Morning Briefing - October 29, 2018
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October 29, 2018

Advocacy Trio Presses Administration to Fully Fund NNSA Laser Facilities in 2020

By Dan Leone

A trio of advocacy groups asked the Department of Energy and the Pentagon to provide a little budget bump for three National Nuclear Security Administration-funded optics facilities across the country, including one in Rochester, N.Y., the Donald Trump administration tried to cancel last year.

In a Wednesday letter, the groups urged Energy Secretary Rick Perry and Defense Secretary James Mattis to seek $565 million for the National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA) Inertial Confinement Fusion Program (ICF) in fiscal 2020: roughly 3 percent more than the programs received in its current budget and nearly 35 percent more than the Trump administration sought.

Signing the letter were the Advanced Nuclear Weapons Alliance; SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics; and the Optical Society. The first is a year-old Washington, D.C.-based organization advocating for modernizing all aspects of the nuclear security enterprise, while the latter two are older professional associations and advocacy groups for scientists whose research often involves lasers.

The ICF program encompasses three major NNSA-funded laser research facilities: the National Ignition Facility at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore, Calif.; the Z Facility at the Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, N.M.; and the OMEGA Laser Facility at the Laboratory for Laser Energetics at the University of Rochester in Rochester, N.Y.

The Trump administration wanted to cut all funding for the OMEGA facility in fiscal 2019 “as part of rebalancing the ICF Program to strengthen long-term support for SSP [stockpile stewardship program] efforts,” according to the White House budget request. Congress was a hard “no” on that plan: The NNSA’s final 2019 budget provided $80 million for the facility.

“Effective stockpile stewardship requires ongoing funding and maintenance of all three major, world-leading ICF facilities,” the advocacy groups wrote in their letter to the Department of Energy and the Pentagon.

To help ensure the U.S. nuclear deterrent functions, the NNSA uses its major laser research facilities to simulate some of the conditions that otherwise could only be produced by nuclear explosions — tests of a sort the U.S. has not conducted since the early 1990s, and which it plans to do without for the foreseeable future.