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Sandia’s detectors key Russian nuke inspections

Sandia National Laboratories designed new radiation detection equipment for New START monitoring that was first used in Russia in July. (Randy Montoya/Sandia National Laboratories )

RIO RANCHO, N.M. — New radiation detectors designed, tested and built at Sandia National Laboratories were recently used by inspectors with the federal Defense Threat Reduction Agency to inspect Russia’s nuclear weapons as part of a treaty between that country and the United States.

The New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, known as New START, was entered in 2011 and required both countries to meet set limits on nuclear weapons by Feb. 5, 2018.

“We’re pretty proud of what we were able to develop and put into action for the U.S. government,” said Mary Clare Stoddard, manager of arms control technology development at Sandia.

Each country was allowed to make 18 inspections of nuclear weapons storage facilities per year to verify reported weapon numbers.

The neutron-detecting equipment, which replaced devices originally developed by Sandia in the late 1980s, is used by inspectors to guarantee objects that are declared non-nuclear are indeed non-nuclear.

Stoddard said the equipment was in need of an update after it became increasingly difficult to find replacement components for the aging systems.

The new units are also 60 pounds lighter, weighing in at 120 pounds.

The Russians approved the equipment for use in May 2017, and the equipment was used in a July 2017 inspection.

According to a news release last week from the U.S. Department of State, the U.S. reached the stipulated limits in August 2017.

“The Russian Federation has repeatedly stated its commitment to the New START Treaty, including meeting the central limits, and we expect our upcoming data exchange under the Treaty to reaffirm that commitment,” the news release read.

“The United States will continue to fully implement the New START Treaty and remains committed to working with others, including the Russian Federation, to create the conditions to support the ultimate goal of the global elimination of nuclear weapons.”

Russia’s numbers will become available after data is exchanged later this month.