House Defense Authorization Bill on National Ignition Facility

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Publication date: 
7 June 2012

“The Committee  remains concerned about NIF’s ability to achieve ignition - the primary purpose  of constructing the facility - by the end of fiscal year 2012 when the National  Ignition Campaign ends and the facility is to transition to regular ignition  operations and pursue broad scientific applications."- Senate  Appropriations Committee

"As the  first ignition campaign comes to a close in fiscal year 2012, it is a distinct  possibility that the NNSA will not achieve ignition during these initial  experiments. While achieving ignition was never scientifically assured, the  considerable costs will not have been warranted if the only role the National  Ignition Facility (NIF) serves is that of an expensive platform for routine  high energy density physics experiments." - House  Appropriations Committee

“The committee  understands that achieving self-sustained thermonuclear fusion in a laboratory  setting is a difficult undertaking and believes that achieving ignition at NIF  would be a tremendously valuable and historic accomplishment. However, the  committee is concerned that, should ignition not be achieved by the end of  fiscal year 2012, the fiscal year 2013 budget request would continue an  aggressive pace for ignition experiments at NIF even though the NIC [National  Ignition Campaign] itself will be concluded.”  – House Armed Services Committee

Concerns  about the National Ignition Facility in the House and Senate appropriations'  reports for National Nuclear Security  Administration were echoed in the report by the House Armed Services Committee  accompanying H.R. 4310, the National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2013.  All three committees spoke of the difficulty  of achieving ignition at this facility, and made recommendations about what  strategies the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) should take in  the future.

The  following selection is from the Armed Services Committee House Report 112-479 regarding  “Ignition and Support of Other Stockpile Programs.” Paragraph breaks have been  inserted.  Other report language  pertaining to the NNSA can be found on pages 235 – 239 and 321 – 354.

“Achieving  fusion ignition in a laboratory environment has been a key goal of the  Department of Energy’s (DOE) stockpile stewardship and nuclear energy programs  since the early 1990s when the ignition mission was first identified by the DOE  Fusion Policy Advisory Committee and the National Academy of Sciences Inertial Fusion  Review Group. In the mid-2000s, the National Ignition Campaign (NIC) was  developed to outline a path for using research facilities such as Sandia  National Laboratories’ Z-machine and OMEGA at the University of Rochester’s  Laboratory for Laser Energetics to inform eventual ignition experiments at  Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s National Ignition Facility (NIF).  The experimental schedule in the June 2005  NIC Execution Plan showed an aggressive timeline for beginning integrated  ignition experiments in fiscal year 2010.

“Once  fully operational in 2009, NIF scientists encountered several technical  challenges that have slowed progress towards achieving ignition. By early 2012,  several of these technical challenges have been resolved, but the remaining  challenges and gaps in understanding remain significant. With the NIC scheduled  to conclude in fiscal year 2012, NIC scientists and managers have significantly  increased the rate at which NIF experiments are conducted in an attempt to  achieve ignition before the end of the fiscal year in September 2012.

“The  committee understands that achieving self-sustained thermonuclear fusion in a  laboratory setting is a difficult undertaking and believes that achieving  ignition at NIF would be a tremendously valuable and historic accomplishment.  However, the committee is concerned that, should ignition not be achieved by  the end of fiscal year 2012, the fiscal year 2013 budget request would continue  an aggressive pace for ignition experiments at NIF even though the NIC itself  will be concluded. The budget request for fiscal year 2013 contains $84.2  million for ignition experiments.

“The  committee believes that, should ignition not be achieved, the scientists and  managers associated with NIC should slow the ignition experimental schedule,  take stock of the ignition-related experiments to date, thoroughly evaluate the  remaining technical challenges and gaps in understanding, and seek to fully  incorporate experimental data into computer models to enable better prediction of  experimental results. The committee believes that, during this time, the NIF  should increase its non-ignition high-energy density physics experiments in  direct support of near-term stockpile stewardship needs. The committee  therefore recommends $54.2 million for the ignition subprogram, a decrease of  $30.0 million to the budget request, and $34.8 million for Support of Other  Stockpile Programs, an increase of $20.0 million to the budget request.

“Elsewhere  in this title, the committee recommends a provision limiting the availability  of funds for ignition research and experiments until the Administrator for  Nuclear Security certifies that fusion ignition has been achieved at the NIF or  the Administrator submits a report to the congressional defense committees. The  committee also believes that in a time of budget austerity, the top priority of  the Administrator must be the achievement of the warhead life extension program  goals and timelines that support military requirements.”

Later  in the committee report is the following explanatory language regarding Section  3119 of the bill, H.R. 4310:

“Section  3119 -- Limitation on Availability of Funds for Inertial Confinement Fusion  Ignition and High Yield Campaign

“This  section would limit the obligation and expenditure of funds for fusion ignition  research and experiments to not more than 50 percent until the Administrator  for Nuclear Security certifies to the congressional defense committees that  fusion ignition has been achieved at the National Ignition Facility (NIF) or  the Administrator submits a report on fusion ignition. This limitation would not  apply to the Z-machine at Sandia National Laboratories or the Omega facility at  the University of Rochester.

“If  the Administrator submits a report pursuant to this section, the report would  be required to include a thorough description of the remaining technical  challenges and gaps in understanding with respect to ignition; a plan and  schedule for reevaluating the ignition program and incorporating experimental  data into computer models; the best judgment of the Administrator with respect  to whether ignition can be achieved at the NIF; and a description of how, if  funding being spent on ignition research were applied to life extension  programs, such programs could be accelerated or otherwise improved, and how  this funding change would impact the stockpile stewardship program.”