Cost Estimates Almost Double; DOE Stresses Need for Facility.
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), where the laser fusion facility is being built, initially estimated cost increases would be 30 percent higher than the original $1.2-billion estimate, or $1.95 billion.
DOE, in its June 1 report, estimated construction costs at $2.25 billion.
In its June report, DOE acknowledged that "the most expeditious schedule to complete the National Ignition Facility has shown that it could be completed as early as the end of fiscal year 2006," at the $1.95 billion Livermore estimated. However, DOE mandated a slower schedule, which would result in a higher total cost.
DOE chose the slower, higher-cost plan to cap annual costs over the next several years. Sources close to Energy Secretary Bill Richardson say he wanted to limit expenditure increases to increments of no more than $100 million per year. However, he reluctantly agreed to provide $150 million per year when he was told that the project could not be managed properly at the lower figure.
DOE planned to provide an additional $95 million in FY 2001; "no more than $150 million in FY 2002 and 2003; $140 million in FY 2004; $130 million in FY 2005; and a declining profile thereafter," the report said.
The cost-profile-based schedule (FPN00-24) that DOE selected resulted in the need for another project rebaselining. DOE promises to provide a firm estimate by mid-September. Congress originally told DOE to submit definitive rebaselining estimates by June 1.
Other related (non-construction) costs associated with NIF would rise from $0.8 billion to $1.4 billion, the report said.
DOE's June 1 Interim Certification for the Revised Cost and Schedule Baseline for the National Ignition Facility (NIF) includes a preliminary estimate of the total project cost and funding profile based on having the full NIF capability, consisting of 192 beams, completed in fiscal year 2008, with some beams operational in 2004.
Cost, Schedule Under Review
The cost and schedule for NIF has been under review for about nine months (FPR, September/October 1999, p. 57), since Congress realized final assembly of the unprecedentedly large laser would be much more complex that anticipated.
Despite the cost increases, Richardson asserted that a detailed review by several groups, including directors of the three DOE weapons laboratories, concluded that NIF "remains a cornerstone of the Stockpile Stewardship Program."
Directors of DOE's weapon laboratories recently completed a NIF "White Paper" that concluded: "NIF is one of a set of essential capabilities that are needed to address the significant technical challenges associated with developing a science-based understanding of the nuclear stockpile, said Brigadier General Thomas Gioconda, acting DOE deputy administrator for Defense Programs (DP).
"The project is technically sound and based on good engineering design," Richardson said.
He cited reviews by the Secretary of Energy Advisory Board Task Force on the National Ignition Facility, the University of California President's Council National Ignition Facility Review Committee, the National Ignition Facility Programs Review Committee, the director of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and DOE's Energy Systems Acquisition Advisory Board.
"Project management has been restructured and has demonstrated over the last six months that it is capable of managing a project of this scope," he said. In particular, it engaged and effectively utilized industrial experts with relevant experience to both review and participate in the project.
NIF project management also has been restructured to support the NIF rebaselining activities, Gioconda told Richardson in a May 31 memo.
Restructuring includes establishing a NIF Project Office reporting to the DP deputy administrator. James Anderson, a former senior staff member and director of the Tritium Systems Test Facility at Los Alamos National Laboratory, heads the office.
Anderson will be located in DOE's Washington office, but his deputy will be at Livermore.
The new NIF program manager, Edward Moses, now reports directly to Livermore's associate director for NIF Programs, also a newly established function, Gioconda said. The NIF associate director, George Miller, reports directly to Livermore Director Bruce Tartar.
Tartar Defends Project
In the package of materials sent to Congress, DOE included the May 30 letter from Tartar to Richardson in which Tartar said he was confident that "we can bring the NIF project to a successful completion within the new cost and schedule guidelines provided to us by the secretary."
Last fall, DOE asked Livermore to rebaseline the project for fastest completion and lowest total cost, according to Tartar's letter. "In accordance with the DOE guidance last fall, we developed a detailed plan for NIF for the most aggressive path to completion."
