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National lab project is unlikely to produce results and is being misrepresented, allegedly

California's Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) -- located on the grounds of the University of California, Berkley (UC Berkley) -- is the center of a growing controversy regarding a $7B USD laser fusion project, dubbed the "National Ignition Facility" (NIF).

I. LLNL Says Project is Near Fusion, IEEE Editor Says "No Way"

The project -- launched 15 years ago in 1997 -- has yet to achieve "ignition"; the point at which the laser-confined fusion produces more energy than it consumes.  And it carries a sticker price of $290M+ USD per year in operating costs.

But those issues didn't stop LLNL from releasing a cheerful press release, proclaiming:

Fifteen years of work by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory's National Ignition Facility (NIF) team paid off on July 5 with a historic record-breaking laser shot. The NIF laser system of 192 beams delivered more than 500 trillion watts (terawatts or TW) of peak power and 1.85 megajoules (MJ) of ultraviolet laser light to its target. Five hundred terawatts is 1,000 times more power than the United States uses at any instant in time, and 1.85 megajoules of energy is about 100 times what any other laser regularly produces today.

The release was hardly coincidental.  It came just months ago, in hopes of swaying Congress, which is presently deciding whether to sustain funding for the troubled project.

NIF Laser pre-amps
Pre-amplifiers are pictured pumping up the power to the LLNL's record-setting laser.  But is all that power being wasted on pipe dreams? [Image Source: LLNL]

But according to IEEE Spectrum editor Bill Sweet, a veteran of India's nuclear power development project, most physicists view laser-contained (aka. "inertial confinement") fusion ignition as a pipe dream.  He argues that most agree that magnetic confinement fusion is far more likely to be realized, though still a difficult problem.  

William Broad, chief nuclear issues reporter for The New York Times, agrees.  He writes that the National Nuclear Security Administration's project overseer, Donald L. Cook, has serious concerns.  He quotes Mr. Cook as saying, that even with the latest power milestone considered, the project simply "has not worked", and that the NNSA is "going to settle into a serious investigation" of the NIF's sliding ignition deadline.

II. Protecting the Nuclear Stockpile?  Maybe Not...

Mr. Sweet also takes issue with LLNL's other justification for the project -- that it provides a test-bed to simulate nuclear weapons performance, a key national security goal.  

LLNL comments, "[The NIF] is the only facility with the potential to duplicate the actual phenomena that occur in the heart of a modern nuclear device -- a goal that is critical to sustaining confidence that a return to underground nuclear testing remains unnecessary."

But Mr. Sweet counters, "Richard Garwin, for decades the most highly regarded independent specialist on nuclear weaponry in the United States, told IEEE Spectrum six years ago that it would be 'a mistake to assume that NIF experiments are going to be directly relevant to weapons testing. The temperatures in the NIF chamber are much lower than they are in actual nuclear weapons, and the amounts of material being tested are much smaller.'"

He adds, "For decades the joke about magnetic confinement fusion--much the more plausible approach to harnessing the energy of the sun--is that the technology is always 20 years away. So when will inertial confinement fusion be delivering commercial electricity? That one is easy. Never."

NIF lasers
Congress is debating whether to scrap the NIF. [Image Source: LLNL]

It sounds like there's some serious credibility question regarding the project's security and energy claims.  That said, there might be some merit to the project, even if Mr. Sweet is at least partially right.  

UC Berkley astronomy Professor Dr. Raymond Jeanloz, comments, "Already the most incredibly tightly controlled and most energetic laser in the world, it is remarkable that NIF has achieved the 500 TW milestone - quite a significant achievement.  This breakthrough will give us incredible new opportunities in studying materials at extreme conditions."

Indeed, from a pure science perspective, the device is a pretty impressive accomplishment, even if it turns out its fusion goals are indeed pipe dreams.  It could indeed yield some novel materials research, if it escapes this round of funding reviews.  Ultimately the issue appears not so much that the super-laser lacks novelty, but rather that its critics argue that it is being misrepresented.  For that reason, Mr. Sweet infers, the NIF is the "mother of all boondoggles".

Sources: IEEE Spectrum, LLNL, The New York Times

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RE: I'm fine with this
By KFZ on 10/9/2012 1:02:10 PM , Rating: 2
Your regurgitated bile of propaganda to rationalize government spending speaks to a lack of critical thinking. Indeed, combat operations have put up staggering figures over their lifespan, but you're comparing two different long-term interests, yet to trash the benefit of a Democratic Middle East is not only blind but significantly stupid. It's in everyone's interests, except tyrants and violent extremists.

