Swalwell and Lofgren Lead Call for Strong Funding for National Ignition Facility

March 20, 2018
Press Release

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Rep. Eric Swalwell (CA-15) and Rep. Zoe Lofgren (CA-19) led 20 of their House colleagues in opposing the Trump Administration’s proposed Fiscal Year 2019 cut in funding for the National Ignition Facility (NIF), which helps America stay the global forefront of energy research while helping to maintain its nuclear stockpile.

The NIF, located at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Swalwell’s district, effectively would face a $60 million cut – about 18 percent – under the Trump budget proposal, forcing it to curtail its experimentation by about a quarter. The lawmakers urged that the NIF’s funding instead be increased from $330 million in FY 2017 to at least $344 million in FY 2019.

“Staying at the forefront of fusion research is part of maintaining America’s energy security, and as other nations step up their own investments for a cleaner energy future, so must we,” Swalwell said.

“The history of fusion research in the United States is one of tremendous science and perpetually insufficient support,” Lofgren said. “There is a long-standing joke that fusion is 30 years away and it always will be. That’s because we’ve actually had inconsistent support for the science.  The truth is we’re actually way closer than that, but not if we take our foot off the accelerator.  The rest of the world is catching up and we cannot cede the lead on fusion energy research. In order to maintain a strong, diversified scientific effort to understand and achieve fusion, we must make it a budget priority.”

The NIF is the world’s largest and most powerful laser facility – the size of a sports stadium, with a giant laser using nearly 40,000 optics to precisely amplify and focus 192 beams onto a target about the size of a pencil eraser. This 500-trillion-watt blast lets scientists create extreme states of matter, including temperatures of more than 100 million degrees Celsius (180 million degrees Fahrenheit) and pressures that exceed 100 billion times Earth’s atmosphere.

The NIF not only probes the frontiers of fusion energy research, but also helps maintain America’s nuclear stockpile while maintaining its moratorium on test explosions.

“Obviously, if these cuts were to be enacted it would be devastating to our field with impacts beginning today and persisting well into the future,” NIF Director Mark Herrmann testified to Congress earlier this month. “When viewed through the lens of developments around the world, these reductions would slow the U.S. down significantly at a time when the rest of the world is accelerating.”

The letter that the lawmakers sent last week to the Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee emphasizes that this isn’t the time to cede America’s edge.

“A level of at least $344 million is needed to maintain current NIF operations,” they wrote. “At a time when other nations are expanding their investments in inertial confinement fusion, it is essential that we provide the funding needed for NIF to maintain American leadership in this field.”  

Click here to read the full text of the letter.