Skip to main content

You are here

Presented at The National Ignition Facility Dedication - The National Ignition Facility and National Security

May 29, 2009

Good morning.  On behalf of the National Nuclear Security Administration, I congratulate you for this great accomplishment and thank you for your hard work. This is a great day for science. However, it is also a great day for national security.  I have a special draw to our nation’s security, not just because of my current position, but also because of my 27 years of active duty and reserve time as a Naval Officer in the Submarine Force.

A number of distinguished national leaders are here today to mark this achievement and encourage our future achievement. Lab Director George Miller; Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger; Senator Diane Feinstein; Congresswoman Ellen Tauscher; etc. 

For more than a decade our political and military leaders, and our dedicated scientists and engineers who care about our nation’s security have supported the National Ignition Facility.  As Secretary Pena said during the groundbreaking on May 30, 1997, NIF will help “assure the national security, the economic health, the energy security and the scientific leadership of the United States.”  We have long held expectations for NIF – expectations that will now be put to the test.  With confidence in Ben Franklin’s admonition that “energy and persistence conquer all things,” we anticipate many discoveries and new opportunities.

The milestone we celebrate today truly was a team effort, and a fitting tribute to the “energy and persistence” that Franklin spoke of.  This was a team effort that included Charlie Curtis -- who approved the start of construction while serving as Acting Secretary – along with eight consecutive Secretaries of Energy to make this vision a reality. 

It was a team effort with the Fusion Policy Advisory Committee and the National Academy of Sciences review in 1990 that helped refine the National Ignition Facility concept and start it toward realization. 

It was a team effort in the early 1990s that included Dr. Vic Reis who developed the Science Based Stockpile Stewardship Program.  This program couples the research to be done at NIF and other one-of-a-kind tools such as Sandia’s Z machine and the Los Alamos DARHT Facility, with the world’s most advanced supercomputers to provide the ability to take care of our nuclear deterrent without underground nuclear testing. 

And finally, and most importantly, it was a team effort by the scientists, engineers, and project managers here in the National Nuclear Security Administration not only at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, but also Los Alamos National Laboratory, Sandia National Laboratories, the Laboratory for Laser Energetics at the University of Rochester, and many other partners.  Now we are set to begin using this capability to advance the security of our nation.

In the hands of skilled scientists, this facility will contribute to our national security by helping ensure the safety and reliability of our nuclear deterrent while advancing the skills needed to address emerging national security needs in nuclear non-proliferation, nuclear counter-terrorism, and nuclear emergency management. 

As the weapons that support our nuclear deterrent age beyond their originally designed lifespans, our stockpile stewardship efforts become more complex and more important.   NIF will allow us to understand the behavior of those materials at pressures and temperatures that occur in nuclear explosions, but cannot be replicated anywhere else on Earth. 

Now, we are on the cusp of ignition, an accomplishment that has potential to change the world in the long term and make a huge contribution to the nuclear deterrent right now.

Achieving ignition – nuclear fusion that releases more energy than the lasers brought in – may be the most challenging aspect of applying NIF for national nuclear security purposes. But if we succeed, it will help us understand the most intricate and sensitive process, the “boost” phase required for the function of our nuclear warheads. 

The knowledge we expect to gain using ignition at NIF will be critical to our confidence in the function of our own nuclear warheads.  The NIF and our other tools will also help develop world class scientists and engineers who will address future challenges. It will, in effect, develop the “Varsity Science Team” that this country needs to address dynamic 21st century nuclear security problems. As our security challenges grow more complex, I want the “Varsity Science Team”, on the field to de-fuse improvised nuclear devices and support our nuclear counter terrorism efforts. I want the “Varsity Science Team” to support the Intelligence Community on nuclear issues, and I want the Varsity Science Team to aggressively secure and detect nuclear material around the world. In this business, the Junior Varsity Team is just not good enough.

I am here to celebrate this great accomplishment and to thank you. But our work is not finished. Together, we built this tool. Now, together we must put it to good use.

There is a tradition in the Navy that goes back to World War I. When a ship or command does a particularly good job, the commanding officer hoists two signal flags up the yardarm. One flag represents the letter “B” and the other the letter “Z”. For the past 90 years, “BZ” or Bravo Zulu signifies exceptional work. And commanding officers, when conveying a job well done, typically end their message with this phrase. As Administrator for the NNSA and your Commanding Officer, I extend to you a hearty well done. Bravo Zulu.

Livermore, CA