Now to say that's a pipe dream is certainly valid criticism, but you haven't, you simply called our action "unnecessary". More to the point, the greater War On Terror would have been more successful had it solid management and strong, long-term International and public support, rather than weak, whining cesspools across the world. In the end, don't fool yourself, people truly look out for themselves.

But let's really get down to brass tacks: to say that the wealthy don't pay enough income tax (evidenced by your whining over tax cuts, rather than the capital gains rate, for example) is just a tone-deaf talking point. People are taxed enough on their incomes. A robust argument goes after the tax code and addresses what is known as tax fraud/evasion. In layman's terms (just for you) people avoid the living crap out of taxes they owe and hundreds of billions in revenue isn't there for the government. Jacking up income rates on the 1% isn't going to fix anything, but it sure makes you sound brilliant to compare a research project to Mercedes-driving golfers.

I'm not saying to make the middle and low-incomes foot more, I'm not saying anyone's income tax rates should go up. What should go up is the tax code. In flames. In the meantime, quit spreading this ridiculous propaganda that's unhelpful and will ensure things don't change by supporting the ignorant minds who develop the sort of insipid and misguided logic of yours.

RE: I'm fine with this
By gamerk2 on 10/9/2012 1:19:58 PM , Rating: 2
I'll say it again: I support the basis of Huntsmans tax plan. You MUST remove all deductions (loopholes), then reduce the rates somewhat. Feel free to argue what the final rates should be, but in principle, this fixes a lot of the loopholes in the code.

Secondly, tax all income at the same rate. Sorry, but if treating capital gains as regular income makes investing unprofitable, guess what? Thats capitalism for you. Income is income, regardless of source.

Sales taxes, while somewhat more recession resistant then income taxes, are VERY biased against startups (large startup costs leads to a massive tax bill before any product can be sold). So a sales tax can not be used as the sole form of taxation, even though its the "fairest" of all possible tax policies.

RE: I'm fine with this
By Masospaghetti on 10/9/2012 4:03:37 PM , Rating: 2
I would be for this, too - but once people realize that its THEIR home interest deduction you are taking away, or THEIR health care non-taxible status, then suddenly the support for closing "loopholes" suddenly vanishes.

This coming from a recent home buyer...

RE: I'm fine with this
By corduroygt on 10/9/2012 1:41:12 PM , Rating: 2
I wonder where exactly do you get that I only support increasing income tax? I am in agreement with you that we should not touch income tax but, get rid of treating capital gains differently, it should all be taxed at the same rate.

RE: I'm fine with this
By Ringold on 10/9/2012 4:13:02 PM , Rating: 2
As long as people understand that treating capital gains differently will satisfy their personal biases and desire to stick it to 'the man' but will be self-defeating in terms both of economics and revenue generation, then okay.

In terms of economics, this isn't 1960 any more. Why invest in the US when one can invest elsewhere much more favorably? It's all just a few clicks on a computer. Capital gains also represents an extra layer of taxation; companies pay taxes on income, then capital gains taxes hits again when its equity price rises to reflect its growth, or even more transparently, when that income is distributed as a dividend.

In the most severe case, it's likely some wealthy people, and equity funds, would leave the country entirely. It's going on in France, and its been happening to the US as well, although quietly. When people leave, the tax rate gets pretty easy to figure up: 0% on all income, all the time.

In terms of revenue generation, it never fails that tax hikes to income (in all its forms) disappoints compared to projections. People always seem to find ways to switch income around; CEO's being compensated by stock options originally came about this way. Our current health care structure, employer-based, came about from WW2 era wage controls. Where they move depends on how a final bill reads, but its certain at least some income would get shuffled around.

But, go ahead. Lets just not pretend its economically efficient or will do anything meaningful towards closing our deficit. All it would really accomplish is a fleeting feeling of accomplishment for the Occupy crowd.

RE: I'm fine with this
By corduroygt on 10/9/2012 5:25:48 PM , Rating: 2
Sure leave the country but as long as any income earned from any US based business or investment is still taxed no matter who is earning it, we'll be fine.
Income taxes are high in pretty much throughout Europe, yet people aren't leaving.

RE: I'm fine with this
By Ringold on 10/9/2012 10:00:51 PM , Rating: 2
Sure leave the country but as long as any income earned from any US based business or investment is still taxed no matter who is earning it, we'll be fine.

The point is that there would be less of that investment taking place, since tax laws would make it less attractive compared to an investment with the same underlying potential returns made elsewhere.

Income taxes are high in pretty much throughout Europe, yet people aren't leaving.

