DOE gives go-ahead to NIF construction at Lab

DOE has approved the start of construction of the National Ignition Facility (NIF) at the Laboratory. The facility will house the world's largest laser, which will be able to create conditions similar to those at the center of the sun and other stars. NIF will play a vital role in DOE's Science-Based Stockpile Stewardship and Management Program, the goal of which is to maintain the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile without underground testing. Groundbreaking for the $1.2 billion, 192-beam, stadium-sized laser facility is anticipated in April. Director Bruce Tarter said: "The National Ignition Facility will be a fundamental contribution to our technical understanding of aging nuclear weapons. The hundreds of men and women who have carried us to this point are now ready to begin converting this critical scientific effort into concrete, steel, and lasers."
Charles B. Curtis, acting Secretary of Energy, said that NIF "will help the United States meet the conditions of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and reduce the global nuclear danger. The country will also benefit from cutting-edge science in astrophysics and fusion energy."
NIF will be designed, built, and operated by Lawrence Livermore, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Sandia National Laboratories, and the University of Rochester. Funding to begin site preparation for NIF was included in the Fiscal Year 1997 congressional appropriation. Full construction funding is part of the Fiscal Year 1998 congressional budget request.
During the peak construction period (1998 to 2000), the NIF project will create about 6,000 jobs nationally and 3,000 locally. Operation of NIF will create almost 900 long-term jobs in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Contact: LLNL Media Relations (510) 422-4599 (garberson1@llnl.gov).


Desalination technology licensed to Arizona firm

Lawrence Livermore has entered into a licensing agreement with an Arizona water resource management company that wants to commercialize a promising Laboratory water purification and desalination technology called capacitive deionization (CDI). The firm, Far West Group, says it initially wants to use the technology to provide simple water treatment to underdeveloped countries. Far West expects its first field demonstration to take place in Uzbekistan later this year.
In CDI, a solution is passed between closely spaced pairs of electrodes made of carbon aerogel, a material that has an enormous surface area. Ions such as sodium and chloride can be removed from the flow and held in an electric field on the surface of the aerogel. When the aerogel is saturated with contaminants, the voltage on the electrodes is reversed and the ions are dumped into a small waste stream.
Central to successful commercialization of CDI is reducing the cost of manufacturing aerogel. Currently aerogel costs are approximately $16 per square foot; mass production is expected to lower costs to less than $1 per square foot. Far West Group is addressing this challenge by licensing the carbon aerogel technology developed at Livermore to ensure a steady and low-cost supply of the material for its own needs.
Contact: Jennie De Pruneda (510) 422-1339 (hdepruneda1@llnl.gov).

Acoustic tools to evaluate heart valves nonsurgically

Lawrence Livermore is developing nonsurgical acoustic techniques to identify which implanted mechanical heart valves of one manufacturer are susceptible to failure. The Laboratory's new studies build upon nearly three years of research to find ways to detect, without surgery, "single-leg separations" of the Bjork-Shiley Convexo-Concave valves. The separations occur when one leg of the heart valve's outlet strut breaks free. When both legs break, the strut is said to fracture, a condition that causes the heart valve to lose control of blood flow to the heart, leading to death in about two of three cases.
As of November, 596 fractures of these Convexo-Concave heart valves had been reported. About 42,500 Convexo-Concave valves, marketed between 1979 and 1986, are estimated to be implanted in patients still living.
The aim of the studies is to use acoustic differences, not surgery, to identify which heart valves are normal and which have single-leg separations. If differences between the valves can be identified using acoustical screening techniques and if the U.S. Food and Drug Administration gives its approval to use the techniques, people with valves believed to have a single-leg separation could then have replacement surgery.
Contact: Graham Thomas (510) 422-7325 (thomas26@llnl.gov).
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