Livermore Lab "Watchdog" Group Calls For Criminal Investigation Into Cover-Up of Mega-Laser Technical Difficulties
Cites Soon To Be Released Audit of National Ignition Facility
A General Accounting Office (GAO) report, slated to be released later this week, details a "clear pattern of deceit, fraud and abuse by top management officials intent on covering up budget hemorrhages and technical problems at the National Ignition Facility" under construction at the Department of Energy's (DOE) Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, according to a Livermore-based organization that monitors lab activities.
Over the past 8 years, Tri-Valley CAREs has studied and publicized the serious scientific, technical, budgetary, environmental and nuclear proliferation risks posed by NIF construction and operation.
"A criminal investigation is warranted. Institutions and individuals have engaged in cover-up, looked the other way and, in some cases, repeatedly lied to Congress," explained Tri-Valley CAREs' executive director, Marylia Kelley. "Further, it's we taxpayers who are continuing to pay for this fraud."
Kelley added, "A chronology of events shows that the NIF deception has involved top management at Livermore Lab, at the University of California (UC), which manages the weapons lab, and at DOE, the Livermore Lab's parent agency."
The federal auditors found that Livermore Lab and DOE edited a report on NIF before sending it to Congress -- and touted it as the work of an "outside" analysis giving NIF rave reviews. Moreover, Livermore Lab and DOE management displayed a similar, long-time pattern of dominating scientific panels with their own staff, while publicizing the results as "independent."
The GAO report also describes how DOE and Livermore Lab lowballed NIF's costs. Officials say they lied to Congress from day one "in the belief that the Congress would not fund NIF at a higher cost," and that they allowed their personal feelings regarding NIF's importance to a single laboratory to overshadow their concerns about presenting Congress with an "unrealistic budget" for the project.
Further, the GAO audit presents a litany of spiraling technical difficulties, cost overruns and schedule slippages. For example, the report shows that in mid-1998 Livermore Lab management and others suspected that NIF was over budget. Before the year's end, laser officials had confirmed that NIF's cost overrun was substantial and that construction would fall behind schedule. Still, the following year, Livermore Lab's director testified twice before Congress that NIF was "on budget and schedule."
DOE now admits that NIF's construction schedule has slipped more than a half-decade, from 2002 to the 2008 "timeframe," with the first ignition experiments to commence two years after that -- in 2010.
The GAO report looks at NIF's pre-completion costs and says they will top $3.9 billion, approximately double earlier DOE projections. Moreover, the report states that "technical uncertainties persist," and therefore costs could continue to rise.
"The NIF scandal continues as DOE, UC and Livermore Lab officials publicly discount serious technical uncertainties and a still-spiraling budget," Kelley charged. "It's high time that Congress acts to restrain the project. A criminal investigation into potential lawbreaking is called for here, not further construction."