Nuclear Energy and Weapons

Given the central role that physical scientists have traditionally played in the history of nuclear energy and weapons, FYI covers major developments in nuclear energy and weapons policy, particularly as they relate to ongoing science policy matters.

The National Ignition Facility at Lawrence Livermore National Lab has performed a nuclear fusion experiment that released more energy than was applied to it. The accomplishment realizes an idea first posited six decades ago and will have applications in nuclear warhead stewardship, but using the method for practical energy generation remains a distant prospect.

The National Nuclear Security Administration’s budget is increasing steadily in support of work to reconstitute plutonium production capabilities and other key infrastructure supporting the nuclear weapons stockpile, though funding for some science programs is under pressure.

A new study sponsored by the American Physical Society concludes that U.S. systems for intercepting intercontinental ballistic missiles cannot be relied on to counter even a limited nuclear strike and are unlikely to achieve reliability within the next 15 years.

Science and technology provisions included in Congress’ latest defense policy update reflect lawmakers ongoing interest in accelerating the adoption of emerging technologies; advancing specific technology categories such as quantum computing, microelectronics, and biotechnology; and streamlining collaboration between the Defense Department and extramural researchers.

Climate change, the pandemic, and emerging technology governance were major themes of President Biden’s first address to the U.N. General Assembly on Sept. 21. Meanwhile, a series of high-level meetings have set the stage for more intense technology cooperation between the U.S. and partner nations.

House and Senate appropriators largely match the administration’s topline request for the National Nuclear Security Administration for fiscal year 2022 but reject proposed cuts to weapons stockpile science programs while slashing funding for the Stockpile Responsiveness Program.

Within a flat overall budget for the National Nuclear Security Administration, the Biden administration proposes to ramp up funding for plutonium production while paring back certain stockpile R&D activities, such as inertial confinement fusion.

President Biden has nominated former Sandia National Labs Director Jill Hruby and nuclear weapons policy expert Frank Rose to take the top two positions at the National Nuclear Security Administration, the Department of Energy agency responsible for maintaining the U.S. nuclear warhead stockpile.

President Biden has nominated former Sandia National Labs Director Jill Hruby and nuclear weapons policy expert Frank Rose to take the top two positions at the National Nuclear Security Administration, the Department of Energy agency responsible for maintaining the U.S. nuclear warhead stockpile.

The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021 authorizes major new initiatives in advanced technologies and makes an array of policy updates aimed at bolstering U.S. private-sector innovation, the defense STEM workforce, and the environmental resilience of military infrastructure and operations.