WASHINGTON, D.C. – The National Nuclear Security Administration today announced that its Y-12 National Security Complex has completed the dismantlement of all components associated with the W70, thus eliminating these materials from the United States nuclear stockpile.
The W70 was a tactical nuclear weapons system deployed on the Lance missile as a mobile artillery tactical missile system. This weapon was retired in the early 1990’s as the last nuclear missile deployed by the U.S. Army.
“Completing the dismantlement of all components for the W70 is a clear example of our firm commitment in supporting President Obama’s goal of reducing the number of nuclear weapons and their role in the U.S. national security strategy,” said Don Cook, NNSA’s Deputy Administrator for Defense Programs. “I am proud of the work done at Y-12 and throughout the national security enterprise in continuing to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of our mission.”
Y-12 completed dismantlement of the W70 components years ahead of schedule through the application of infrared debonding technology. The technology was developed by Y-12 to improve the efficiency and safety of the dismantlement process. The technique uses heat from localized infrared rays to degrade adhesive bonds, thus allowing nondestructive separation of components. This technology, which virtually eliminates the need for mechanical processing, was recently patented and is available for licensing for commercial applications.
Dismantling nuclear weapons is a complex process that involves almost all of the sites within the Nuclear Security Enterprise. First, NNSA’s design laboratories work with the production facilities to identify and mitigate hazards that may arise before a particular weapon type is to be dismantled. The labs are able to apply the unique knowledge they gained during the original design process for each weapon in the stockpile.
When a weapon is retired, it is returned to NNSA’s Pantex Plant, Amarillo, Texas, where the high explosives are removed from special nuclear material and the plutonium core is removed from the weapon. The plutonium is placed in highly secure storage at Pantex.
Part of the weapon then moves to the Y-12 National Security Complex, where the uranium components are removed and processed and/or stored for future processing. Some non-nuclear components are retained at Y-12 while others are sent to other locations in the Nuclear Security Enterprise for final disposition.
To ensure that the special nuclear material is safe and secure during transport from site to site throughout the entire dismantlement process, NNSA relies on its Office of Secure Transportation, which assists in the timeliness of the process by ensuring that the shipments are always on schedule.
Established by Congress in 2000, NNSA is a semi-autonomous agency within the U.S. Department of Energy responsible for enhancing national security through the military application of nuclear science in the nation’s national security enterprise. NNSA maintains and enhances the safety, security, reliability, and performance of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile without nuclear testing; reduces the global danger from weapons of mass destruction; provides the U.S. Navy with safe and effective nuclear propulsion; and responds to nuclear and radiological emergencies in the U.S. and abroad.