Thursday, May 26, 2011

National Ignition Facility Project

According to the National Nuclear Security Administration, the National Ignition Facility at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California is the government’s attempt to create "a miniature star on earth" to push the envelope on nuclear weapons design. If you ask me it sounds more like something on Dr. Evil’s “to do” list, maybe after “sharks with laser beams attached to their heads.” When originally proposed in 1994, the project was intended to advance nuclear weapons design, provide additional capability for nuclear weapons effects tests, and develop inertial fusion energy. While the cost of this $7 billion science experiment is alarmingly high, the real problem is its representation of our country’s priorities regarding nuclear weapons.

Although the experiment is being sold as the solution to the world’s energy crisis, it is above all else a nuclear weapons advancement project. Skeptics of the ‘energy solution’ claim that the National Ignition Facility is highly unlikely to lead to a practical energy source, let alone one that could be competitive with renewable energy technologies. Critics even go as far to say that the project is essentially “busy work,” in other words, a plan to keep nuclear weapons design teams at Livermore and increase notoriety for the laboratory.

One report that struck my interest on the National Ignition Facility comes from Walter Kohn, a Nobel laureate and physics professor from the University of California, Santa Barbara. Since the University of California is involved in managing the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Kohn argues that the University’s involvement in the development of nuclear weapons compromises the effectiveness and integrity of the educational process. As a university student, I can understand and respect his opinion about the ethical and moral principals underlying this issue. What do you think? In a nation striving for a world without nuclear weapons, is it right to encourage students and professors to participate in nuclear weapons activities?

The hype associated with the National Ignition Facility bears an eerie resemblance to that of the Manhattan project. With 80% of its experiments classified, and supporters claiming that the project will be one to tell our grandchildren about, it seems that the environmental and proliferation concerns will be neglected until it is too late. According to the lab’s latest Environmental Impact Statement, the nuclear waste output at the National Ignition Facility will increase by 50% and exposure to radiation for those working on the project will triple in amount. It seems that the National Ignition Facility Student Internship Pamphlet failed to mention that.


  1. I worked there. They really do not what they will term as a success.

  2. It is imperative that we develop nuclear fusion within the next 100 years. The nuclear weapons program is an unfortunate thing, but I think it must be maintained until everyone disarms at once--and that probably won't happen until energy and technology is plentiful to everyone. Nuclear fusion a technology that must be developed for us to keep up with the world's growth.

    As for the radiation increases, putting numbers in context is an appropriate thing to do, as well as linking to the source. The amount of radiation is likely less than that received by living close to a large coal power plant, or taking a plane ride.


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