The National Ignition Facility (NIF), a central component of U.S. scientific research and stockpile stewardship, has been completed, the Department of Energy announced March 31. The NIF has been under construction at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California since May 1997.
The 10-story complex houses 192 lasers capable of producing close to 2 million joules of energy, making it the world's most powerful laser. According to the NIF Web site, the heat and pressure produced when all the laser beams are focused on its small eraser-sized target is similar to the conditions found within stars, planet cores, and nuclear detonations.
In a March 31 Energy Department press release, Thomas D'Agostino, head of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), hailed the facility as "a cornerstone of a critical national security mission, ensuring the continuing reliability of the U.S. nuclear stockpile without underground nuclear testing, while also providing a path to explore the frontiers of basic science, and potential technologies for energy independence."
The NNSA, a separately organized agency within the Energy Department, is responsible for the Stockpile Stewardship Program. Congress introduced the program in 1993 to bolster the effort to maintain the safety and reliability of the U.S. nuclear arsenal in the absence of nuclear weapons testing.
The cost of completing the NIF was $3.5 billion, an Energy Department budget official said in an April 27 e-mail. That figure includes "the building itself and the assembly and installation project (i.e. what goes in the building)," the official said.