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Z Machine Conducts Successful Materials Experiment for NNSA

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) today announced that Sandia National Laboratories successfully performed an experiment with Los Alamos National Laboratory on the properties of plutonium materials on the Z machine on Nov. 18. This was the first plutonium Z machine experiment in four years.

“The successful Z Machine experiment demonstrates our commitment to ensuring that NNSA has the infrastructure, facilities, and highly trained scientists and engineers required to maintain the safety, security and effectiveness of a smaller stockpile without nuclear testing,” said Dr. Donald Cook, Deputy Administrator for Defense Programs. “We congratulate the Sandia-led team for a job well done.” 

The experiment is a continuation of studies performed at Sandia prior to the major refurbishment of the Z machine to increase the output of electrical energy.  

“This is a great example of how stockpile stewardship brings together the laboratories, local high-tech industry, and the NNSA to develop a capability that safely allows measurements that the program needs to complement our work done at Nevada,” said Dr. Chris Deeney, Assistant Deputy Administrator for Stockpile Stewardship.  

“Understanding the detailed response of these materials at high pressure is an important component of the science basis for ensuring the safety, reliability, and effectiveness of the nuclear stockpile,” said Keith Matzen, director of Sandia’s pulsed power program. “I am very proud of the Z team.”The Z machine is the Earth’s most powerful and efficient laboratory radiation source.

The Z machine can fire 200 shots every year; the machine uses currents of about 26 million amps to reach peak X-ray emissions of 350 terawatts and an X-ray output of 2.7 megajoules and pressures greater than those at the center of the Earth.

The Z machine is part of Sandia’s Pulsed Power Program. Pulsed power is a technology that concentrates electrical energy and turns it into short pulses of enormous power, which are then used to generate X-rays. Produced in the laboratory, this controlled radiation or magnetic pressure creates conditions on a small scale similar to those caused by the detonation of nuclear weapons, which is why from its earliest days pulsed power has been used to study weapons effects.

For more information about the Z machine see:

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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.