New U.S. GAO report criticizes NIF program

April 13, 2010
Washington, DC--An April report from the U.S. GAO to the Senate is critical of the NIF program and says that the late 2010 goal of fusion ignition is "unlikely."

Washington, DC--An April report from the United States Government Accounting Office (GAO) to the Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development, Committee on Appropriations, U.S. Senate is entitled "Actions Needed to Address Scientific and Technical Challenges and Management Weaknesses at the National Ignition Facility" and is critical of the National Ignition Facility (NIF) program and says that the late 2010 goal of fusion ignition is "unlikely."

Laser Focus World has been following the NIF project closely; see these related stories: "NIF achieves symmetric capsule implosion", "NIF scientists break one megajoule barrier", "NIF tour: prepare to be impressed", and "NIF is up and running at last".

The opening sections of the report say: "Despite substantial progress, NNSA [the National Nuclear Security Administration], its national laboratories, and the other organizations carrying out the NIF ignition effort face difficult scientific and technical challenges, which could limit the extreme temperatures and pressures that can be achieved using NIF’s 192 lasers and, thus, delay or prevent ignition at NIF. As a result, successful ignition at NIF during the first attempt, scheduled for late 2010, remains unlikely, according to independent experts."

The report continues, "In addition, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, which operates NIF for NNSA, waited 4 years to implement a recommendation to form a standing external review committee of experts to advise on the challenges. Although a committee met for the first time in December 2009, three factors could limit its effectiveness. First, the committee may not be able to give fully objective, candid advice, because the committee will take direction from, and report to, Livermore’s Director, rather than to NNSA. Second, the committee will mainly review ignition activities after the fact, rather than advising on them sooner. Third, although its membership includes at least one scientist with significant nuclear weapons design experience, the committee may lack sufficient expertise to determine whether ignition-related efforts will meet the future needs of scientists conducting stockpile stewardship research at NIF."

The report warns of additional costs that have previously plagued NIF: "Weak management by NNSA has allowed the cost, schedule, and scope of ignition-related activities to increase substantially, and further increases are possible."

A full copy of the report can be found at

--Posted by Gail Overton; [email protected];

Sponsored Recommendations

Ask the Expert: Building Better Laser Micromachining Systems

Dec. 8, 2023
Dr. Cliff Jolliffe, Head of Strategic Marketing, Industrial Automation, Physik Instrumente (PI), fields questions about integrating controls for different motion systems and lasers...

Video: December 8, 2023 Photonics Hot List

Dec. 8, 2023
In this episode, we cover a microscopy method that hits uncharted cell territory, drone-based imaging for solar farm inspection, soliton microcombs that boost conversion efficiency...

China’s industrial laser market shows steady growth in turbulent times

Dec. 8, 2023
This in-depth market update focuses on trends in laser processing and industrial lasers while touching on what to expect in the ultrafast laser, fiber laser, LiDAR, and handheld...

What does it take to land venture capital for photonics-driven startups?

Dec. 7, 2023
Capital to grow a startup company can come from many sources: contract and non-recurring engineering (NRE) funding, angels and friends, customer upfront payments, and venture ...

Voice your opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of Laser Focus World, create an account today!