Department of Energy:
Follow-Up Review of the National Ignition Facility
GAO-01-677R, Jun 1, 2001
The Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, run by the University of California, is building the National Ignition Facility (NIF) to simulate, in a laboratory setting, the thermonuclear conditions created in nuclear explosion. The facility will allow scientists to evaluate the behavior of nuclear weapons without explosive testing. This report reviews (1) the role of NIF in the Stockpile Stewardship Program; (2) the relationship of NIF to other Stockpile Stewardship Program elements; (3) the impact of delays in constructing NIF on the Stockpile Stewardship Program; (4) funds spent to date on the project so far; and (5) whether the new baseline has clear goals, adequate and sustainable funding, and achievable milestones. GAO found that NIF is expected to contribute to DOE's Stockpile Stewardship by attracting new scientists, supporting the stockpile's refurbishment, and supporting research to improve the understanding of weapons science. DOE has yet to certify that the completion of NIF will not harm the balance of the Stockpile Stewardship Program. Future delays in constructing NIF may adversely affect DOE's ability to conduct weapons science research. DOE has spent $1.3 billion on the NIF project through fiscal year 2000, plus another $250 million primarily to research and development. The new baseline for NIF contains goals that are clouded by the lack of consensus among the three national laboratories about what size NIF should be and how it should be deployed, uses optimistic assumptions about NIF's operating costs that may compromise future budget projections, and lacks short-term milestones.