For many years Los Alamos National Laboratory has had an active arms-control program with two main goals: to provide technology for verifying compliance with arms-control treaties, and to support international activities in nuclear materials control.
The first major arms-control activity at Los Alamos was the design and preparation of the first Vela satellite in 1960, which was used to detect atmospheric nuclear weapons tests. The Lab's role has characteristically been to utilize the most advanced technologies in the space environment. This has translated into nonproliferation functions such as the detection of x-ray, gamma-ray, radio-frequency, neutron and charged-particle radiations from nuclear detonations.
Nuclear material safeguards, particularly measurements using nondestructive assay (NDA) techniques and nuclear material accounting systems, started at Los Alamos in 1966, simultaneous with the Treaty on Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons.
All International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors have been trained at Los Alamos. The equipment used by IAEA inspectors to monitor activities of nuclear facilities has mostly been developed at LANL and Sandia National Laboratory. Los Alamos has been a training ground for nuclear materials workers throughout the DOE complex since the 1970s.
During the late 1960s and early 1970s, before the rise of satellite nuclear nonproliferation monitoring, the United States Air Force operated a network of nuclear test detection listening stations. These listening stations served as the nation's primary means of detecting nuclear explosion worldwide. While this network of listening stations has long-since been mothballed, the Laboratory's array, which dates back to 1983, still is used for nuclear nonproliferation work.
The Air Force's DSP satellites provide early warning of ballistic missile launches or nuclear explosions. Los Alamos' technology on the DSP is an extension of the work that began on Vela satellites in the 1960s. The first two DSP radiation detection instrument (RADEC) suites were launched in 1975. The Air Force launched additional satellites beginning in 1989 with advanced radiation monitoring equipment
In recent years, the Nuclear Nonproliferation Division (N) at Los Alamos National Laboratory works both on the front lines and behind the scenes to prevent the use of nuclear or radiological materials as threats to national or international security.
Los Alamos' x-ray instruments are sensors designed to measure the intense burst of x-rays that accompany a nuclear detonation. Because x-rays travel at the speed of light in all directions from a nuclear detonation, the instruments' GPS navigation system provides information to pinpoint the location of an explosion in space. The sensor also measures the intensity of the x-rays and can be used to estimate the yield of the device that was detonated.