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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 41, November 1999

Task Force Established on US National Ignition Facility

On November 10, US Energy Secretary Bill Richardson announced the appointment of a task force, to be set up under the auspices of the independent Secretary of Energy Advisory Board (SEAB), to investigate the current travails of constructing a National Ignition Facility (NIF) to help in the simulation and modelling of nuclear weapons tests. In September, Richardson announced he was "gravely concerned" at a range of "significant problems" recently brought to his attention. The new panel, to be known as the NIF Laser System Task Force, will be chaired by Dr. John McTague. According to the DOE:

"Secretary Richardson ordered this review as part of a broader, six-point response to management problems, engineering and construction issues, and projected cost over-runs at the...NIF, an experimental laser facility that is considered to be an important element in the long-term success of the DOE's Stockpile Stewardship Program to maintain the safety, security and reliability of America's existing nuclear deterrent without underground testing. ... Once completed, NIF will be the world's most powerful laser, with 50 times more energy than any existing laser. Consisting of up to 192 laser beams, the NIF will produce, for the first time in a laboratory setting, conditions of matter close to those that exist at the center of stars and inside detonating nuclear weapons. ...

The original NIF schedule called for the project to be completed at the end of FY [Fiscal Year] 2003 at a cost of $1.2 billion. The conventional facilities are about 70% complete now and should be completed by the end of FY 2001. Recent data and experience...has demonstrated that the assembly and installation of the laser system must be done in a cleaner and more rigorous and detailed manner than had been originally planned. Although the change in approach is considered essential for the NIF project to achieve its planned performance level, the new assembly and installation process is expected to increase the project's overall costs by perhaps several hundred million dollars."

Report: Secretary of Energy Advisory Board task force will review National Ignition Facility, US Energy Department Press Release R-99-302, November 10.

© 1999 The Acronym Institute.

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