National Nuclear Security Administration

NNSA lab makes fire tornados to ensure weapon safety

May 17, 2016

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Fire whirls from a 3-meter diameter pool in the Thermal Test Complex at Sandia National Laboratories.NNSA’s laboratories need to conduct a lot of tests under extreme conditions. From enormous implosion pressure to energy more intense than the sun, NNSA’s labs support national security by verifying the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile without underground explosive testing.

In Sandia National Laboratories’ Thermal Test Complex  in Albuquerque, a controlled environment provides a way to demonstrate the performance of components and assemblies under a variety of abnormal thermal environments and is an ideal setting on which to develop and validate response models. Researchers focus on fires that rotate since “fire tornados” generate much higher heat fluxes than non-rotational fires.

In a recent test, cameras caught a climbing funnel of rushing flames that towered almost to the roof of the 50-foot-tall building housing the test enclosure. To “turn off” the fire tornado, operators simply flip a safety switch to shut down the 750-horsepower fan that sucks outside air and cut the supply of fuel.

“One objective of the current experiments is to create an extremely abnormal thermal environment, representative of what a weapon potentially could be exposed to,” said test director Anay Luketa. “The current tests control boundary conditions and offer repeatable experiments.”

The TTC complex, completed in 2006, centralizes Sandia’s thermal test capabilities, incorporates multiple unique design features and provides advanced capabilities for thermal testing found nowhere else in the world. Learn more about the recent photographed thermal test and Sandia National Laboratories.