On May 29, ground was broken for the construction of the National Ignition Facility located at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. The laboratory is a key facility in the Department of Energy's (DOE's) science-based stockpile stewardship and management program designed to ensure the safety and reliability of the U.S. nuclear arsenal under the recently signed Comprehensive Test Ban (CTB) Treaty. The $1.2 billion facility, which will contain the world's largest laser, is expected to be completed by the year 2003.
During the ground-breaking ceremony, Energy Secretary Federico Pena said, "The National Ignition Facility has been designed to create for the first time ever in a laboratory, brief bursts of self-sustaining fusion reactions...that will allow us to study nuclear weapons physics without conducting underground nuclear tests as we have done in the past." The 192beam laser facility will simulate the temperatures and pressures that occur during nuclear weapon explosions to study fusion ignition and to monitor the effect of aging on the reliability of the U.S. nuclear arsenal. The facility would also contribute to the effort to explore fusion for civilian power in the Inertial Confinement Fusion (ICF) program, which is viewed as acceptable under the CTB Treaty.DOE maintains that the National Ignition Facility is necessary to ensure the safety and reliability of the U.S. nuclear stockpile and is compatible with the CTB Treaty. The facility has been strongly criticized by some observers, however, who claim that it is not necessary for the stewardship program and could be seen as contributing to U.S. efforts to develop new nuclear weapons contrary to the spirit of the CTB Treaty.