Designing Tomorrow’s Energy Breakthrough: The National Ignition Facility

Imagine a facility dedicated to cutting edge research that will help keep America safe and secure, while also exploring exciting new frontiers in science and laying the groundwork for a clean, sustainable source of energy. Now, imagine that facility being the size of three football fields and housing the world’s largest and highest energy laser, capable of replicating the intense temperatures and pressures found at the center of the sun.

Now stop imagining – because this is the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) National Ignition Facility (NIF), and the Parsons team played a significant role in building this one-of-a-kind and first-of-a-kind Department of Energy (DOE) designed project. We provided project management and construction support on this facility, whose complex science mission required the highest precision and construction to exact design specifications.

Design layout of the NIF.

NIF’s objective is to ignite and burn a small fusion target, creating conditions that only exist at the interior of stars and nuclear weapons explosions. On December 5, 2022, decades after the project began, scientists at LLNL announced they had achieved fusion ignition at the NIF, captivating public imagination and receiving praise from President Biden, DOE, and the scientific community. The event marked a scientific breakthrough that changed the fundamental understanding of matter.

We’ve supported DOE’s infrastructure and engineering needs for over 75 years, including this massive challenge to build the world’s largest and most energetic laser-based inertial confinement fusion (ICF) research device. Our scope of work spanned over 13 years and included initial design, cost management, construction management for the NIF project. We also provided infrastructure support for the entire life cycle of the NIF project starting from conceptualization to full-scale design and construction support. Parsons used over 100 professionals, plus specialty subcontractors, in the design and construction of this unique research and development facility.

The NIF target chamber uses a high-energy laser to heat fusion fuel to temperatures sufficient for thermonuclear ignition. The facility is used for national security, fusion energy research, and basic science research.

We researched complex scientific and engineering processes and tailored our standard and proven approaches to this unique science facility. This highly complex design and construction project included a Laser and Target Area Building (LTAB), Inertial Confinement Fusion (ICF) research device, and a Beampath Infrastructure System.

• LTAB is NIF’s largest component and contains an array of laser beams, a central target area, and multiple subsystems. Using state-of-the-art techniques, we designed the infrastructure and systems needed to focus the world’s most powerful laser.
• The Beampath Infrastructure Systems design entailed the installation, interconnection, and final connection of utilities for the highly specialized equipment being designed by numerous DOE and private organizations. Our use of integrated 3D CAD modeling greatly enhanced the design process by coordinating and reconciling technical input from equipment researchers, designers, and manufacturers within DOE and around the world.

Parsons’ Engineered Systems President Jon Moretta said, “We are deeply invested in our customers’ success, and that commitment is keenly demonstrated in one of our longest running clients – the Department of Energy. It’s exciting to see decades of focused support come together for the Science mission. We are proud to have provided the infrastructure that enabled this research breakthrough that has captivated imaginations around the world.”

About The Author

Thomas Mooney is a Parsons business development director for Department of Energy (DOE) customers. He has a Master of Science degree in Engineering Management from The George Washington University and a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from University of Wisconsin-Madison. Prior to joining Parsons, he held progressive civilian roles with the DOE and Department of Defense, culminating in the senior executive service as Chief of Staff to the Office of Secretary of Defense Chief Management Officer, then Chief Operating Officer for the DOE’s Office of Environmental Management. Before that, he led federal organizational, operational efficiency, and defense environmental projects for the Logistics Management Institute.

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