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LIVERMORE, Calif.—On September 18, 2016, the National Ignition Facility (NIF) performed its 400th experiment of fiscal year (FY) 2016, meeting the year's goal several weeks early. In comparison, the facility completed 356 experiments in FY 2015 and 191 experiments in FY 2014. NIF is on track to complete 415 experiments by the end of the fiscal year, more than doubling its FY 2014 accomplishments.
Located at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), NIF is the world's largest and most energetic laser. NIF is funded by the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (DOE/NNSA), whose missions include ensuring the safety, security, and effectiveness of the nuclear weapons stockpile. The chief mission of NIF is to provide experimental insight and data for NNSA's science-based Stockpile Stewardship Program (SSP).
In addition to conducting high-energy-density physics experiments in support of the SSP, NIF conducts additional experimental shots related to national security, energy security, and discovery science. NIF users and collaborators include researchers from DOE national laboratories, universities, and other U.S. and foreign research centers. The 400th shot was part of a campaign to study radiation effects on strategic system materials, conducted by NIF’s National Security Applications Program for the Department of the Navy. The increased shot rate has enabled more scientific exploration, increased innovation, and faster progress on priority areas within the Stockpile Stewardship Program.
“Through continued attention to efficiency and improvement, the team at NIF has made impressive progress in increasing both the shot rate and experimental access to this one-of-a-kind facility,” said Lt. Gen. Frank G. Klotz (Ret.), Under Secretary for Nuclear Security and Administrator for NNSA. “This growth – achieved on a fixed budget – further solidifies NIF’s role as a crucial tool for the Stockpile Stewardship Program and a world-class resource for learning and progress.”
The more than 110 percent increase in NIF shots from FY 2014 to FY 2016 is a direct result of an efficiency study conducted in FY 2014. This congressionally requested 120-day efficiency study was developed in partnership with other NNSA laboratories and identified more than 80 improvements to equipment and procedures that could lead to reduced time and effort for fielding experiments, nearly all of which have been implemented.
“Meeting the commitments laid out in the 120-day study is an important achievement for team NIF and its partners,” said NIF Director Mark Herrmann. “We’ve established an efficient operating baseline for NIF delivering unprecedented data and insights for the Stockpile Stewardship Program. The entire team is energized by achieving this goal and looks forward to continuing to deliver important data for the Stewardship Program.”
NIF became operational in March 2009. Three football fields could fit inside of it. The giant laser has nearly 40,000 optics that precisely guide, reflect, amplify, and focus 192 laser beams onto a fusion target about the size of a pencil eraser. NIF’s 192 beams can deliver more than 500 trillion watts of peak power and 1.85 megajoules of ultraviolet laser light to its target. That’s 1,000 times more power than the United States uses at any instant in time and nearly 100 times more than any other laser facility regularly produces. By focusing NIF’s laser beams onto a variety of targets, scientists create extreme states of matter, including temperatures of more than 100 million degrees Celsius (180 million degrees Fahrenheit) and pressures that exceed 100 billion times Earth’s atmosphere. During a shot, the NIF target chamber is the hottest place in the known Universe.
Established by Congress in 2000, NNSA is a semi-autonomous agency within the U.S. Department of Energy responsible for enhancing national security through the military application of nuclear science. NNSA maintains and enhances the safety, security, and effectiveness of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile without nuclear explosive testing; works to reduce the global danger from weapons of mass destruction; provides the U.S. Navy with safe and effective nuclear propulsion; and responds to nuclear and radiological emergencies in the U.S. and abroad. Visit nnsa.energy.gov for more information.