Almost five years ago, the Laboratory and the Department of Energy set a major milestone for the National Ignition Facility: complete the $196 million conventional facility by the end of September 2001. On Friday, Sept. 28, that milestone was met.
“We have now taken beneficial occupancy of the facility. We have successfully met our milestone, after many years of hard work by a dedicated team,” said Valerie Roberts, the NIF construction manager who led the planning and execution of much of this effort.
With acceptance of the last construction package for the target area building, the entire conventional facility has been formally accepted from the construction contractors. Other portions of the facility were accepted earlier and the activation of the Optics Assembly Building as a production facility, as well as the installation of the Beampath Infrastructure System (BIS) are proceeding rapidly.
The core conventional facilities (CF) team was assembled in early 1996. Allen Levy, recently retired, was the NIF deputy project manager and provided senior oversight. The team included Roberts, NIF Conventional Facilities Design Manager Paul Kempel, and NIF Procurement (Jane Randolph, Lori Sorenson and Bob Callaghan).
The design manager since January 1996, Kempel’s job was the facility design and engineering interface between the users (Lab scientists, physicists, engineers, technicians, and operators), the architectural/engineering firms, and the construction management team. At times, Kempel was collecting, explaining and interpreting the criteria for those who were turning designs into a reality. At other times, Kempel was clarifying design requirements and obtaining consensus among all stakeholders, a major challenge on a project of this complexity and magnitude.
Having been the design manager on the National Atmospheric Release Advisory Center, the High Explosives Applications Facility, the West Gate Badge Office, and many other projects at the Lab since 1981, Kempel said: “NIF is the most integrated project that’s ever happened at the Lab. Within the Lab, many entities were involved: NIF, Mechanical Engineering, Electrical Engineering, Chemistry, Computation, Plant Engineering, Weapons, Fire Safety, Security, Maintenance. And outside the Lab, many partnerships were formed with industry specialists.”
The team selected industry partners Parsons Infrastructure and Technology of Pasadena, and AC Martin of Los Angeles for architectural and engineering services, and Sverdrup Facilities Inc. of St. Louis (now Jacobs of Pasadena) for construction management services. The Sverdrup construction manager, Mike Smith, was key in the selection of a fast-track approach to the construction of the facility, planning the sequence in which NIF was assembled.
Smith also spent a lot of time solving problems. In November 1997, El Nino dumped two inches of rain in two hours, flooding the NIF site. “We were three days away from pouring the 40-foot-wide, 120-foot long, six-foot-deep foundation for the retaining wall between the target building and the switchyard. The rains soaked the earth so much that the frames for the retaining wall sank six inches. They tried a couple of quick fixes and finally realized they had to disassemble it, reassemble it and pour the concrete. “When they finally poured that retaining wall, it was one of the happiest days of my life,” Smith said.
But a month later, Smith received one of the worst birthday presents a construction manager could receive. On Dec. 15, they uncovered bones — very old bones — at the NIF site. “We went from a 245 excavator with a two-yard bucket pulling out 60 to 80 cubic yards an hour to paleontologists down there with paint brushes dusting the dirt off the bones. It almost killed me. Even though I could appreciate that they were very excited about this find (the lower jawbone of a mammoth), all I could think was, ‘Get it over with, get on with it, dig the bones up and let’s get on with the project.’ ”
Many industrial partners and vendors
Most of the work to build and commission the facility was divided into seven “Construction Subcontract Packages (CSP).” Six of the seven fast-track construction packages were awarded in 1997, with construction beginning in March 1997. These contracts included the following:
• Red Top Electric Company of Hayward ($689,000) did the site preparation, electrical underground ductbank relocation and parking lots.
• Teichert Construction of Stockton, ($ 3.7 million) excavated the site, preparing the ground for the building to come.
• Walsh Pacific Construction of Pleasanton, ($7.3 million) poured the concrete foundations and monolithic mat floor slabs for the switchyards and target bay (six feet thick) and the foundations for the laser building.
• Nielsen Dillingham of Pleasanton built the Optics Assembly Building ($17.1 million) and the laser building’s envelope — the structural steel shell, the metal skin, and the roof ($11.9 million).
• Hensel Phelps of San Jose, ($79.4 million) completed the interior of the laser building with mechanical and electrical utilities as well as architectural finishes, placed the laser bay monolithic mat slabs (three feet thick) constructed the site utilities, and the central plant (which includes boilers, chillers and cooling towers).
• The seventh construction package was awarded in spring 1998 to Nielsen Dillingham ($ 75.8 million) to build the target area building envelope, mechanical and electrical utilities, and the architectural finishes; the target area building includes the switchyards, target bay and diagnostics building.
Over the course of constructing the conventional facility, members of the core team changed. In December 2000, Roberts left her role as the Beampath Infrastructure System (BIS) associate project manager and moved into NIF Systems Engineering as the facility integration team leader for integration of BIS with the rest of NIF. In this role, she is responsible for integrating the installation of the laser with the laser commissioning and early operations activities.
Jeff Atherton became the BIS associate project manager. In this role he’s responsible for installing the largest, most complicated scientific tool — the laser and target systems — within the confines of the conventional facility.
Mike Smith, the original Sverdrup construction manager, handled the conventional construction until April 2000. Smith’s knowledge of the conventional facilities enabled him to transition into a key role in planning the critical installation sequence for the beampath hardware and supporting utility systems. Now the manager of Field Engineering, Smith is focusing on improving communication in the field so workers better understand what they’re doing.
“This is the space program of the new millennium,” Smith said. “This is the one legacy project of my career that I’ll always think about, and it’s what I want everyone who has worked on NIF to know — that this will be the project their grandkids brag about. We are involved in something that is really great.”
Kempel maintained his role as conventional facilities design manager through all the design and construction efforts started in January 1996 through the recent completion. He likens the challenge of NIF to former President Kennedy’s address to Congress in 1961, when he challenged the nation to put a man on the moon before the end of the decade. At the time, people working in the field thought Kennedy’s statement was outrageous because “we didn’t have the technology to do it, but lo and behold,” Kempel said. “If you need the technology, you develop it so you can achieve your goals.
“We need NIF to maintain the safety and reliability of our nuclear weapons, so we’re developing the technology necessary to make NIF a reality.”
Jack Heffernan and Don Hotaling, Jacobs construction managers, finished the conventional facility job. Hotaling is now the Jacobs general construction manager for the Beampath Infrastructure System work.
Beyond the conventional facility
Jacobs and its subcontractors are currently installing the backbone of the laser system – the beampath and utilities for Cluster 3 in Laser Bay 2. They expect to have the beampath clean, aligned and ready for Line Replaceable Units (LRU) to be installed by next summer.
Other work includes: construction in the Master Oscillator Room (MOR) and Control Room; installing and commissioning the Power Conditioning System module in Capacitor Bay 3 (CB3); and installing beampath and utilities for the first beam quad in Switchyard 2 (SY2) and Target Bay (TB). The turnover of SY2 and TB beampath and utilities for the first beam quad, ready for Line Replaceable Unit (LRU) installation, is planned for late calendar year 2002.
“First light” to target chamber center is only a couple of years away.