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Laser Project Awaits Funds

Photonics Spectra
May 2001
Stephanie A. Weiss

LIVERMORE, Calif. -- The National Ignition Facility has not yet received all of its 2001 budget because it has not updated Congress on its construction status and its budget plan, and has not provided evidence that the facility is needed.

As we went to press in early April, the Department of Energy was continuing to prepare the information that Congress requested. John A. Gordon, undersecretary of energy, told a congressional committee April 4 that he planned to submit certification materials before the end of the month.

"Just two weeks ago, I was at Lawrence Livermore's National Ignition Facility," Gordon said. "The people there are making great strides in focusing on the project, completing construction and maintaining a schedule that will see this project to fruition."

Last year, government officials determined that the laser project was $1 billion over budget and four years behind schedule because of construction and managerial problems. Nevertheless, Congress approved a $199 million budget for fiscal 2001, withholding $69 million until the end of March, when officials were to have submitted updated plans and a needs assessment.

Injunctions and suits

Just days before the deadline, a federal judge said officials cannot use reports made in August 2000 and February 2001 as part of their paperwork for Congress.

The decision was a preliminary injunction in a lawsuit by activist groups that oppose the project. "A preliminary injunction would serve the public interest in ensuring compliance with an important open government law," the judge's order said.

Last fall, the National Resources Defense Council and Tri-Valley Communities Against a Radioactive Environment sued the Department of Energy, alleging that the favorable August 2000 report violated the Federal Advisory Committee Act.

The groups argued that the committee that produced the report (which also was the basis of the 2001 version) included too many members with biases in favor of the project. The organizations also charged that committee deliberations were not open to the public.

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