The National Ignition Facility (NIF) has resumed experiments after Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) reduced operations in March due to COVID-19.
NIF is the world’s largest and most energetic laser, designed to allow unprecedented experimental access to the physics of nuclear weapons and help maintain the U.S. nuclear deterrent without further underground testing. This knowledge helps ensure the current and future nuclear stockpile is safe, secure and effective, and allows scientists to better understand the behavior of matter throughout the universe.
The nation’s security relies on these programs, and bringing NIF back online will provide important data to ensure we can deliver.
The shot executed on April 26, and subsequent ones throughout the following week, supported Los Alamos National Laboratory’s “MShock” campaign, which examines hydrodynamic instabilities of a thin target layer and its transition to turbulence in a multiple shock system – a topic of intense interest for NNSA’s Stockpile Stewardship Program.
“NIF plays a major role in many of NNSA’s mission critical deliverables, both for modernization programs and annual assessments of the existing stockpile,” said Dr. Charles Verdon, Deputy Administrator for Defense Programs. “The nation’s security relies on these programs, and bringing NIF back online will provide important data to ensure we can deliver.”
When the COVID-19 pandemic began, LLNL quickly responded, reducing the number of employees on site to ensure the safety and security of the Laboratory and its facilities. In recent weeks, limited on-site work has resumed at LLNL in support of national mission-critical activities, a posture called “Reduced Mission-Critical Operations.” Experiments at NIF and work in supporting facilities are a major part of such mission-critical work focused on the Lab’s nuclear weapons programs.
During this restart process, protecting the health and safety of the workforce has been the highest priority, requiring a careful, deliberate approach. NIF developed a plan detailing COVID-19 protocols designed to protect workers. Refinements and improvements to existing procedures have been critical in this effort, in addition to new protocols that address challenges presented by COVID-19.
The plan incorporates guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, with protocols that reduce worker density, ensure appropriate social distancing, utilize appropriate personal protective equipment, and apply other mitigations, such as controlled building entry and exit points to minimize close contact with others.
Employees on-site in support of NIF operations are spread over many facilities and up to four shifts, which limits the total number of workers in any one area. Those workers stay on site only as long as necessary. Scientists, experimenters, and engineering and subject matter experts continue to work remotely and on-call as necessary to support operations.
“I’ve been truly impressed at how rapidly we have collectively responded to these challenges,” said NIF Director Dr. Mark Herrmann. “Many more lie ahead, but I have supreme confidence in the dedication and resilience of our workforce and our ability to safely restart the important work we do for the Nation.”