Extreme Light Infrastructure problems

July 10, 2019
Squabbles threaten to slow commissioning of full Extreme Light Infrastructure.
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The Extreme Light Infrastructure (ELI) has hit a speed bump in completing three laboratories designed to delivery the world's most intense ultrashort laser pulses. Nature reports disputes over construction and research funding have broken out in two of the three countries hosting laser "pillars" of the project.1 But Roman Hvezda, project manager for the ELI Beamlines facility near Prague in the Czech Republic, told Laser Focus World the only major delay comes from litigation over construction of a major gamma-ray source to for the ELI Nuclear Physics facility in Măgurele, Romania that will not affect the two other facilities.
Part of ELI's innovation is an experiment in funding. The some $1 billion (850 million Euros) being invested in the three big scientific facilities comes from money normally devoted to improve physical infrastructure like roads in poorer EU states. The hope is that spending that money on centers of scientific excellence will improve the economies of those countries.

A new international organization, called ELI-ERIC, is being formed to operate the three facilities using funds that richer member countries pay to sponsor research. Getting ELI-ERIC up and running will take a couple of years, but when it starts later this year Hvezda says it will only involve two facilities near completion: ELI Beamlines, which fires the shortest pulses, and the ELI Attosecond Light Pulse Source (ELI-ALPS) (Szeged, Hungary) which fires at higher repetition rates. According to Nature, this normally would require at least three countries, but Italy is willing to step in to meet that requirement.

ELI-NP will include both laser and gamma-ray sources. The laser, a pair of 10-petawatt lasers coherently combined to generate peak intensities of 1023 to 1024 W/cm2, is almost operational. But the gamma-ray source is stalled, and three to four years would be needed to complete it if Romania insists on starting from scratch, Hvezda says. Only then would Romania be able to join ELI-ERIC and begin scientific operations.

Other budget tensions are simmering in the background. The Hungarian government and ELI's international advisors have argued about the choice of projects for ELI-ALPS. Both Hungarian and Romanian governments also worry that larger European countries won't deliver on their earlier promises to fund ELI-ERIC operating costs, leaving the small host countries stuck paying most of the bills from modest research budgets.

Nonetheless, ELI's budgetary issues are small potatoes compared to money pits in big-budget countries. Initially budgeted at under a billion dollars, the National Ignition Facility was several years late and cost some $3.5 billion. Projected costs of the ITER experimental fusion reactor have quadrupled to $25 billion, and commissioning is not expected to start until 2025.


1. https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-01607-7?

About the Author

Jeff Hecht | Contributing Editor

Jeff Hecht is a regular contributing editor to Laser Focus World and has been covering the laser industry for 35 years. A prolific book author, Jeff's published works include “Understanding Fiber Optics,” “Understanding Lasers,” “The Laser Guidebook,” and “Beam Weapons: The Next Arms Race.” He also has written books on the histories of lasers and fiber optics, including “City of Light: The Story of Fiber Optics,” and “Beam: The Race to Make the Laser.” Find out more at jeffhecht.com.

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