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FYI Number 40: April 6, 2001

Energy Secretary Abraham's Decision on National Ignition Facility

"Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham has decided not to make any changes in the design, construction and operation of the National Ignition Facility (NIF) at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL)," according to an April 5 DOE news release. The Secretary's Record of Decision was published in the Federal Register the same day. "As a result of this decision," the Register states, "DOE will make no changes in the design of NIF, will undertake no deviations in construction techniques, and will impose no operational changes in the NIF."

This decision is the outcome of a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) initiated after excavations for the NIF uncovered on the site a landfill with capacitors containing PCBs and other debris, and another nearby area containing residual PCB contamination. The Record of Decision states that "both the capacitor landfill area at the NIF construction site and the residual PCB contamination...were cleaned up" to levels in accordance with federal, state and local requirements, "thereby reducing the actual or potential contamination in these areas."

After periods for public comment on the draft and final environmental impact statements, the Record of Decision was issued by the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), an autonomous agency within DOE. "The National Ignition Facility Project supports the National Nuclear Security Administration's missions to ensure the nation's nuclear weapons stockpile remains safe, secure, and reliable," says NNSA Administration John Gordon in the DOE press release. The NIF is a key component of DOE's science-based stockpile stewardship program, intended to maintain the nuclear stockpile without testing.

Background information provided in the Federal Register states that "In NIF, nuclear fusion of very small amounts of hydrogen isotopes is expected to be achieved using the energy inherent in laser light." The Register continues, "Planned experiments with NIF at temperatures and pressures near those that occur in nuclear weapon detonations will provide data needed to verify certain aspects of sophisticated computer models. Those models are needed to simulate weapons physics, thereby providing insights on the reliability of the weapons stockpile. As a multipurpose inertial confinement fusion facility, the NIF will also be important to fusion energy research (e.g., next critical step in scientific evaluation of inertial fusion energy as a future environmentally attractive energy source), basic science (e.g., developing new technologies to aid U.S. industrial competitiveness in optics, lasers, and integrated circuit manufacturing)."

The final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement is available here.

The Record of Decision in the April 5 Federal Register can be found by searching the Federal Register on the GPO Access page.

Audrey T. Leath
Media and Government Relations Division
American Institute of Physics
(301) 209-3094

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