WASHINGTON ― It may soon be possible to test a stockpiled explosive without having to set off an explosion.

All stored explosives ― from blasting caps to nuclear weapons ― need to be tested every now and again to make sure they work and that they won’t accidentally go off while in storage.

But “large-scale explosives testing” (to make sure everything is copacetic) is “time-consuming, expensive and poses numerous safety hazards,” according to Jennifer Gottfried, a research at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory.

The resulting shock wave, shown in the first frame, can give researchers a good idea of an explosive's volatility. (U.S. Army)
The resulting shock wave, shown in the first frame, can give researchers a good idea of an explosive's volatility. (U.S. Army)

Instead, the laboratory has come up with a way to use a high-powered laser to blast off from the explosive a few thousandths of a gram, in a process that takes only a few billionths of a second.

The energy released from the laser colliding with its target can be then measured to give researchers (and eventually service members) an idea of the volatility of explosives that have been stored for some time.

The “laser-based technique developed at ARL will enable the Department of Defense and the Department of Energy to cheaply and easily monitor the quality of their weapons stockpiles to ensure that the weapons soldiers are using are safe and effective,” the service said.