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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 40, September - October 1999

US National Ignition Facility in Trouble

On September 3, US Energy Secretary Bill Richardson issued a statement revealing serious problems in the construction of the National Ignition Facility (NIF), a pioneering laser-technology project designed to simulate heat generated in thermonuclear explosions and thus help America maintain and study its nuclear weapons stockpile without testing. Richardson lamented:

"I am deeply disturbed to learn of projected cost overruns and scheduling delays associated with the [NIF]... I also am gravely concerned with the University of California and the Department of Energy's Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory [LLNL] for its 'late reporting' to the Energy Department of these significant problems. ...

NIF is a leading edge science program that is very important for our national security... Clearly, we have had a major project management surprise in our quest for a quantum leap project for laser physics. The NIF Project has undergone seven scientific and four management reviews, including a Congressionally-mandated review completed this spring. None of the reviews identified our current problems".

On September 6, LLNL Director Bruce Tarter issued a statement of understandably humble tone: "We share Secretary Richardson's concerns...and we will work closely with the Department of Energy to implement his directives".

The NIF is scheduled to become operational in 2003, at a projected cost of $1.2 billion.

Reports: Richardson orders actions to get NIF back on track, US Energy Department Press Release R-99-233, September 3; US to tighten nuclear testing program, Reuters, September 6.

© 1999 The Acronym Institute.

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