Friday, July 01, 2005

Senate Votes To Kill NIF

The Senate has voted to kill the National Ignition Facility. The NIF is said to be the costliest big-science project currently funded by the U.S.
The Bush administration backs the National Ignition Facility, and the Senate action could be reversed or modified later this summer in conference with the House.

"There's going to be some meeting of the minds," said Greg Mello, director of the Los Alamos Study Group, a private organization in Albuquerque that monitors the nation's nuclear laboratories. "I think NIF will be hurt, but I doubt that it will come to a complete standstill."

In nuclear fusion, atoms merge and release bursts of energy, as in the sun or in hydrogen bombs.

The facility's powerful laser beams are intended to produce blistering hot conditions similar to those in exploding nuclear arms, helping scientists ensure the reliability of the nation's nuclear stockpile without the need for underground tests. Less directly, scientists want to use the beams to explore laser fusion as a way of producing commercial power.

But last month, Senator Pete V. Domenici, the New Mexico Republican who heads the Subcommittee on Energy and Water, proposed to delete all construction money, $146 million, from the administration's request for the coming year.

The bill does provide $314 million for limited research. Livermore scientists have built 4 of NIF's planned 192 laser beams and are firing them at targets the size of a BB, producing the first scientific insights.