Five-Year Multimillion Dollar Contract Renewed for Laboratory for Laser Energetics

November 21, 2007

Source: Matthew Daneman, "Feds renew funding for UR laser lab," Democrat and Chronicle (November 21, 2007)

One of the key sites on the planet for trying to develop fusion as a potential power source will continue to get the federal support that keeps it operating at least for another five years. The U.S. Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration has renewed its commitment to fund University of Rochester's Laboratory for Laser Energetics for another five years. That pot of federal money which could amount to $351 million between now and November 2012 makes up the bulk of what keeps the laser lab operating, said director Robert L. McCrory.

The lab was founded in 1970 and was built here in large part because of the optics and laser expertise in the Rochester area, McCrory said. It employs about 330 people full time, plus numerous students and contractors. According to UR, the laser lab accounted for $49 million in local spending on salaries and supplies last year. Its mission includes experiments supporting a federal program involving simulation of what would happen in the detonation of a nuclear weapon. The National Nuclear Security Administration, created in 2000, is charged with handling the safety, security and reliability of the country's nuclear weapon stockpile without nuclear testing. The last time the United States set off one of its nuclear weapons for testing purposes was 1992.

The federal agency funds the laser lab for its Omega laser system, which is used to simulate the energy from a nuclear explosion to help with research into that nuclear stockpile reliability, said spokesman John Broehm. According to the federal agency, the UR laser lab is its largest university-based research program. The laser lab also is used extensively in research into nuclear fusion the process that powers stars and that scientists hope could be a source of cheap, clean power on Earth.

The UR lab is part of the National Ignition Facility, a $3.5 billion laser setup being built at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California that is supposed to start fusion ignition experiments in 2010. The agreement with the National Nuclear Security Administration is for $276 million in base funding over the next five years, although it typically receives additional federal appropriations beyond that, McCrory said.

The federal agency has approved the laser lab's proposal for $351 million. Neither the base funding nor the larger laser lab proposal are actually guaranteed money, as the spending has to be approved annually in the federal budget by Congress and the president. But the laser lab traditionally has received what the Energy Department allocated for it, McCrory said: "The track record is good."

Prof. McRoryRobert L. McCrory is the Director of the Laboratory for Laser Energetics and Professor of Mechanical Engineering (and Physics) at the University of Rochester.