Sparking ignition

More than a decade after it began, the National Ignition Facility project sets a record for laser energy.

Since the early 1970s, the United States Department of Energy (US DoE) has attempted to generate--within the confines of a laboratory environment--a controlled, self-sustaining nuclear fusion reaction known as ignition, a reaction that continuously occurs within active stars. To accomplish this feat, the US DoE's National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) authorized, in 1993, the construction of the US$3.5 billion National Ignition Facility & Photon Science Directorate (NIF), a facility capable of supporting the US DoE's goal of developing inertial fusion energy for use as a clean, safe, and virtually unlimited power source. This article examines the effort to construct this facility, an effort that received the PMI 2010 Project of the Year award. In doing so, it overviews the concept of ignition and the NNSA's effort to plan and construct its 500,000-square-foot NIF, which is composed of three interconnecting buildings. It discusses why the project was delayed during its initial stages. It then details how the NNSA got the project back on-track by establishing oversight and lines-of-authority, revising contingency, and developing a new plan, which included conducting external scientific and technical reviews, restructuring the project management approach, and improving the project portfolio. It also describes the innovative method used to develop the NIF's precision optical instrument, the largest ever manufactured. It identifies both the experiments that the NNSA has conducted within the NIF and the unprecedented successes it has achieved to date.
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