The Evolution of Nuclear Safety Engineering as it applies to Nuclear Weapons

High consequence engineering systems require special safety considerations due to the potentially catastrophic consequences of an accident.  And, few systems are as high consequence as a nuclear weapon accident.  As the U.S. nuclear weapon designs evolved, multiplied and were deployed they experienced a number of accidents which challenged the engineered safety approaches, quantitative assessments, and even the accident environment understanding which are commonly used in many other industries.  A fundamentally new set of safety goals, engineered safety architectures, and evaluation techniques were developed.

This lecture will begin with a brief explanation of the role of the U.S. national laboratories in working on national security problems across a spectrum of engineering, energy, cyber, space, defense and other national challenges.  It will then focus on the early weapon safety features, some of the key "Broken Arrow" accidents which exposed vulnerabilities, and the modern "first principles" approaches which have evolved to ensure absolute safety in normal and abnormal environments.

Additional Information:

Formerly the Vice President of Weapons Engineering and Product Realization and the Chief Engineer for Nuclear Weapons for Sandia National Laboratories, Gary A. Sanders led the sustainment, maintenance, and assessment of the current strategic stockpile warhead systems and components; modernization life extension programs and alterations; exploration of advanced weapon architectures and technologies; pursuit of engineering excellence improvements; and assisted in the formulation of Sandia nuclear weapons policy and strategy.  He has also represented Sandia in national venues on nuclear weapons strategy and planning.


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Media Contact: Erin Hendrick



The Department of Mechanical and Nuclear Engineering at Penn State is one of the nation’s largest and most successful engineering departments. We serve more than 1,000 undergraduate students and more than 330 graduate students

We offer B.S. degrees in mechanical engineering and nuclear engineering as well as resident (M.S., Ph.D.) and online (M.S., M.Eng.) graduate degrees in nuclear engineering and mechanical engineering. MNE's strength is in offering hands-on experience in highly relevant research areas, such as energy, homeland security, biomedical devices, and transportation systems.

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The Pennsylvania State University

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Phone: 814-865-2519