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After Fusion Failure, NIF Shifts Priorities

LIVERMORE, Calif., May 6, 2013 — Having failed to achieve fusion by its target date, the National Ignition Facility (NIF) is shifting its priorities and has replaced longtime director Dr. Edward Moses, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory Director Parney Albright announced last week.

L. Jeffrey Atherton is now NIF director. Moses will remain in his position as principal associate director for the NIF & Photon Science Directorate.


A view from the bottom of the chamber. Pulses from NIF's high-power lasers race toward the Target Bay at the speed of light. They arrive at the center of the target chamber within a few trillionths of a second of each other, aligned to the accuracy of the diameter of a human hair. Courtesy of NIF.

Atherton received his PhD in chemical engineering from MIT in 1985 and began his career at LLNL's Laser Directorate as system manager for the Beamlet Pockels cell from 1991 through 1994. He was associate project leader for the NIF optics group from 1993 to 1999. The following year, he became associate project manager for laser equipment and optics production.

NIF became operational in March 2009, after numerous delays and cost overruns. The facility has 192 intense laser beams that direct nearly 2 million joules of ultraviolet laser energy in billionth-of-a-second pulses to the target chamber center, where the energy is supposed to ignite a nuclear fusion reaction.

NIF was supposed to achieve fusion by the end of fiscal 2012, but it failed to do so. In a December 2012 report to Congress on achieving ignition, National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) Administrator Thomas P. D'Agostino said it was "too early" to determine whether the facility would ever achieve ignition because discrepancies between models and experimental data have to be resolved first.

In addition to pursuing laser fusion, NIF provides a fundamental capability for the nuclear stockpile stewardship program, allowing scientists at the weapons laboratories to study physics phenomena under the unique condition of nuclear tests.

"NIF has entered a new era, operating as the world's pre-eminent high-energy-density science facility supporting an international community working in national security and frontier science," Albright said last week. "NIF has demonstrated key capabilities in all mission areas that could not be done anyplace else. The demand for NIF capabilities is growing, and the sophistication of the experiments is increasing along with the number of shots requested."

To prioritize the demand for NIF shots and ensure "only the best science is done," other shifts at the facility include governance changes related to formal interactions with various working groups and councils involved in HED (high-energy-density) stockpile stewardship and weapons science, national security, inertial confinement fusion and basic science programs; the formation of subject matter expert working groups in targets, diagnostics and operations; and the proactive work of several NIF planning groups and the NIF User Office, Albright said.

"The role of the NIF director has grown, become more visible and requires continual interaction with the user communities; with respect to this alone, it has become a full-time position," Albright said. "It is time to redefine the role of the NIF director to concentrate on implementation of the governance process, be responsible for developing and maintaining a facility use plan, and communicating with the HED science community and the broader set of stakeholders."

Albright said Atherton was well-qualified for the role of NIF director. "He is knowledgeable and experienced in all of the technology systems in NIF, and in the management of its suite of complex operations. He has established himself as a leader in the integration of user requirements into complex operation scenarios and is respected for his leadership and skill in managing interactions with all members of the broad user community," he said.

Moses joined LLNL in 1980, becoming program leader for isotope separation and material processing and deputy associate director for lasers. From 1990 to 1995, he was a founding partner of Advanced Technology Applications Inc., which advised clients on proposing and designing high-technology projects. He returned to LLNL in 1995 as assistant associate director for program development, physics and space technology.

For more information, visit: https://lasers.llnl.gov/ 


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