Final FY 2001 Energy and Water Development Bill: National Ignition Facility Congressional action is now complete on the FY 2001 Energy and Water Development Appropriations Bill. Contained within this bill or conference report for H.R. 4733 are specific instructions to the Department of Energy from the House and Senate appropriators concerning the National Ignition Facility, under construction at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.
The bill provides $199.1 million for the continued construction of this facility in FY 2001, which is about $10 million less than requested. Regarding financing, the conference report states "the conferees have included a directed reduction of $25,000,000 in the Weapons Activities account which is to be applied to programs under the direction of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory."
This money comes with some strings attached that indicate congressional concern about the need, size, and management of NIF. There is a restriction on $69.1 million that will become available only after March 31, 2001 when National Nuclear Security Administrator John Gordon certifies that six requirements have been met. The first requirement is for "a recommendation on an appropriate path forward for the project based on a detailed review of alternative construction options that would (1) focus on first achieving operation of a 48 or 96 beam laser; (2) allow for a full demonstration of such a system in support of the stockpile stewardship program before proceeding with construction and operation of a larger laser complex; and (3) include a program and funding plan for the possible future upgrade to a full NIF configuration. The recommendation should include identification of available 'off- ramps' and decision points where the project could be scaled to a smaller system."
Conferees also specified that certification had to be made that project and scientific milestones are being met, in addition to the project implementing "an integrated cost-schedule earned- value project control system by March 1, 2001." The requirements include "completion of a study that includes conclusions as to whether the full-scale NIF is required in order to maintain the safety and reliability of the current nuclear weapons stockpile, and whether alternatives to the NIF could achieve the objective of maintaining the safety and reliability of the current nuclear weapons stockpile."
The conferees also require "a five-year budget plan for the stockpile stewardship program that fully describes how the NNSA intends to pay for the NIF over the out years and what the potential for other impacts on the stockpile stewardship program will be."
The conference report then returns to the size of NIF, stating that DOE and NNSA "may have failed to examine adequately options for NIF that have fewer than the full 192 beams. For example, a preferred course for NIF may be to complete 48 or 96 beams as soon as possible (although block procurement of infrastructure and glass may be considered), bring the reduced NIF into operation, perform the necessary scientific and technical tests to evaluate whether a full NIF will work and its impact on stockpile stewardship, and then develop a path forward for NIF that balances its scientific importance within the overall needs of the stockpile stewardship program." "To move on this path," the conferees specify how to spend the FY 2001 money.
Finally, "the conferees direct the Administration to prepare a budget request for fiscal year 2002 that fully reflects a balanced set of programs and investments within the stockpile stewardship program, and that the overall budget profile over the next eight years will accommodate a $3.4 billion NIF along with the other critical aspects of the program."
Richard M. Jones