THE National Ignition Facility (NIF) Project is being built as a major component of the Department of Energy's Stockpile Stewardship Program to preserve confidence in the safety and reliability of remaining U.S. nuclear weapons and to preserve core nuclear weapons competencies in the absence of nuclear testing.
NIF is the largest and most complex project the Laboratory has ever undertaken. It will contain the world's largest laser, which will be the world's largest precision optical instrument of any kind, having more than three-quarters of an acre of precision optical surfaces. With many missions and objectives, this gigantic laser must still be very flexible and precise. As we have learned from our Nova laser, NIF must have precision temporal control, coherence control, and focal spot beam control. The NIF laser cannot be merely an experiment; rather, it must be the precision tool used for the experiments on fusion targets. It must perform reliably over a wide variety of specifications and be available at the planned shot rate.
The cover article of this issue addresses the extensive laser development program we have planned and are now completing to ensure that the NIF laser will indeed perform as planned and will meet its budget and schedule. Assuming ignition and gain are achieved, NIF will also be the scientific proof of principle of using inertial fusion as an energy source. Although it will require many technology developments, inertial fusion energy will not contribute to global warming, a very serious world issue (see article entitled Tracing the Role of Carbon Dioxide in Global Warming). Finally, NIF will open doors for the basic sciences in the study of high-energy-density physics, the physics of the stars.
In the face of such a daunting task, we are nonetheless confident that NIF will be successful. Over the last 25 years, Livermore has built a world-renowned collection of laser scientists, engineers, and technological capabilities; we also have an excellent infrastructure to support it. This outstanding combination of science and engineering makes the massive NIF undertaking a logical extension on a grand scale of what we have accomplished before.
Critical partners are helping us accomplish this undertaking and critiquing our work. France has been an important partner in developing the laser and optics technology for NIF and for their own planned counterpart, the Laser Mégajoule, which is a part of their stewardship program. We have also had valuable contributions from Sandia National Laboratories in pulsed-power technology and from the University of Rochester and Los Alamos National Laboratory in optics technology. Their overall contributions to the project both technically and managerially are significant.
Building NIF helps the Laboratory maintain its leading role in the science and technology of lasers and optics. NIF is pressing the state of the art in many areas. For example, we had to develop the world's largest optical amplifiers and optical switches to make NIF possible at an affordable cost. The optical pulse-generation system for NIF will be a major step in laser control and flexibility. On Beamlet, the one-beam testbed, we had to prove the performance of new optics that run at very high optical fluence.
These developments create new opportunities for the Laboratory and for the companies we are working with. An example of such spinoffs in inertial confinement fusion is our extreme ultraviolet lithography program (see Keeping the `More' in Moore's Law), which grew out of our target physics diagnostic work and now promises to change the way semiconductor circuits are made. Building NIF keeps the Laboratory squarely in the worldwide leadership role in this field as we approach the next millennium.

--E. Michael Campbell is Associate Director, Laser Programs.


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