The Department of Energy's $1.2 billion program to build the world's most powerful laser is facing cost overruns and delays as well as an embarrassing revelation about the academic credentials of its former director, officials at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory said yesterday.
The acting director of the laser program, George Miller, said he could not speculate on the size of the cost overruns or delays for the National Ignition Facility (NIF), a 192-beam laser designed to help study the thermonuclear properties of nuclear weapons without actually testing them.
"A very thorough management and technical review [of the laser program] with Department of Energy personnel is underway as we speak," Miller said in a telephone interview from the California facility.
The department's review follows the sudden resignation Friday of the program's former director, Edward Michael Campbell III, after faxes and e-mail messages were sent to congressional offices and the Department of Energy's headquarters alleging that he was using the title of "doctor" even though he does not have a PhD.
A Livermore employee for more than 20 years, Campbell came to the lab in 1977 from Princeton University, where he completed the course work and passed the qualifying exams for a PhD in electrical engineering but did not finish his dissertation. According to one source, he was given until 1984 to finish, but decided that his work at Livermore was too important to be interrupted.
Campbell rose quickly within the Livermore ranks and is a recognized expert in his field.
Miller said yesterday that Campbell's resignation is not related to problems in the laser program. "The basic NIF program is sound," he added.
Another Livermore employee, who requested anonymity, said that Campbell assured an audience in July that the program was on schedule and within budget.
Livermore Director Bruce Tarter announced to the lab staff Friday that Campbell resigned "due to . . . personal issues that Mike is dealing with." Although Tarter said he looked forward to future contributions from Campbell, an Energy official said yesterday that he may lose his security clearance.