ron Boller of Titan/JAYCOR Inc. Because of their interest in the continued development of the rod-pinch diode for future hydrodynamic radiography experiments, LANL, SNL and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) have partnered with NRL to help NRL acquire Mercury, a new 6-MV, 360-kA pulsed-power facility which should be operational in June, 2004.

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