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New Pantex Plant sensors provide ample warning to protect NNSA operations from lightning

NNSA is charged with making sure the nation’s nuclear deterrent is safe, secure, and effective.  That mission includes protecting the Nuclear Security Enterprise from forces of nature. One natural threat, lightning, can damage electronics and even degrade concrete buildings and structures.

In the Texas Panhandle, where NNSA’s Pantex Plant supports dismantlement, fabrication, and storage of nuclear weapons components, the radiation and magnetic fields produced by lightning can wreak havoc on sensitive operations. That’s why the plant recently installed eight new sensors for a new lightning mapping array system to detect lightning before it strikes. The new sensors were installed as part of a Nuclear Safety Research and Development project to determine the viability of the array as a means of enhancing the existing Pantex Lightning Detection and Warning System.

With warning of an impending lightning strike, plant workers take special protective action, pausing weather-dependent operations to make sure team members are safe and sensitive equipment is protected. The newly installed sensors detect small electrical discharges within a cloud and generate a map showing frequency and location, adding more warning time prior to a cloud-to-ground strike.

On top of the new sensors and extra lead time, NNSA engineers are developing software to study lightning and atmospheric data. Pantex will use lightning data over time and the new software to analyze effectiveness of lightning prediction and optimize response to warnings.

Learn more about how NNSA engineers are taking on the unique challenge of lightning.