Kyushu in push to host accelerator

by Shigeki Hiroe

Kyodo

Local governments, businesses and academic institutions in Kyushu have launched all-out joint efforts to host a proposed next-generation particle accelerator to study fundamental questions about the universe’s makeup.

Switzerland and the United States have been proposed as sites for the International Linear Collider, though the facility is almost certain to be built in Japan since none of the other two nations have offered to host it.

In mid-May, Fukuoka Gov. Hiroshi Ogawa and his Saga counterpart, Yasushi Furukawa, visited the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) in the suburbs of Geneva.

The trip was part of a campaign by the ILC Asia-Kyushu Promotion Council, which was established in February, to lure the facility to the Sefuri mountain area that straddles both prefectures.

The council was conceived by the two prefectural governments, Kyushu and Saga universities, and the Kyushu Economic Federation.

The ILC is to consist of two linear accelerators built in an underground tunnel stretching 31 to 50 km in length. It will hurl electrons and their antiparticles, positrons, toward each other at nearly the speed of light to produce conditions resembling the universe right after the big bang.

The ILC is projected to start operating in the 2020s, with construction starting in the second half of this decade, according to an agreement by the global particle physics community. The project is estimated to cost ¥800 billion and the host country may be required to contribute half of the bill.

As the collision of electrons and positrons requires nanosize adjustments — a nanometer is one-billionth of a meter — the ILC must be built on solid ground to reduce vibrations.

Surveys conducted by Kyushu University researchers in Karatsu, Saga Prefecture, in the Sefuri mountain range, confirmed a layer of quake-resistant granite to a depth of more than 600 meters underground. The area stands on one of the most solid bedrocks in Japan, a council official said.

With up to 10,000 researchers and their families expected to reside in the area surrounding the ILC, the council has stressed that the Sefuri region is a prime location, with 250,000 homes for rent and a total of 36 universities and colleges in Fukuoka and Saga prefectures. In addition, Fukuoka Airport, just 35 km from Sefuri, has flights to 20 cities abroad.

As infrastructure improvement costs can be minimized, “economical urban development is possible (in Sefuri),” a senior Saga prefectural official said.

Among other candidates to host the facility, the Kyushu council regards an alliance of Iwate and Miyagi prefectures as its biggest rival.

The Iwate-Miyagi team hopes to lure the ILC to the Tohoku region’s Kitakami mountain area, where it could be seen as a symbol of reconstruction following the devastating March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami.

The Kyushu alliance estimates that the eight-year construction period to complete the ILC would have a domestic economic windfall of ¥1.1 trillion, including ¥340 billion in Kyushu. It also expects that a cluster of high-tech firms in Kyushu will greatly contribute to economic development in the region.

The central government has yet to announce whether it will seek to host the ILC in Japan but is increasingly expected to single out a candidate location as early as next month.