Skip to Main Content

GAO Report Takes Some Wind Out of NIF Hype

In the last few months, the PR team for the National Ignition Facility (NIF) at Lawrence Livermore National Lab has certainly earned its keep. Even though the project is not complete, 400 percent over budget, at least 10 years behind schedule, and hiding its costs within other Lab program budgets, it has gotten a lot of buzz in the media.

However, today, the GAO released a report stating that it is too soon to say that the project is a success, and that the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) and the Lab have conducted “weak oversight” of the project. From the report:

The cost, schedule, and scope of ignition-related activities at NIF and supporting facilities have expanded substantially because NNSA officials and [National Ignition Campaign] NIC participants failed to follow required processes. In addition, weak oversight by NNSA has allowed the lead NIC participant, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, to defer critical performance requirements, construction activities, and key equipment acquisitions needed for ignition experiments at NIF, which could delay ignition or other NIC goals beyond 2012.

The report confirmed many of the concerns that we voiced to Department of Energy (DOE) Secretary Chu last year, after the Secretary gave the NIF an award for "Project Management Excellence."

While the GAO states that it has cost $3,500,000,000 to design and construct the NIF facility and to install NIF’s 192 lasers and their associated components, they also note that “Although NIF construction was officially completed in 2009, construction and installation of the safety infrastructure is currently under way….The work is expected to cost around $50 million.” But that’s not the end of the costs… to actually complete the goal of the project, NNSA created the National Ignition Campaign (NIC). The GAO explains that the costs of NIC have also spiraled from $1.6 billion to over $2 billion. This brings the cost of the unfinished project to almost $6 billion.

By: Ingrid Drake
investigator, POGO

At the time of publication, Ingrid Drake was an investigator for the Project On Government Oversight.

Topics: National Security

Related Content: Congressional Oversight, Livermore National Lab, Nuclear Security, Nuclear Weapons Complex Oversight, Waste

Authors: Ingrid Drake

comments powered by Disqus

Related Posts

Browse POGOBlog by Topic

POGO on Facebook

POGOBlog Contributors

See All Blog Contributors

Latest Podcast

Podcast; Social Media, Internet Provides Opportunities, Challenges for Lawmakers

The Congressional Management Foundation offers the Gold Mouse Awards annually to members of Congress who make the most of the opportunity the digital world offers them. POGO spoke with members of Rep. Mike Honda's communications team about their award.