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Review of the Department of Energy's Inertial Confinement Fusion Program: The National Ignition Facility
The Beamlet laser has validated almost all aspects of the design of the NIF laser. The exceptions are the final focusing optics and the lower damage threshold of the rapidly grown KDP crystals; there are adequate plans for dealing with these two remaining issues. As designed, the NIF laser will operate at a maximum fluence consistent with an optimization of both cost and reliability and projected performance. The NIF laser architecture allows beamline maintenance and repair without disruption of normal operations. The beam-smoothing experiments under way on NOVA have demonstrated that the technology exists to meet the NIF laser performance specifications.
With regard to NIF project management, the committee finds that there is a competent, well-supported project team and a well-aligned project organization. The project has undergone a stringent Title I Review, and an Independent Cost Estimate review has verified the TEC cost estimates. Although the contingency currently provided is unusually tight for such a project, the availability of support from the ICF program during the construction period provides the margin to systems and components necessary for the NIF to the point that a low contingency might be acceptable. The operating budget is defined precisely, but in relatively narrow terms, and is consistent with LLNL's bottom-up analysis. Additional target physics program funds need to be available in order to provide an operating budget comparable to those at other large facilities.
In sum, the committee believes that the NIF can be delivered to specifications within the stated TPC, as augmented by LLNL-projected operating funds, allowing the high-energy-density and ignition experimental programs to proceed; there are no identifiable "show stoppers." The achievement of ignition appears likely, but not guaranteed. The steady scientific and technological progress in ICF during the 6 years since the last National Research Council review, the plausibility of ignition estimates based on the experimental and modeling results and capabilities in hand, and the flexibility of the facility all support the committee's finding that the NIF project is technologically and scientifically ready to proceed as planned with reasonable confidence in the attainment of its objectives.