Ministry of Defence

9 June, 1999


The Ministry of Defence has announced plans to invest in the US
National Ignition Facility in return for guaranteed UK use.

Defence Secretary George Robertson said that the UK intends to invest
in the NIF to secure access for nuclear weapon stockpile stewardship
activities, to underwrite the safety and reliability of the weapons
in the absence of underground testing. Regular access to a high power
laser is a vital element of such work.

In answer to a Parliamentary Question from Gisela Stuart MP
(Birmingham Edgbaston), Mr Robertson said:

"I announced in the Strategic Defence Review that for as long as the
United Kingdom has nuclear forces we will ensure that we have a
robust capability to underwrite the integrity of our nuclear warheads
without recourse to nuclear testing. As part of that I have approved
investment in the US National Ignition Facility (NIF). This will
guarantee the United Kingdom access to a high-powered laser, which is
a key element of our stewardship programme. Participation in the NIF
will be a joint venture under the auspices of the 1958 UK/US Mutual
Defence Agreement."

After detailed consideration, the Ministry of Defence concluded that
the enormous cost of building a domestic high power laser was
unaffordable. Investing in NIF provides both an affordable and cost
effective means of securing access to a key experimental facility,
thereby underpinning stockpile stewardship work and intellectual
capability at the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE). AWE scientists
will design, field and analyse independent UK experiments to be
undertaken on NIF.

The joint venture will further cement the very close and productive
relationships which the United Kingdom and the United States have
enjoyed in nuclear defence matters for over 40 years.

The NIF is a high power laser experimental facility being built at
the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory site in California for a
total cost of $1.2bn. Construction commenced in 1997 and, when
complete, it will house the world's most powerful laser.

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