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ARC will make tiny “movies” of thermonuclear and stockpile experiments

Installation of part of ARC preamplifer systems.

X-ray radiograph of a backlit grid produced on the first programmatic ARC shot.

The National Ignition Facility’s (NIF) performed the first programmatic experiments with Advanced Radiographic Capability (ARC) on December 1-3, 2015. ARC, a petawatt-class laser with peak power that will exceed a quadrillion watts, is designed to produce brighter, more penetrating, higher-energy X-rays than can be obtained with existing radiographic techniques. In the December tests, good quality images of a backlit test grid were recorded on an image plate diagnostic. This is an important milestone toward the quality imagery of NIF experiments that ARC will be able to produce.

The world’s highest-energy short-pulse laser, ARC will take high resolution x-ray images at very high speeds and brightness under experimental conditions that are relevant to understanding the operation of modern nuclear weapons. ARC captures imagery at a resolution of 20 millionths of a meter and up to 50 billion frames per second. ARC will create images so quickly, brightly and clearly that it will be able to produce radiographic “movies” of the small scale experiments conducted at NIF—a feat it is expected to achieve in 2016.

ARC is one of the many diagnostic tools serving as part of NNSA’s non-explosive nuclear stockpile stewardship program. NIF experiments are essential to the nation’s stockpile assessment and certification strategy. NIF will be the only place for scientists to gain access to and examine thermonuclear burn without nuclear explosive testing.


After amplification in the NIF laser, the ARC beams are compressed in the target bay and focused to Target Chamber Center (TCC).