Reading Room

Media Advisory April 28, 2001

for further information, contact:
Dr. Robert Civiak, physicist, author, (603) 448-5327
Marylia Kelley, executive director, Tri-Valley CAREs, (925) 443-7148

First Detailed, Independent Study Finds National Ignition Facility Mega-Laser's Life Time Cost May Soar Over $30 Billion

News Conference to release a major new report, "Soaring Cost, Shrinking Performance: The Status of the National Ignition Facility," providing the first independent examination of the NIF mega-laser, now under construction at the Dept. of Energy's (DOE) Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in CA. The in-depth report details the key laser and program components for which DOE low-balled the costs -- and the ones left out altogether.

Wednesday, May 9 at 9:30 AM

National Press Club, Zenger Room, 13th Floor, 529 - 14th Street, NW, Washington, D.C.


  • Dr. Robert Civiak, a physicist and the author of the new report, served in the White House Office of Management and Budget from 1988 to 1999 as Program Examiner for the DOE's national security programs, including Stockpile Stewardship and the NIF. Previously, he served as a visiting scientist at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and as a technology policy analyst for the Congressional Research Service.

  • Marylia Kelley is Executive Director of Tri-Valley CAREs, the Livermore, CA-based DOE "watchdog" organization that sponsored the NIF cost study as part of its "Redefining Stockpile Stewardship" program.

The Dept. of Energy is using smoke and mirrors to hide NIF's full cost from the public eye. Following disclosure of serious, underlying technical problems with the laser in 1999, DOE was forced by Congress to "rebaseline" NIF. The Department has increased its estimate of the cost to build the facility from $1.1 billion to $3.4 billion and delayed completion of the project from 2002 to 2008. Still, DOE has fallen far short of including all of the laser's costs in its estimate. For example, NIF's target design, diagnostics, and infrastructure costs are missing from DOE's cost accounting, as are several "add ons" expected before 2008. "Soaring Cost, Shrinking Performance" lays out how and why the NIF construction costs will reach $5 billion, if the laser is completed on its current schedule in 2008.

The report also finds a significant potential for future problems and delays that will drive the NIF construction cost even higher. When imputed interest and a delay of one additional year are added, the cost rises to $7.8 billion. Furthermore, construction costs are just the tip of the NIF iceberg. DOE has dramatically underestimated the operating cost for the laser. A full accounting of the cost to build and operate the NIF over 30 years, as the DOE plans, comes to $32.4 billion -- more than 6 times what DOE said the life cycle costs would be when Congress approved the project.

The materials currently used in key components of the NIF cannot withstand damage from the intensity of the laser beam at full energy for more than a few shots. DOE is studying the problem, as it has been for many years, but is still far from solving it. The performance of the laser is being substantially degraded by this and other technical uncertainties. Moreover, the report shows why the National Ignition Facility, despite its name, may never reach its scientific goal of ignition at any cost.

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