Research project worth saving

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Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama will support science, but wasteful construction projects under review by the Government Revitalization Unit (GRU) include large, complex scientific research projects.

If projects have proven technically pointless or too esoteric, they should be cut. However, after 10 years of planning and construction, the Japanese research drilling vessel Chikyu — the world’s biggest — has successfully drilled a 1.6-km-deep pilot hole offshore. The goal is to drill seven kilometers down into the deep zone where earthquakes form in order to understand the deceptive triggering mechanism of large quakes and tsunamis.

Hundred of millions of people in Japan and the rest of the world stand to benefit if this project successfully goes forward. Moreover, Chikyu is Japan’s contribution to the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program (IODP); it has made Japan a leading partner with the United States. With 24 member countries, IODP is a gem in the realm of international research. Data acquired by IODP are accepted by the highest scientific authorities as crucial to global environmental stewardship, including lessons for the future from past climate extremes.

Recently, a huge new biosphere deep below the seabed has been discovered, offering potential research rewards ranging from understanding the origin of life to industrial applications.

But proposed budget cuts would effectively result in Chikyu being mothballed and Japan’s pulling out of IODP, thus staining Japan’s reputation as a trustworthy international research partner and testifying to the misfortune of the hundred billion yen investment already made.

hans christian larsen