The National Ignition Facility gets go-ahead from DOE

On September 15, 2000, the Department of Energy released a rebaseline report for the National Ignition Facility (NIF) confirming that construction of the project could "move ahead with confidence." NIF is one of five key elements in the science-based Stockpile Stewardship Program to assure the safety and reliability of the nation's nuclear arsenal without nuclear testing. A 192-beam laser, NIF will be one of the world's largest lasers once it is completed. It has been under construction since 1997.
The DOE rebaseline report included the conclusions of an independent review of the project, known as the Carlson-Lehman Review, which occurred at Lawrence Livermore during the week of August 7, 2000. Some forty experts with experience in industrial project management, lasers, accelerators, and procurement heard dozens of presentations on virtually all facets of NIF. The Carlson-Lehman Review concluded that the NIF project can be completed successfully within the total cost and schedule defined by the revised baseline.
"We are pleased that the Department of Energy has validated the go-forward plan for NIF and reaffirmed the importance of the facility for the nation's Stockpile Stewardship Program," said Director Bruce Tarter. "The Department has submitted the new baseline to Congress with supporting documentation, including the very positive results of the Carlson-Lehman Review. This review, recommended by the Government Accounting Office and the Secretary of Energy's Advisory Board, was an independent, high-quality, intensive and rigorous process.…[It] concluded that the project plan was credible, that we have an outstanding technical and management team, and that the cost and schedule proposal is valid."
The DOE report confirms a construction cost of $2.5 billion and completion of the project by September 2008. "This is great news for everyone who works on the National Ignition Facility and the Lab," said NIF project manager Edward Moses. "It is proof that there is a talented team in place to see this project through commissioning and operation." Tarter concluded, "The entire NIF team and the Laboratory is eager to move forward to finish this strategic national asset."
Contact: Susan Houghton (925) 422-9919 (houghton3@llnl.gov).

Russian technology for plutonium immobilization

As they were touring the Russian Scientific Research Institute of Atomic Reactors (RIAR) in May 1999, Lawrence Livermore researchers Les Jardine and Mark Bronson noticed an intriguing piece of machinery. It was a plutonium oxide saltwasher, something that will be useful to U.S. scientists preparing plutonium for immobilization in a ceramic matrix.
Plutonium from dismantled nuclear weapons must be disposed of safely and prevented from falling into the wrong hands. The Laboratory is leading the DOE's research, development, and testing of plutonium disposition by immobilization. The RIAR system that intrigued Jardine and Bronson fits inside a glovebox and is used to wash plutonium oxides free of contaminating chloride salts, which hinder the ceramification process. And while the system removes the chloride salts, it deliberately leaves other contaminants behind, making the plutonium less attractive for proliferation.
The Laboratory recently purchased the RIAR machine and is in the process of modifying and testing it before installation in Livermore's plutonium facility. Says Bronson, the associate program manager for plutonium processing, "We think this will be a big help. It's an automated system, which means it will be faster and more efficient than our own current methods." The Laboratory has relied on a series of beakers and flasks used inside a glovebox to wash, filter, and dry plutonium. The plutonium oxide saltwasher does all three tasks more quickly and with less risk of radiation exposure.
"This is the first known piece of plutonium processing equipment from Russia slated to be used for our own plutonium operations," says Jardine. He adds that the collaboration with Russian scientists to get the system built for use in the U.S. shows "the level of commitment, technical expertise, and quality control that exists in Russia. This equipment shows that their technical people are competent, capable, and dedicated to efficiently handling the plutonium fissile materials."
The DOE has a national effort to treat and immobilize about 13 metric tons of plutonium, which come from Rocky Flats, Hanford, and other DOE sites. The treatment will take place in a new facility to be constructed at DOE's Savannah River site. Once the plutonium is immobilized and turned into disks the size and shape of hockey pucks, it can be sealed inside canisters and stored in a waste depository.
Contact: Les Jardine (925) 423-5032 (jardin1@llnl.gov).
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