Here’s what you need to know today: How America’s nuclear weapons are maintained

Over the next decade, the United States will spend more than $750 billion to upgrade virtually every aspect of its aging nuclear defenses.

Officials say they can’t wait much longer because certain systems and parts are more than 50 years old.

For now, it is up to young military personnel and government technicians across the United States to maintain existing bombs and related components.

The jobs are precise and often require a deft touch. This is because many maintenance activities must be performed by hand.

The Associated Press was granted rare access to nuclear missile stations and weapons production facilities to see how specialists keep the arsenal operational as the country embarks on its largest nuclear overhaul since the Cold War.

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How people keep nuclear weapons

Scientists are still determining how plutonium cores from aging warheads affect explosions because the United States no longer conducts explosive nuclear tests.

There is also concern about how years spent on warheads may affect the integrity of more common parts, such as the polymers, metals and wires inside each detonator.

As a result, workers in the country’s nuclear laboratories and manufacturing plants spend a lot of time stressing and testing items to ensure their safety.

How America's Nuclear Weapons Are Maintained What You Need to KnowCredit: AP

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Technicians put the components through extensive testing at the Department of Energy’s Kansas City National Security Campus, where the warheads are maintained and manufactured.

They heat gun parts to extreme temperatures, drop them at speeds that mimic a plane crash, fire them from test guns at high speeds, and shake and rattle them for hours.

The tests mimic real-world conditions, such as launching toward a target or being pulled in an Air Force vehicle down a long, rocky road.

Technicians at Los Alamos National Laboratory perform similar tests, subjecting plutonium to extreme stress, heat and pressure to ensure it is stable enough to explode as designed.

Like those in Kansas City, technicians at Los Alamos carefully analyzed the tested parts and radioactive material to see if they caused any damage.

Why trust old models?

How America's Nuclear Weapons Are Maintained What You Need to KnowCredit: AP

The shortage of explosive tests, banned by an international treaty since the George HW Bush administration, has also forced experts to rely on warhead designs developed decades ago.

This is because each of those original designs has been confirmed and the best way to ensure a weapon works as intended is to blow it up.

Even changing a component creates uncertainty.

Because the guns are so old, many original manufacturers and contractors have gone out of business, further compounding the problems.

As a result, the country’s nuclear laboratories have been forced to reverse engineer old parts, such as peroxide used to treat warhead parts but which are no longer manufactured.

As a result, lab professionals are working to recreate it.

With computer-aided design and advances in 3D printing, re-engineering parts is becoming easier.

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Technicians in Kansas City are working with 3D printers to build warhead parts, such as a microhoneycomb-shaped rubber layer to cushion warhead radar systems.

What is the difference between the age of the workers and the war leaders?

How America's Nuclear Weapons Are Maintained What You Need to KnowCredit: AP

It is not uncommon to see a 50-year-old warhead guarded or maintained by someone fresh out of high school, and the ultimate responsibility for a nuclear weapon could fall to a service member as young as 23.

That’s what happened on a recent afternoon at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana, where Airman Jacob Deas signed a document taking responsibility for a nearly 3,000-pound Minuteman III ICBM warhead as it was removed from the Bravo silo. -9 and escorted. return to base to work. Due to a wave of government retirements, the experience level of the civilian nuclear workforce has changed substantially.

For example, at the Kansas City site, only about 6% of the staff have been there for 30 years or more, and more than 60% have been there for five years or less. As a result of this change, more women have entered the workforce. In the wide hallways between Kansas City’s guarded workrooms, green and white breastfeeding pods can be found with the welcoming message “Mothers Welcome.”

The uniform allowance at Los Alamos now includes sports bras. Because?

Because underwire bras were incompatible with the various layers of metal detection and radiation monitoring in the secure facilities.

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