• The Associated Press


Masatoshi Koshiba, the astrophysicist who won the 2002 Nobel Prize, said Wednesday he has urged a government panel to reconsider its recommendation not to fund an advanced physics research facility.

The facility is facing the possibility of major delays, which could leave Japan lagging behind U.S. and European rivals.

Koshiba has clashed with Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s Council for Science and Technology Policy over the cost of the state-of-the-art, 200 billion yen facility since it got the panel’s lowest priority ranking for government spending in 2004.

Koshiba, a pioneer in research on subatomic particles called neutrinos, has been trying to ensure that construction on the facility begins next year on schedule, to keep Japan in the global race to unravel the mysteries of neutrinos. He said he was invited to offer his views to the council on Tuesday.

“I just said I can’t understand their decision. . . . I complained and they agreed to consider a remedy,” the Tokyo University professor emeritus told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.

Hirou Imura, the council’s top scientist, said the neutrino facility plans appeared too far behind schedule to start next year, and asked the research team to submit an amended proposal for review, according to the Yomiuri Shimbun.

A Cabinet Office spokesman said council members weren’t available for comment.

Called the ghosts of the universe, neutrinos have little or no mass, no electrical charge and tend not to interact with other matter. They spawn from the sun and other distant stars, and can pass through our bodies and the Earth by the trillions every second.

Researchers believe there are so many neutrinos that determining their mass might allow us to calculate the universe’s total mass and gain new insight into how energy and mass interact. They hope the findings will offer clues to the origin of the universe and its future.

Japanese physicists say they need the newly planned facility in Tokai, Ibaraki Prefecture, to shoot a beam of man-made of neutrinos at the world’s largest neutrino detector, the Super-Kamiokande.

Koshiba used the Super-Kamiokande — built inside an abandoned copper mine in mountains — to make his 1998 discovery that some neutrinos have mass.

But because researchers worldwide may only observe as many as a few dozen natural neutrinos a year, the Japanese team is hoping to shorten the wait by generating a more constant stream of neutrinos.

On Friday, the council all but denied the facility funding, giving priority to energy projects that council members said might help end the country’s economic stagnation. An exasperated Koshiba called the decision “foolish.”

Koshiba said Wednesday he told the panel its decision is being watched by scientists and media round the world.

Experiments similar to the Japanese team’s are planned for 2005 at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, near Chicago.

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