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Sandia National Laboratories Information

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Brief History

The Sandia nuclear weapons laboratory in Albuquerque, NM is a direct descendant of the original Manhattan Project. It was, and remains, responsible for the nonnuclear engineering that ensures that nuclear explosive designs become deliverable weapons of mass destruction. In 1945, Los Alamos’s Z Division moved to a site 7 miles southeast of downtown Albuquerque on the Kirtland Air Force Base. By 1948, at the beginning of the nuclear arms race with the Soviet Union, Z Division had grown to 470 employees and became known as the Sandia Laboratory.

Like Los Alamos, in its early days, Sandia Laboratory was run by the University of California. Although supportive of “physics research” at Los Alamos, the University had ethical qualms about being associated with the engineering of the ultimate weapons of mass destruction. In 1949 President Harry Truman asked AT&T to run Sandia Lab, and a new corporate entity, Sandia Corporation, was created as a wholly owned subsidiary of Western Electric, AT&T’s manufacturing arm. In 1993 the Sandia Corporation became a wholly owned subsidiary of the Lockheed Martin Corporation, the U.S.’ biggest defense contractor, which has managed Sandia to this day.

Current Mission at Sandia

Primarily, Sandia has design and engineering responsibility for more than 90 percent of the 3,000 to 6,500 components that enable the nuclear explosive designs of the Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories to become deliverable weapons. These components, most of which are produced and/or procured at the Kansas City Plant, include arming, fuzing, and firing systems; neutron generators that initiate the nuclear chain reaction; tritium gas transfer systems (tritium is used to “boost” nuclear weapons); and “surety” systems that prevent unauthorized use. Sandia also oversees the mating of nuclear warheads to their bomber or missile delivery systems.

Other Sandia missions involve research and development of high explosives, supervisory implementation of the Stockpile Stewardship Program and environmental testing such as “weapons effects” which ensures that nuclear weapons components and subsystems are “hardened” to reliably perform in severely radioactive battlefield environments. Sandia tests complete nuclear weapon assemblies to make sure they will be able to withstand the extreme environments of vibration, temperature and radiation during their “Stockpile to Target Sequence.” All of these efforts support nuclear warfighting and first-strike capability, in contrast to simple retaliatory “deterrence.”

Sandia acquired some nuclear weapons production activities, such as neutron generator production, in the initial round of post-Cold War consolidation of the nuclear weapons complex. In 2005, Sandia also assumed the mission of loading of tritium into these neutron generators. Because the hydrogen isotope of tritium has a short half-life the tritium containing components must be periodically replaced.

Sandia’s total institutional funding based on the FY09 DOE budget request and projection including Work for Others is $2.249 billion. Of that, $1.14 billion is for NNSA activities. Sandia’s budget for “Work-for-Others,” such as counter-terrorism initiatives with the Department of Homeland Security, DoD and the law enforcement/intelligence community is $835 million.

Major Facilities at Sandia in New Mexico

Technical Area (TA)-I at SNL/NM includes the main administrative offices and a group of laboratories. Most of the activities at TA-I relate to the design, research and development of weapon systems and limited production of weapons systems components. The facilities located at TA-I include the main technical library, the Advanced Manufacturing Process Laboratory, the Microelectronics Development Laboratory, the Microsystems and Engineering Sciences Applications Complex, the Neutron Generator Facility, the Processing and Environmental Technology Laboratory, and the Joint Computational Engineering Laboratory.

Several of these facilities at TA-I are of particular interest regarding Nuclear Weapons Complex Consolidation and the modernization of the stockpile. The Advanced Manufacturing Process Laboratory (AMPL) develops and uses advanced manufacturing processes for production of weapon components in support of Sandia’s Directed Stockpile Work. AMPL can fabricate complex 3D microstructures in a wide variety of materials using meso- and miniature-machining processes.

The primary mission of Microelectronics Development Laboratoryis development and application of radiation hardened integrated circuit technologies for weapons and space systems.

Therecently constructed Microsystems and Engineering Sciences Applications (MESA) Complexis a $462 million project called the “cornerstone of 21st century weapons development.”  MESA consists of facilities that design, develop, manufacture in low volumes, integrate and qualify microsystems for nuclear weapons and other national security needs. The facilities in the MESA Complex support Directed Stockpile Work. At MESA, microsystems are created using integrated circuit fabrication techniques to make devices such as on-board processors, microactuators, gears and action arms fabricated from silicon compounds. Sandia states this is an essential activity for the Stockpile Life Extension Process and for compliance with new national security initiatives.

