Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

nonproliferation image


LLNL’s support of DOE/NNSA’s Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation Program focuses on preventing and mitigating nuclear proliferation, improving global nuclear security, and developing innovative arms control verification technologies and methodologies. For example, LLNL’s diverse technical staff devises new materials to advance radiation detection capabilities, design complex systems to provide stateof- the-art capabilities needed for national monitoring, advance the implementation of effective international verification regimes, and frustrate proliferators’ efforts to acquire sensitive dual use technologies.


The proliferation risk landscape is dynamic and requires a flexible, resilient program to address changes over the medium- to long-term. In today’s globalized environment, states and nonstate actors are trying to find ways to acquire technologies, capabilities, and expertise that could be used to develop nuclear weapons. Maintaining U.S. national monitoring capabilities and cooperative international mechanisms to detect and constrain these evolving nuclear weapons activities are essential. There must also be continued emphasis on nuclear security, so that theft of nuclear material cannot become a shortcut to proliferation or nuclear terrorism. U.S. government (USG) programs and global efforts have reduced the quantity and vulnerability of the materials at greatest risk, but sustaining these reductions is critical.


Inspectors at Integrated Field Exercise in Jordan, which was a major milestonein the development of onsite inspection capability for the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization

Inspectors at Integrated Field Exercise in Jordan, which was a major milestone in the development of onsite
inspection capability for the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization

  • Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator (RTG) Recovery Work—Other Laboratory work in helping secure Russian special nuclear materials included the successful removal of 486 radioisotope thermoelectric generators (RTGs) throughout Russia and Antarctica. As a result of these efforts by GTRI, more than 20 million curies of radioactive material have been permanently secured.
  • Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization’s Integrated Field Exercise (IFE) 2014 in Jordan—LLNL’s radiation detection and gas sampling technologies were critical to the success of the Onsite Inspection exercise conducted in Jordan to simulate a entire inspection for a fictional scenario.
  • Training the next generation—As part of DOE’s effort to train the next generation of international nuclear safeguards experts, LLNL and the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey have cooperated to train more than three hundred graduate students, national laboratory staff, and U.S. and foreign government officials over the last eight years, and we have hosted more than forty summer interns, most of whom have gone on to careers in safeguards or nonproliferation in government, at national laboratories, or at the IAEA. We also collaborate with foreign partners to build safeguards expertise in developing countries to ensure they can meet their IAEA safeguards obligations.
  • Validation of seismic monitoring tools that help identify underground nuclear explosions—LLNL played a leading role in fielding a Source Physics Experiment (SPE). The data from the SPE campaign are used to help ensure that we can distinguish an explosion from an earthquake and to improve tools that the U.S. can use to independently verify international compliance with treaties and commitments. A chemical explosive equivalent to 196 pounds of TNT in a contained, confined environment 286 feet below ground was detonated. Information gathered from this experiment includes high-resolution accelerometer, infrasound, seismic, explosive performance, electromagnetic, ground-based LIDAR (light detection and ranging), digital photogrammetry data, and satellite-based synthetic aperture radar.
  • Source Physics Experiment at the Nevada National Security Site