Livermore's plan is project-optimized and based on many months of effort working with NIF vendors and industrial experts to determine a reliable forecast of cost and schedule by doing a 'bottom-up' sum of more than 25,000 individual items, Tartar said.
Livermore Planned for 2006 Completion
The total project cost under Livermore's project-optimized plan was estimated at $1.95 billion, with the first beams becoming operational at the end of FY 2003 and the full 192 beams by the end of FY 2006. Tartar's letter noted these dates were "two years later than originally planned."
Implementation of Livermore's plan "would have required funding increases over the original plan of $150 million in FY 2001 and $240 million in FY 2002," Tartar said.
DOE later "requested development of several stretched options that would reduce the early peak funding requirements," Tartar said. Later in the letter, he cited the potential for a negative impact on other Stockpile Stewardship Program (SSP) elements from the project-optimized plan.
Cost and schedule data for stretched plans "were derived from the database of the project-optimized plan by stretching certain efforts and costs so that peak funding rates would be lowered," Tartar's letter said.
The NIF Program Review Committee (NPRC), chaired by Hermann Grunder, director of the Jefferson National Accelerator Laboratory, "was not satisfied with our method of estimating the stretched options by manipulating the estimates derived for the project-optimized plan," Tartar said.
'This Is an Entirely Inadequate Approach'
He quotes NPRC as saying, "this method is an entirely inadequate approach to arriving at sound estimates for such a megaproject as NIF." The committee therefore recommended "a detailed analysis to determine the new, self-consistent baseline cost and complete funding profile required."
Tartar, however, said that, in his view, the $2.25-billion estimate for the DOE-selected option is "an upper bound on the total project cost."
Livermore will complete the new baseline estimate Aug. 1, Tartar said.
His letter also addresses the questions of whether the new NIF schedule was consistent with SSP's needs and whether a facility with fewer beams could meet SSP's requirements.
Tartar pointed to the three external reviews that addressed these questions and concluded that NIF remains extremely important to SSP.
The NPRC had considered the benefits to SSP of 48, 96 and 192 beams on NIF and concluded that, "while some good weapons physics can be done with fewer than 192 beamlines, NIF should be completed to its full 192 configuration, with ignition as a primary objective."
Tartar said "a full-capability, 192-beam NIF remains at present the only facility that can provide the extremely high temperatures, densities and fusion ignition conditions unique and critical to our effort to understand and interpret many of the processes that occur in exploding nuclear weapons."
NIF also will play an important role in attracting, training and judging the quality of the weapon scientists who will have to make future decisions about the certifiability of weapons in an aging stockpile, Tartar said.
"Data from the full 192-beam NIF will be necessary to enable our weapon scientists to make the certification decisions of the future. The data from NIF, including those from experiments in energy-density regimes achievable only with ignition, will also be necessary to test the validity of the computer models being developed in the Accelerated Strategic Computing Initiative (ASCI), another essential element of the SSP."
Another question reviewed, Tartar said, was, "Is there a reasonable likelihood that continued and increased funding for NIF will lead to a technically successful conclusion?"
All the external reviews concluded that "if completed as originally conceived, NIF is likely to produce ignition and provide the necessary data to the SSP so that sound certification decisions can continue to be made," Tartar said.
Tartar cited examples of "major successes" in the NIF project to date, but acknowledged that, "one technical issue that has not yet been completely resolved is the damage produced in the last few optical components by ultraviolet light."
"With present technology, some damage would be observed in the last few optical elements in each beamline if experiments were run at the highest intended operating fluences. Eventually, the damage would be severe enough that the damaged optics must be removed, refurbished and reinserted," Tartar said.
Livermore plans to address this problem by "choosing appropriate operating limits during initial experiments." Then, Tartar said, through continued research and development, NIF experimenters would "increase these operating limits as results from our technology development program become available and as we gain operating experience on NIF itself."
