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Mountain regions pull for linear collider project



Two mountainous regions, one in northeast Japan and one in the southwest, are now competing to host the construction of a major supercollider -- even as the national government shows little interest in the project.

The initiative, known as the International Linear Collider (ILC) project, involves a giant particle accelerator that would be used to help uncover the mysteries surrounding the birth of the universe.

The two competing areas -- the Kitakami mountain region lying within Iwate and Miyagi Prefectures, and the Sefuri mountain region straddling Saga and Fukuoka prefectures -- are both hoping to entice the facility to their respective locations.

The collider is set to become the successor to the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN)'s Large Hadron Collider (LHC), which was used to discover a new particle believed to be the Higgs boson. The machine will accelerate electrons and positrons (positive electrons) to nearly the speed of light, colliding them in a straight accelerator around 30 kilometers long, and then analyzing the various particles created in the collision.

While the LHC can only make a Higgs Boson once every trillion collisions, the ILC will be able to produce them once every hundred collisions. This has created hopes regarding the potential discovery of new particles that make up dark matter, as well as results that may be utilized toward cancer treatment and semiconductor processing.

A thick book of schematics for the project was completed in June, totaling 1,240 pages. Building the collider will come with a heavy price tag of at least 830 billion yen, with the host country expected to pay half the total. Around 10,000 residents including researchers and their families are expected to live around the collider facility, which is likely to employ a few thousand people every year.

Saga and Fukuoka prefectures are working with local business groups to advertise themselves as potential sites. The governors of both prefectures visited Europe in May, touting their areas as featuring excellent transportation services and other city functions. Both regions have also hung banners at train stations and convenience stores in an effort to drum up local support.

Iwate Prefecture is positioning the project as one that will bring economic health back to the tsunami-stricken area, and has set up a committee to promote the project. An official says, "We are close to related research facilities in Ibaraki Prefecture, and with our bullet train line and expressways, our transport infrastructure is not inferior (to the Sefuri mountain region)." The promotion committee has also invited Professor Takehiko Saito of Germany's Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz to talk to elementary and junior high students in the area about topics including the makeup of the universe, and research on elementary particles.

Not all opinions are in favor of the project, however, with no country having officially come forward as a host candidate so far due to its heavy cost. The Japanese government has similarly shown little interest, giving the project the lowest possible priority rating during its large project reviews in 2010 and 2012. An evaluation committee with the Science Council of Japan that opened in June was also unenthusiastic. "The project would cost a lot of tax money, so if the reasons for building it are not further explained, the people won't go along with it," one member commented.

A radiation leak incident at a particle accelerator in Tokai, Ibaraki Prefecture that occurred in May has also lowered opinions regarding the project. Still, however, the two local sites remain locked in a PR tug-of-war, driven by an estimate released by the Japan Productivity Center that the linear collider would create an international research city and bring 45 trillion yen in profit to domestic industries over a 30-year period.

An evaluation committee is expected to recommend a single candidate location to the national government in August.

July 08, 2013(Mainichi Japan)

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