NIF Faces New Legal Challenge

LIVERMORE, CALIFORNIA--The threat of a court-ordered halt looms again over the Department of Energy's (DOE's) $1.2 billion National Ignition Facility (NIF). Yesterday, a national coalition of 39 environmental and antinuclear groups filed an injunction to halt the project immediately because of toxic waste unearthed at the California construction site.

The groups had sued DOE in May to prevent construction of the 192-beam laser, which is designed to help maintain the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile, claiming that DOE had not adequately assessed alternative approaches to stockpile stewardship in its environmental impact statement on the project. That suit was rejected in August by U.S. District Judge Stanley Sporkin, who ordered DOE to disclose more fully any environmental, health, or safety risks associated with NIF.

The most recent chapter began 3 weeks ago, when 112 polychlorinated biphenyl-laden electrical capacitors and other debris from the 1960s were dug up unexpectedly during excavation of the site. Laser foes now claim that DOE broke disclosure laws. They cite internal lab reports, maps, and statements by lab officials as evidence that government environmental analysts "swept under the rug" their own long-held concerns that hazardous materials might be buried in and near the laser construction site.

William Hogan, senior scientist on the laser project, denies any negligence or cover-up by the government. "We had no evidence there were any materials buried there that would cause us a problem," he maintains. DOE has 11 days to respond to the motion, followed by a 5-day period for the plaintiffs' rebuttal.

Posted in Physics