He explained that "many non-ignition weapon physics experiments can be done within the initial operating limits."
Tartar addressed issues associated with industrial involvement in NIF. "One of the major criticisms of both the internal and external reviews of NIF over the last year has been that the project was not effectively taking advantage of industrial expertise in areas in which the laboratories do not have relevant experience."
He pointed out that the NIF project received praise for its effective partnerships with industry in constructing conventional facilities and in jointly developing and installing state-of-the-art production-line techniques for manufacturing the thousands of large-aperture optical components needed.
However, DOE found that the size and scope of effort needed to assemble, install and integrate the beampath infrastructure for 192 laser beams within the NIF building and with the necessary cleanliness was greatly underestimated.
Tartar acknowledged that, perhaps because the lab successfully assembled, installed and integrated laser beamlines for six previous state-of-the-art laser systems, "we fell into the trap of assuming we had the expertise to do the same for NIF."
No System Was as Complex as NIF
In each of the previous systems, he said, "we had to meet the stringent cleanliness requirements inside each beamline that we do for NIF." However the previous systems had at most 20 beamlines and they were assembled inside buildings that were clean rooms of class 10,000 or cleaner.
The NIF building is so large that it was not cost-effective to make it a clean room of the same classification as earlier laser facilities, Tartar said.
Large differences in cleanliness required inside of the beamline and in the outside laser bay contributed to judgment error, Tartar admitted. "We should have, but did not, recognize that the size and complexity of assembling a clean infrastructure for 192 beamlines in a tight space bears more resemblance to building a fabrication plant for producing semiconductor chips than to building [Livermore's] previous laser research facilities."
When Livermore saw the problem, it immediately took several actions, Tartar said. "We consulted with experts in the semiconductor and aerospace industries [both have extensive experience assembling large, clean structures]. Going beyond consulting, we contracted several experts and companies to help us develop better strategies to take advantage of industrial expertise."
Acquisition Strategies Change
Tartar said, as a result, the laboratory is pursuing two major acquisition strategies that are very different from the original plan:
* Livermore will procure components from industry at a higher integration level than previously planned. For example, the 48 Pre-Amplifier Modules (PAMs), each containing 2,736 optical components, will be produced as integrated units rather than DOE buying the components and relying on in-house assembly and integration.
* With DOE's recent approval, the laboratory will award a single Integration Management and Installation (IMI) contract to put the mechanical and electrical beampath infrastructure in place for all 192 beams. The IMI contract will be patterned on Livermore's successful industrial partnership for construction of conventional facilities. The contract will provide Livermore with the industrial expertise to do a job previously envisioned for in-house labor. "The IMI will likely be NIF's largest single procurement," Tartar said.
Tartar concluded that the last year has been difficult for everyone on the NIF project from Livermore, University of California and DOE.
"It is never pleasant to admit deficiencies and shortcomings, but to be ultimately successful we must face unpleasant facts objectively, learn from them and do the best job we can to recover from them. I believe we have done just that."
DOE's report is available on the Web at: http: //www.dp.doe.gov/dpweb/newsf.htm.
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PPPL. President Clinton named Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) fusion physicist Gennady Shvets one of 60 researchers to receive the Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers. DOE also designated Shvets one of four scientists to receive the Office of Science's Early Career Award.
"We honor these outstanding young scientists and engineers for their research contributions, for their promise, and for their commitment to broader societal goals," Clinton said. "They will do much to shape our society and advance our national interests in the 21st century."
Energy Secretary Bill Richardson cited Shvets for "theoretical and computational investigations of the interaction of ultra-strong laser pulses with plasmas, with applications to inertial confinement fusion, plasma-based particle accelerators, and new radiation sources based on beams and plasmas."
Shvets, a native of Kiev, Ukraine, attended Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology from 1986-1989 as a physics and chemistry major. In December 1989, he and his family emigrated to the United States and settled in Baltimore. He received a Ph.D. in plasma physics from MIT in 1995 and came to PPPL the same year.
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