Cuts to Weapons Physics Research Both Puzzle and Worry Scientists
Posted: Thursday, March 1, 2018 12:00 am
By Jeff Garberson
A proposal to slash the budget for a branch of physics research that is vital to understanding nuclear weapons performance is alarming weapons scientists at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL)and elsewhere.
The cuts, proposed by the Trump Administration, have the potential for dramatically shrinking operations at the nation’s key facilities for carrying out the research, the most important of which is arguably LLNL’s giant laser, the National Ignition Facility, or NIF.
As the Independent was going to press, NIF leadership was making precautionary plans to operate with resources reduced by some 30 percent, including suspending target experiments for at least six months.
Thousands of miles away, at the University of Rochester in New York, executives were dealing with an even more severe threat, the Trump Administration’s plan to close down their Omega laser over the next three years.
Omega is a national facility whose research complements and in many cases supports the science done at NIF.
In Southern California, the proposed budget reductions would close a long-standing program at General Atomic Corp. for fabricating targets used by both LLNL and Rochester laser programs.
If carried out, the closure would put further pressure on the budgets of the two big laser laboratories as they are forced to divert resources to develop their own target fabrication programs internally.
The cuts grow out of the President’s proposed budget for the coming fiscal year, which starts October 1. They were communicated in documents from the National Nuclear Security Administration, the branch of the U.S. Department of Energy that oversees the U.S. nuclear weapons complex.
To local scientists whose work would be slashed, the budget reductions are puzzling as well as dismaying because the Administration has also signaled its intention of strengthening the U.S. nuclear weapons program.
Although the proposal is subject to amendment, its negative message can have immediate consequences, such as lowering morale, forcing staff to look for new jobs, causing NIF to scale back operations and halting outreach efforts, like recruiting campaigns...
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