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Several Nd:YAP lasers were constructed which could be broadly tuned in the 1083‐nm region which includes the helium 23S‐23P transition, using a Lyot filter and thin, uncoated etalons within the laser cavity. 1 W of power could be extracted at 1083 nm through a 1% transmitting output coupler. This laser beam was used to optically pump metastable 4He and 3He 23S helium atoms in a weak discharge cell, spin polarizing the metastable ensemble. In a 3He cell the polarization is transferred to the nuclear spin system. A 3He target cell at 0.3 Torr was polarized to 52% in a few minutes. We describe the application of this system to the design of polarized targets for experiments in nuclear physics.