New CT scanner monitors health of aging U.S. nuclear weapon stockpile

The U.S. Department of Energy has announced that it has successfully installed a new CT scanner that is capable of detecting aging defects on critical components in the nation's nuclear weapons stockpile.

The U.S. Department of Energy has announced that it has successfully installed a new CT scanner that is capable of detecting aging defects on critical components in the nation's nuclear weapons stockpile.

The problem until now was that it was difficult to inexpensively survey and inspect the nation's stash of nuclear components.

Scientists at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory partnered with the National Nuclear Security Administration's Pantex Plant near Amarillo, Texas, to develop a new X-ray CT ("computed tomography") scanner to image the nuclear materials.

The CT scanner  -- similar to CT or CAT scanners used by doctors and hospitals -- allows for precise, non-destructive detection of anomalies that indicate inherent defects or aging. That's important because aging can impact a weapon's future performance.

"This new system is a prime example of NNSA's ability to leverage the best science and technology in the world to solve complex national security challenges and highlights our commitment to transforming a Cold War nuclear weapons complex into a 21st century nuclear security enterprise," said NNSA Administrator Thomas P. D'Agostino in prepared remarks.

Called CoLOSSIS -- for "Confined Large Optical Scintillator Screen and Imaging System" -- the high-resolution imaging system uses software to assemble digital radiographs into a large three-dimensional image that scientists can analyze to search for problems.

The scanner has been in the works for nearly a decade.

Interested in more information? Read all about how the scanner works in an official report (.pdf) on the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory's site.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com