The three buildings that comprise the MESA project will house 648 researchers in 391,000 square feet. One is a microfabrication facility, another a microlaboratory and the third is a new Integrated Weapons Engineering Transformation Facility that, according to the FY09 Ten Year Site Plan, will support an integrated modern weapons engineering capability to meet current and future missions of nuclear stockpile maintenance and weapon development.

TA-II hosts the Explosive Components Facility, the Hazardous Waste Management Facility, the Facilities Command Center, the Solid Waste Transfer Facility, and the Construction and Demolition Recycle Center.

The Explosive Component Facility, sitting on 22 acres of TA-II, includes over 100,000 square feet of laboratories for R&D work on explosives.

The largest of the technical areas, TA-III is the site of large scale tests and engineering activities such as sled tracks, centrifuges and the Thermal Test Complex which require safety or security buffers. Other facilities in TA-III include the Radioactive and Mixed Waste Management Facility, the Chemical Waste Landfill, the Mixed Waste Landfill, and the Corrective Action Management Unit.

TA-IV houses facilities used to conduct R&D activities in inertial confinement fusion, pulsed power, and nuclear particle acceleration. Facilities located in TA-IV include the Z Accelerator, the Advanced Pulsed Power Development Laboratory, the Radiographic Integrated Test Stand, the Tera-Electron-Volt Energy Superconducting Linear Accelerator, the High Energy Radiation Megavolt Electron Source III, the Saturn Accelerator, the Repetitive High Energy Pulsed Power Accelerator, the High Power Microwave Laboratory, and the Short-Pulse High Intensity Nanosecond X Radiator.

Many of these facilities are used to conduct radiation effects testing to support stockpile stewardship as well as serving the campaigns for Dynamic Materials Properties, Inertial Confinement Fusion and High Yield, Nuclear Survivability, and Weapons Systems Engineering Certification.

NNSA Defense Programs nuclear facilities are located at TA-V and routinely handle radioactive materials. TA-V houses the Gamma Irradiation Facility, the Annular Core Research Reactor, the Hot Cell Facility, and the Auxiliary Hot Cell Facility.

The Annular Core Research Reactor (ACRR) is a water-moderated pool-type research reactor capable of pulse and steady-state operations.  The ACRR has a dry irradiation cavity constructed such that experiment package models can be easily placed in the reactor. The ACRR is primarily used for testing electronics, materials, and fissile components for vulnerability to neutrons in order to certify the weapon components and systems.

Several remote test areas are located east and southeast of TA-III and within the canyons and foothills of the United States Forest Service withdrawn area (Lurance Canyon and Coyote Canyon). These areas are used for explosive ordnance testing, rocket firing experiments, and open-burn thermal tests.

Other Sandia Labs Facilities

The Sandia Labs’ second biggest site is located in California adjacent to the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) so as to allow for closer collaboration with that lab. Sandia/California (SNL/CA) engineers work on non-nuclear component design and systems integration (which includes mating to delivery systems) for LLNL designed nuclear weapons, namely the B83, W80 and the W87.

SNL/CA activities also involve engineering Gas Transfer Systems for tritium and Joint Test Assemblies for realistic in-flight testing of disarmed nuclear weapons. Major facilities at Sandia/California include the Combustion Research Facility, the Micro and Nano Technologies Laboratory and the Distributed Information Systems Laboratory.

Sandia operates the Tonopah Test Range near Tonopah, Nevada, for flight-testing of gravity weapons and delivery systems.

Sandia in NNSA’s “Complex Transformation”

In its draft Complex Transformation proposal NNSA stated its intent to shift SNL/CA out of nuclear weapons programs and to another unnamed federal agency. NNSA reversed its intent in its final Complex Transformation proposal.

In the Record of Decision for the Complex Transformation SPEIS, NNSA states it will consolidate major Environmental Testing at SNL/NM and will only conduct these test operations involving Category I/II special nuclear materials infrequently during particular campaigns. High explosives R&D, hydrodynamic testing and weapons support activities will continue at SNL/CA.  However, four ET facilities at SNL/NM will close: the Pulsed Reactor, the Low Dose Rate Gamma Irradiation Facility, the Auxiliary Hot Cell Facility and the Centrifuge Complex. The Environmental Test Complex at SNL/CA will also be closed. The footprint of SNL operations at the Tonopah Test Range will be reduced and testing will proceed there on a campaign basis.


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