Monday, May 23, 2005

National Ignition Facility: Not Firing On All Cylinders?

Via Slashdot, a brief word about this AP story on the National Ignition Facility and its critics, who charge that the NIF is a bloated, big science project draining funding from other projects. The NIF is attempting to achieve nuclear fusion by using precision, high-energy lasers aimed at a deuterium-tritium target. Its critics claim the NIF is nothing more than an attempt to refine nuclear weapons technology. The project, as is typical of such large government efforts, has vastly exceeded its initial estimated cost of $677 million (1993 estimate) to $3.5 billion with a 2008 completion date. Pete Dominici (R-NM) sounds a skeptical note:
"We never intended to spend $5 billion to $6 billion to build a laser facility for ... civilian research," Sen. Pete Domenici, R-New Mexico, chairman of the Senate subcommittee that funds the NIF program, lectured an Energy Department scientist last year when he learned fusion ignition experiments might be postponed.

Energy Department officials now say the project remains on schedule with the first fusion ignition tests planned for 2010. Domenici remains skeptical.

"It's a terrible expense and a drain" on other programs to maintain the nuclear arsenal, Domenici said in an interview. "They're going to have to prove they can get the job done."

Fusion ignition is the endgame, and if the LLNL physicists don't achieve it in the next few years, they might find themselves running out of grants, and in a big hurry. Anybody wanna buy a used laser?