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Late laser blamed on poor management

17 Jun 2002

The US project to build the world's largest laser has suffered from poor management and bad planning, according to a report commissioned by the University of California. The National Ignition Facility (NIF), which Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory is building for the US Department of Energy, is projected to be completed 18 months late and USD 300 million over budget.

The laser, initially scheduled for completion by 2003, is designed to test nuclear weapons by simulations rather than underground tests. It is also expected to contribute to fundamental scientific research.

The committee that reviewed NIF's problems said that the project had already solved a number of difficult technical issues, but it found deficiencies in the management at the laboratory, the university and the Department of Energy as well as unrealistic budget planning.

The report recommends better communication within the project and more clearly defined roles. It also advises the laboratory's director to have more 'ownership' of the NIF and to appoint an associate director or manager to the project. In addition, the committee requests more appropriate documentation detailing the technical scope, cost and schedule of the project.

The committee was chaired by Steven Koonin of the California Institute of Technology and included nine other scientists and engineers with experience in project management and the operation of research facilities.

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