For Immediate Release: Wednesday eve, May 24, 2000
Contact: Marylia Kelley, Tri-Valley CAREs (925) 443-7148
In an unprecedented move, Sandia National Laboratory in Albuquerque, New Mexico today officially broke ranks with its "sister" lab in California and issued a public statement calling for cuts in both size and budget for the National Ignition Facility (NIF) mega-laser, currently under construction at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.
"The apparent delay and significant increase in cost for the NIF is sufficient that it will disrupt the investment needed at the other laboratories, and perhaps by the production plants, by several years," said Tom Hunter, Sandia's vice-president for nuclear weapons programs.
Today's statement puts Sandia Lab at odds with the policy of its parent agency, the Department of Energy (DOE), which announced earlier this month it would seek an additional $95 million for NIF in fiscal year 2001. This increase would come on top of the $350 million already requested for the mega-laser in the coming fiscal year. (NIF budget summary available here on this web site.)
Following a report last year by Tri-Valley CAREs, a Livermore-based organization that monitors nuclear weapons activities, DOE announced that NIF was more than $350 million over budget and one and one-half years behind schedule. With NIF the object of continuing investigations both inside and outside of the Department, on May 3rd DOE was forced to revise its numbers upward, admitting that NIF's construction costs would essentially double -- from $1.2 billion to over $2 billion. Further, the NIF construction schedule would slip five years, according to DOE, from 2003 to 2008.
"This causes us to question what is a reasonable additional investment in the NIF," said Tom Hunter in explaining Sandia Lab's position today.
The Sandia statement calls for "a reduced project," though it stops short of making a specific recommendation on how many of NIF's proposed 192 laser beams should be abandoned.
"Scientists at Sandia and other DOE laboratories have been discussing a one-quarter NIF option for some time now," said Marylia Kelley, executive director of Tri-Valley CAREs. "It is the opinion of a number of scientists that NIF construction should be limited to 48 laser beams."
"Many scientists at the DOE labs are worried that NIF will rob money from other, more valuable programs," Kelley added. "For example, an astrophysics program was recently canceled at Livermore Lab and staff scientists there expressed a belief that their funding had been diverted to NIF."
Tri-Valley CAREs' recommendation goes one step further than Sandia's.
"We advocate cancellation of the entire NIF project," explained Kelley. "NIF's technical problems will cause its price tag to continue to spiral upward. Moreover, NIF is simply not a necessary facility in order to ensure the 'safety' or the 'reliability' of existing nuclear weapons -- a fact that many prominent weapons physicists have already pointed out," she continued. "Add to this that NIF poses very real proliferation and environmental risks, and you have in a nutshell the reasons we want to see it stopped."
In the wake of jolting revelations about NIF's severe technical difficulties, mismanagement and continuing budget overruns, the General Accounting Office began an investigation late last year. During a recent Congressional briefing, the GAO told members of the Science Committee that DOE still underestimates NIF's costs by around $1.5 billion, according to a New Mexico newspaper account.
Add the GAO's tally of the extra $1.5 billion to the current construction estimate of $2.1 billion, and that brings the price tag for NIF to $3.6 billion, all before construction is completed in 2008 and the switch is thrown to start NIF's proposed 192 beams.
Tri-Valley CAREs has conducted its own independent analysis of NIF costs, and the group projects the mega-laser will consume at least $3.7 billion by 2008. "In round numbers, this is very similar to the GAO estimate," said Kelley. "However, when the out-year program and operating costs over NIF's 'life-cycle' are factored in, that figure will balloon to $10 billion," she predicted.For more information, please call Tri-Valley CAREs at (925) 443-7148. FYI -- a "same day" news story can be found at www.abqtrib.com, and copies of the statement issued by Sandia National Laboratory can be obtained from their Albuquerque press office.
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