It takes skill, dedication, and teamwork to keep a 192-beam laser facility the size and complexity of NIF operating safely, efficiently, and reliably. And the members of the NIF Operations Team have consistently shown that they are more than up to the task. Building on the lessons learned by overcoming challenges during the first few years of NIF operations, the team has continuously grown the laser’s energy, accuracy, and reproducibility to meet the requirements of ever-more-demanding experiments.
The Operations Team works 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to keep the laser and its associated equipment running smoothly and operating at peak performance. Each NIF shot is an example of what planning and communication within and among teams with specialized areas of expertise can accomplish. The team’s innovations in operational efficiency, new technologies and equipment, and the carefully planned execution of tasks are some of the keys to NIF’s success during the past decade.
NIF shot operations are conducted around the clock five days a week, from 6:30 a.m. Sunday to 6:30 a.m. the following Friday. Planning and scheduling a shot takes place weeks, even a month or more before the shot. On the day of a shot, the NIF Team executes hundreds of tasks to install the target and deploy the diagnostic equipment that ensures that the results of each experiment are captured and recorded.
“When the scientist comes back and tells you, ‘Hey, we got great results,’ or ‘Hey, you did a good job,’ it feels good being part of that. No matter what time it happens, or how it happens, we’re part of history—that’s how important the NIF facility is.”
—Alton Huey, Owl Shift injection laser and diagnostics technician
Technical teams have fabricated the target and readied the diagnostics weeks in advance, but both have to be installed the day of the shot. And the two “off” days, Friday and Saturday, are not truly off—they’re used to maintain the facility and the laser.
Since the introduction of tritium (a radioactive isotope of hydrogen) in 2010, NIF has become well-versed in managing a wide variety of hazards and hazardous materials. This includes the radiation fields created from more than a million-billion neutrons streaming from a single ignition experiment, to managing the hazards from tiny target components made of beryllium, a strong, light and hazardous metal that is relatively transparent to x-rays. As part of the National Nuclear Security Administration’s Stockpile Stewardship Program, NIF has yielded valuable information in more than a dozen experiments that use plutonium material smaller than a grain of sand. NIF is very environmentally friendly—releasing no plutonium or beryllium to the environment and capturing 99.9 percent of the tritium it uses.
Some 450 radiation workers keep NIF running around the clock and are trained in the safe handling of radioactive and hazardous materials. These workers are supported by the NIF Radiological Operations Team, which includes dedicated radiological control technicians and a team of safety professionals including the NIF Radiation Safety Officer, health physicists, and industrial hygienists.
Another key to NIF’s enviable dependability is the NIF Reliability, Availability, and Maintainability (RAM) Program, which promotes maintenance reliability and asset management both within NIF and across the Laboratory. The program received a 2016 Director’s Institutional Operational Excellence Award for streamlining maintenance efforts by evaluating maintenance tasks for applicability and effectiveness. As a result, preventive and reactive maintenance performed by the NIF Facilities and Infrastructure Systems Team has been substantially reduced; equipment lifetimes are increasing; and millions of dollars in avoided downtime and unnecessary maintenance have been saved.
“Laser Improvements Contributed to Record Fusion Experiment,” NIF & Photon Science News, December 15, 2021
“NIF’s Night Owls: Where the Wild Things Are,” NIF & Photon Science News, August, 2017
“Transport & Handling Teamwork: A Key to NIF Operations,” NIF & Photon Science News, November, 2015
“What Goes Into a NIF Shot?” NIF & Photon Science News, September, 2015“Proactive Maintenance Saves NIF Shot Time and Money,” NIF & Photon Science News, March, 2015
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