False. If you paid attention at all to the news out of Europe, you'd of read about all the tax layers and high-end real estate agents getting once-in-a-lifetime waves of business from French high-earners, fleeing France for lower-taxed places, namely London and Switzerland due to their business hubs but also Ireland, Hong Kong, Singapore and a few to NYC. This news has been pretty steady for at least six months, ever since it was clear Hollande had a good shot.

On a lower level, Italy and Greece have had a hard time keeping their college graduates from leaving for more business-friendly countries for many years, waaaay predating the crisis over there. Every bright graduate that flees Italy for some hotbed of start-ups or education or business represents a sizable dent in that countries future GDP potential, because once they leave they rarely come back.

It'd be cool if you had at least a weak semblance of an idea about WTF you're talking about. If you paid attention to this sort of stuff at all, at the very least you'd of heard about Cameron making a huge joke at France's expense by "rolling out the red carpet" for Frances wealthy.

And I don't like it, but even as it is, thousands of Americans over the past several years have been handing in their passports to escape the IRS; why? We're the only developed nation that taxes foreign income, and the only way to escape it is to rescind citizenship. I don't like it but the fact is that America's been bleeding some of its highest quality labor for years. Considering at the end of the day people have to look out for themselves and their family and not tie themselves to a sinking national ship that forsakes them anyway, I have a hard time blaming them too much.

RE: I'm fine with this
By corduroygt on 10/10/2012 12:45:00 AM , Rating: 2
The point is that there would be less of that investment taking place, since tax laws would make it less attractive compared to an investment with the same underlying potential returns made elsewhere.

Not if you spend the tax revenue bolstering research and education. Not to mention the world's financial heart beats in NYC. Investing in America would still be the best bet due to the growth and bolstering of the economy from the bottom up, just like it was in the 50's and 60's.

And your words are meaningless without facts and figures from reputable studies. I would bet that any such migration is at an insignificant level.

RE: I'm fine with this
By Ringold on 10/10/2012 5:43:49 PM , Rating: 2
Not to mention the world's financial heart beats in NYC.

Not true. Mark Haines at CNBC always got a little heat for starting off his show "Live from the financial capital of the world," but really London in many ways has a better claim to that, because London wasn't ashamed of making a buck by being a trade hub to the entire planet.

And your words are meaningless without facts and figures from reputable studies. I would bet that any such migration is at an insignificant level.

Well, the US reports some data;

There was a similar surge a couple years ago as well, something to do about a change in tax law.

If you paid attention (and I know you don't) then the flight from France you'd be well aware of too; every reputable finance/economics news outlet out there has reported on it extensively. It's too recent, though, to have hard numbers. Most of the beneficiaries are privately owned real estate, law and smaller accounting firms, and have no incentive to share hard numbers that might tip off their competitors.

That said, seems like just in the last 24 hours news is spreading around that 400 homes worth more then 1M euro's have flooded the high-end market. For that expensive of homes, thats a lot.

Hollande even knows its a disaster; he's backed off on it being an income rate, switched it to a top effective rate (otherwise it was going to total up to 90%), and promised it'd only last 2 years.

And I get a kick outa you demanding data. You never support your BS with data.

RE: I'm fine with this
By Ringold on 10/10/2012 5:46:31 PM , Rating: 2
Remember, too, that those numbers are low in relative terms; a country will never lose net population that way. But when you consider they're probably all part of the "1%" or, at the very least, the top 5%, each of those tax refugees represents potentially tens of thousands of middle class people in terms of tax revenue, revenue that's gone and will never return.

RE: I'm fine with this
By corduroygt on 10/11/2012 1:09:04 AM , Rating: 2
The data you provided shows 1780 people out of 6 million. That's a very small percentage. Also, with new laws saying any investment in the US will be taxed if the money leaves, it would not even matter as long as US is stlil the center of research and education and a strong middle class with strong consumer spending, it will still be the #1 country to invest in, regardless of tax rates (which would still be less than most of Europe)

RE: I'm fine with this
By Zingam on 10/9/2012 2:20:03 PM , Rating: 2
Yeah, right! Bomb for Democracy. That's definitely going to work!!!

RE: I'm fine with this
By senecarr on 10/9/2012 2:50:56 PM , Rating: 2
The problem with the long term benefits of a democratic Middle East is you can't make a country become a democracy, if you try to, it is automatically not one, you're being a dictator to it.
Simply removing one dictator doesn't mean we'll get a government that is long term beneficial or beneficent towards the US.

RE: I'm fine with this
By Cluebat on 10/11/2012 7:12:13 AM , Rating: 2
I'm not sure that I agree with you. And it's just as much my tax money as it is yours.

I do agree with you on the "too big to fail" part.

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