Savannah River Site modernizes tracking program for nuclear bomb reservoirs

Wednesday, Aug 21, 2013 4:21 PM
Last updated Monday, Aug 26, 2013 1:08 AM
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Savannah River Site has completed a seven-year effort to adopt a new, top-secret computer system that keeps track of tritium reservoirs used in nuclear warheads.

The radioactive gas, which amplifies explosive power, has a half-life of about 12½ years. When tritium “reservoirs” in warheads require recharging, the stainless steel components are shipped to SRS, where recycled and newly extracted tritium is loaded into the containers.

The previous tracking program, known as Automated Reservoir Management System, or ARMS, had been in use more than 20 years and relied upon outdated technology, so the solution was a multi-year project to implement its modern replacement: ARMS II.

The system, with more than 200 users throughout the National Nuclear Security Administration’s nuclear arms facilities, tracks reservoirs throughout their life cycle and maintains real-time records of when components are processed or shipped from SRS, and when they should be returned based on their age.

The conversion required migrating more than 18 million historical records, according to site officials.

The transition also required a four-week outage, coordinated with other nuclear weapons sites, to allow migration of so much data to the new system.

Savannah River Site’s tritium program, which employs about 450 workers, is one of the last nuclear weapons functions still based at the South Carolina facility.

In addition to servicing the warhead reservoirs, SRS workers conduct performance tests on gas transfer systems randomly selected from the active stockpile to ensure performance without the need for nuclear testing.

In these critical tests, a valve fires to open a hole in the reservoir fill stem, and workers must verify that the fill gas is delivered.

The reservoirs are also exposed to extreme forces potentially experienced during use, including thermal changes, vibration, centrifugal force and drop tests. Workers also extract tritium from fuel rods produced at Tennessee Valley Authority reactors and from both surplus and active warhead reservoirs.

Though the number of nuclear warheads in the U.S. arsenal has fallen in recent decades, the total stockpile still includes about 4,650, of which an estimated 2,150 are deployed, according to a 2013 report by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.


Tritium Supply – extraction of tritium from irradiated target rods and management of the tritium inventory for the nuclear stockpile.

Nuclear Stockpile Maintenance – loading of tritium and deuterium into reservoirs that are used in the gas transfer system of a nuclear weapon.

Nuclear Stockpile Evaluation – surveillance of gas transfer systems to assure reliability in the absence of nuclear testing.

Helium-3 Recovery – recovery of this byproduct of tritium’s radioactive decay for use in neutron detectors and various commercial applications.

SOURCE: National Nuclear Security Administration

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