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Sandia National Laboratories is studying how environments, including radiation that originates from a nuclear weapon itself, could affect the performance of electronics in the W76-1 warhead as they age.

Sandia, which is responsible for most non-nuclear components in U.S. nuclear weapons, is helping replace W76 warheads in the nation's stockpile with a refurbished version under the W76-1 Life Extension Program (LEP). The ballistic missile warhead is carried on the Trident II D5 missile aboard Ohio-class Navy submarines.

Researchers have studied radiation effects since the early days of nuclear weapons. But a 30-year program begun in 2006 will provide real-time data for the first time on how electronics age within the weapon. Studies in the past used techniques that artificially accelerated the aging process based on a range of assumptions resulting from experiments and previous research.

"There has always been the question with accelerated aging data, how reliable is it?" said principal investigator Rachelle Thompson.

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