House Discussion on National Ignition Facility

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Publication date: 
8 June 2012


The House of Representatives started its consideration of H.R. 5325, the Energy and Water Development Appropriations Act for FY 2013, on May 31. On June 6 the bill passed by a vote of 255-165. This and subsequent FYIs will excerpt sections of this debate of interest to the physics community.

As reviewed in a recent FYI, House and Senate appropriators included language in their committee reports about the National Ignition Facility (NIF). The House Armed Services Committee also discussed NIF in its report. All three committees expressed concern about the facility’s ability to achieve ignition.

During the first day of the House’s consideration of H.R. 5325, appropriations subcommittee chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ), subcommittee ranking member Peter Visclosky (D-IN), and Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) participated in a pre-arranged discussion about NIF. Known as a colloquy, this is a mechanism to enter into the Congressional Record a mutual understanding that can later serve as guidance.

Rep. Lofgren started this conversation:

“I would like to give special thanks to Mr. Visclosky and his staff, as well as Congressman Dicks [(D-WA), Ranking Member of the House Appropriations Committee] and his staff, for their tremendous support for fusion energy in this bill.

“I would like to enter into a colloquy with the distinguished chairman [Rep. Frelinghuysen] of the Energy and Water Development [Appropriations] Subcommittee. Mr. Chairman, since the need for a National Ignition Facility was first established in the 1990s, the project had a mandate of supporting nuclear weapons science expertise required for stewardship of our Nation’s stockpile and the development of fusion power.

“Basic science research has always been a central mission of NIF. In the 1997 Facility Use Plan for NIF, the Statement of Mission projected that the uses of the facility fall into five major areas: one, ignition physics; two, weapons physics; three, weapons effects; four, inertial fusion energy; and, five, basic science and technology.

“I want to affirm with you that the mission of NIF has not changed and that inertial fusion energy and basic science research, as well as stockpile stewardship, will continue to be vigorously pursued at NIF.”

Chairman Frelinghuysen responded:

“I want to thank the gentlewoman for her concern about sustaining the mission of science, fusion energy, research, and other activities at the National Ignition Facility. I know she’s a strong advocate for science, and I commend her for her attention and support.

“While this facility’s primary purpose is to support sustainment of our nuclear weapons stockpile, it was also envisioned to be a user facility. Basic science and fusion energy will always remain an important part of the NIF’s mission. I thank her for her advocacy and work on behalf of the NIF.”

Rep. Lofgren replied:

“Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for that reassurance. And thank you, Mr. Visclosky.”

Ranking Member Visclosky concluded:

“I want to add my remarks, along with the chairman, to thank the gentlewoman for her vision of our energy future, for her doggedness, and for her commitment to basic scientific research in this country, as well as the issue of fusion.

“Too often people lose sight that we have to be consistent, we have to be persistent and dogged, and some day we are going to achieve success and primarily because of the gentlelady from California. I appreciate her remarks very much.”

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