LIVERMORE – Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory officials got some good news from Congress this week as funding for the lab’s troubled superlaser was boosted to offset cost overruns.
The agreement to increase funding for the National Ignition Facility next year to $199 million came despite opposition from several members of Congress who are angry over delays, technical troubles and poor management.
The superlaser is designed to focus 192 beams on a single tiny target in the hope of igniting fusion, allowing scientists to experiment with the forces in a thermonuclear explosion. It is a key part of the effort to maintain the aging nuclear stockpile.
A federal audit found the project was more than $1 billion over budget, faced long delays and might never work.
However, an independent technical review panel found last month that the powerful laser should run into no technical show-stoppers under a revised plan. The $2 billion laser is expected to be completed by 2008.
The newly appropriated money is part of an energy and water bill that awaits President Clinton’s approval.
Part of the money, $69 million, will be withheld until the Energy Department shows Congress that the program can be completed on time and on budget. At least $25 million is to be diverted from other nuclear weapons work at the lab.
Meanwhile, Energy Department officials on Friday cited Lawrence Livermore for nuclear safety violations.
The problems didn’t involve release of radiation, officials said. They centered on workers’ failure to follow the lab’s “authorization basis,” a system of documents, work requirements and planning processes designed to ensure nuclear safety.