    Source Physics Experiment at the Nevada National Security Site

  • Novel Passive Radio Frequency Tag designed for harsh environments—The Smart Real-time Radio Frequency Harsh Environment (HET) System is based on novel passive (battery-free) RF tags and specialized portal or hand-held readers designed for harsh environments. HET tag sizes vary from a credit card to a postage stamp or coin and are affixed to inventory items for a fast, accurate automatic inventory control. Unlike barcodes and conventional passive RFID tags, the HET allows long-range, nonline-of-sight reading of items in harsh environments. These battery-free tags are small, lightweight, low-cost, and have indefinite lifetime.
  • Megatons to Megawatts—From 1993 through 2013, implementation of the U.S.-Russian Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU) Purchase Agreement accomplished the conversion of 500 metric tons of Russian HEU—an amount equivalent to approximately 20,000 nuclear warheads—into low enriched uranium (LEU) fuel for U.S. civilian nuclear power reactors. LLNL played a leading role in the associated transparency arrangement by developing a specialized detector for nondestructive assay, coordinating teams of of U.S. experts that monitoring Russian nuclear sites, providing health and safety support to the teams, and analyzing and archiving the monitoring data.
  • Technical support of Joint Agreement with Iran—Throughout nearly two years of talks that led to the July 14, 2015 nuclear deal negotiated between the P5 + 1 and Iran, LLNL nuclear experts supported policymakers and negotiators by providing objective technical advice, especially with regard to the effectiveness, verifiability, and risk of various proposed constraints on Iran’s gas centrifuge uranium enrichment program. The Laboratory also conducted technical studies and provided 24/7 reach-back.
  • Next generation planetary gamma spectrometer—As a follow-on to the The success of LLNL’s miniature planetary gamma spectrometer on board the Mercury Messenger, NASA is having LLNL construct and space-qualify the next-generation system for a future space mission.

The Future

Energy partition/energy coupling experiment at the National Ignition Facility

Energy partition/energy coupling experiment at the National Ignition Facility

Much has been accomplished over the past 25 years of nonproliferation programs. As a result, what remains are the most difficult problems. As WMD technologies and knowledge continue to spread, and as new threats emerge—including highly motivated nonstate groups—it will be increasingly important to harness, integrate, and draw actionable conclusions from new and diverse information streams. Whether monitoring compliance with IAEA safeguards commitments, tracking the status of foreign nuclear weapon programs, or using high-performance computing capabilities to model the earth’s crust in detail to enable the improved monitoring of underground nuclear explosions, LLNL advances creative methodologies to solve inherently difficult problems. At the same time, our experts work in the far reaches of the globe to raise awareness and capability in support of nuclear safeguards and security, cyber security, verification technologies, and export controls, thereby enhancing international security.

At the request of Department of Energy Secretary Moniz, leading up to the 2015 Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, DC, LLNL will be hosting a ministerial-level scenario-based policy discussion. We expect about 25 ministers from around the world to interactively engage on key issues related to nuclear security, such as nuclear forensics, atmospheric modeling, and emergency response.

Scientific Underpinning

LLNL leverages the capabilities it has developed to support the Stockpile Stewardship Program, in addition to world-leading expertise in seismic modeling, radiation detection, and nuclear forensics to support USG goals in nonproliferation.

Bill Walter discusses data from the Source Physics Experiment 4 Prime

Bill Walter discusses data from the Source Physics Experiment 4 Prime

  • Nuclear Forensics—unique role in nuclear material analysis, sample preparation, and identification of material signatures.
  • Radiation Detection—leveraging advanced optics work, we have developed new materials and techniques that can uniquely distinguish neutron and gamma signatures of materials useful in many different detection scenarios.
  • Seismic Modeling—performing theoretical and experimental research to improve the predictive capability of seismic tools and reduce monitoring thresholds.
  • Tags and Seals—developing robust tags and seals for time-sensitive and real-time inventory and security in harsh radio frequency signal environments.
  • High-Performance Computing—underpins many threat assessments and enables big data approaches to improve situational awareness and seismic monitoring.
  • Policy Support—lab environment allows for unique contributions to national security at the nexus of science and policy.


  • Political motivations to acquire nuclear weapons capabilities appear to be on the rise in the face of regional conflicts and perceptions of effectiveness of the U.S. nuclear deterrence umbrella.
  • The accelerating pace of technology development introduces national security vulnerabilities that must be recognized and mitigated more quickly than the past. Nuclear WMD latent capability often cannot be reversed.
  • The world community has spent decades working with Russia to secure their stocks of special nuclear materials, in both the military and civilian sectors. The state of current events has created significant challenges in ensuring the sustainability of the security improvements and investments.

Principal Sponsorship

Department of Energy/Nuclear National Security Agency and Department of State