NNSA Adds To Its Omega Laser System's Capability

Press Release
May 16, 2008

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The federal agency that maintains the aging nuclear weapons stockpile has significantly improved one of its tools used to certify the reliability of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile.  The Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) added four high energy laser beam lines to its Omega laser system, which is used to generate extreme temperature and pressure conditions, approaching those existing in nuclear explosions.

"The Omega laser system is important to NNSA's efforts to continue to ensure the reliability of the nuclear weapons stockpile without underground nuclear testing," said NNSA Administrator Thomas D'Agostino today at the dedication ceremony at the University of Rochester.  "This improvement is important not only to the nation's security, but to the future of energy technology as a whole."

The Omega laser system, which is located at the University of Rochester in New York, is now made up of NNSA's original Omega laser, which has been operational since 1995, and the new Omega EP, or extended performance, laser.  The laser system is used to generate extreme temperatures and pressures in different materials.  The two lasers can be used independently, or together to provide a more detailed x-ray image of a particular experiment.

The United States has not produced new nuclear weapons since 1991, and has not conducted an underground nuclear test since 1992 when President George H.W. Bush ordered a voluntary moratorium be put in place.

To ensure the nation's nuclear weapons remain safe, secure and reliable beyond their original design life of roughly 10-20 years, the stockpile stewardship program was implemented.  As part of this program, the Omega laser system allows NNSA scientists to develop the understanding that allows predictions of how a particular weapon component from the current stockpile will react during a nuclear explosion.

Experiments at the Omega laser system are complemented by similar work done at NNSA's Z Machine, located at Sandia National Laboratories, and, in the near future, the National Ignition Facility (NIF), located at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. This research gives scientists a broader understanding of the nation's aging nuclear weapons stockpile.

Established by Congress in 2000, NNSA is a separately organized agency within the U.S. Department of Energy responsible for enhancing national security through the military application of nuclear science. NNSA maintains and enhances the safety, security, reliability and performance of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile without nuclear testing; works to reduce 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 United States and abroad.

Media contact(s):
NNSA Public Affairs (202) 586-7371