A chance to host linear collider

There is the possibility that the International Linear Collider, a large-scale next-generation electron accelerator, could be constructed in Japan. The international project to explore the frontiers of particle physics will have strong and lasting influences on technology and international relations. Japan’s government and science community should encourage public discussions on bringing the ILC to Japan as the project will require much money and public support is indispensable.

Following 10 years of work by an international design team, it was announced Dec. 15 that the team had completed a detailed blueprint for the ILC — the third large-scale international science project after the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (now under construction in France) and the International Space Station.

The ILC will feature a straight tunnel 31 km in length. From each end, electrons and positrons will be propelled in beams and accelerated to close to the speed of light. Electrons and positrons will be collided to recreate the high-energy environment that existed just after the universe was formed 13.7 billion years ago by the Big Bang. It is theorized that soon after the universe formed, Higgs boson particles filled space and clung to other weightless particles moving at the speed of light. The latter is thought to have acquired mass through this interaction.

On July 4, the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) announced the discovery of a new subatomic particle that could be the Higgs boson. By using the ILC, scientists hope to advance the study of the origin of mass.

Countries taking part in the ILC project will make components that will be assembled to complete the ILC. Superconductivity will be utilized in an acceleration tunnel. The prospect of developing technology to converge the beams is in sight.

Construction of the ILC is expected to take 10 years and some ¥770 billion. Experiments using the ILC will be carried out for another 20 years. The ILC may also undergo restructuring. If costs for experiments and associated infrastructure are taken into account, the total cost will top ¥1 trillion. ILC operations will lead to the formation of a community of some 10,000 people — scientists and their family members.

The country that hosts the ILC will have to shoulder half of the budget for the project. Since North American and European nations are not very positive about hosting it, Japan has a chance.

Scientists at the High Energy Accelerator Research Organization in Tsukuba, Ibaraki Prefecture, have accumulated a substantial amount of experience in this area as the result of their running an accelerator that causes collisions between electrons and positrons.

The host country is expected to be selected around 2015 at a meeting of leaders from participating countries. In Japan, there are two candidate locations — the Kitakami mountainous area in Iwate Prefecture and the Seburi mountainous area, which straddles parts of Fukuoka and Saga prefectures. This project will bring much-needed economic benefits to its rural host.

To increase its chances of hosting the ILC, the government should clearly explain the merits and demerits of the ILC project experiments to the public in an objective way so that meaningful discussions on the project can be held.