House Science Committee Roundtable Discusses Proposed Deep Underground Facility

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Publication date: 
29 September 2011

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Yesterday two members of the  House Science, Space, and Technology Committee held a roundtable event to hear  from twelve physicists about the feasibility of a proposed Department of Energy  underground high energy physics facility.   Among those participating in this roundtable at Fermi National  Accelerator Laboratory was American Physical Society Vice President Michael Turner.

The roundtable was chaired by  Rep. Judy Biggert (R-IL) and Rep. Randy Hultgren (R-IL).  It comes as the Department of Energy is  examining its options following a decision last year by the National Science  Board (NSB) terminating the participation of the National Science Foundation in  the development of a proposed deep underground science facility at the site of  the former Homestake Mine in South Dakota.   

Senate appropriators agreed  with the NSB decision, remarking in their FY 2012 report regarding the National Science Foundation that  “The Committee notes the National Science  Board’s decision to end NSF involvement in DUSEL and appreciates transition funding  provided in fiscal year 2011 to coordinate with the Department of Energy [DOE].  In light of the recent Board decision and National Research Council  recommendations, the Committee expects NSF to provide a report within 60 days  regarding efforts to collaborate with DOE on the use of a future deep  underground science laboratory and any current or planned commitments by the  Foundation.”  There was no comment regarding the facility in the  House Appropriations Committee's report for the National Science Foundation.

House appropriators provided  a very small increase in the Department of Energy’s FY 2012 budget for high  energy physics.  Regarding the proposed  laboratory, their committee report stated:

“The Deep Underground Science  and Engineering Laboratory (DUSEL) has been an important component of the  Department’s planning for the build-out of its neutrino and dark matter  experimental capabilities. The decision by the National Science Foundation to  discontinue funding for the underground laboratory has created additional  uncertainty for program planning and delayed the Critical Decision 1 milestone  for the Long Baseline Neutrino Experiment.

“As the Department weighs  alternatives, the Committee cautions the Department against taking over the  construction and long-term management of DUSEL. Adopting management of yet another  laboratory site would add budgetary and management burdens to an already  stressed program. However, the Committee supports the use of funding to  maintain the viability of the DUSEL underground laboratory, including  dewatering and maintaining security, in order to preserve it as an option while  the Department weighs the alternatives. Further, the Department is directed to  report to the Committee an assessment of alternatives to DUSEL and its  recommendations for moving forward.”

The Senate version of the DOE  appropriations bill included an almost two percent reduction in the budget for  the high energy physics program.  In the  report accompanying the bill, the appropriators explained:

“The Committee provides no  construction funds for the Long Baseline Neutrino Experiment. The Committee is  concerned that this project is not mature enough for construction because a  location for this experiment in an underground laboratory has not yet been  selected and the decision of the National Science Foundation to discontinue  construction funding for the Deep Underground Science and Engineering  Laboratory in South Dakota has created uncertainty about the future of the  project. In addition, the Office of Science has not yet selected a technology,  which affects where the experiment can be located and total cost.

“The Committee also  recommends $15,000,000 as requested - $10,000,000 from the High Energy Physics  program and $5,000,000 from the Nuclear Physics program - to support minimal,  sustaining operations at the Homestake Mine in South Dakota. The Committee is  aware of the National Science Foundation’s decision.  However, the Committee encourages the Office  of Science to examine cost-effective options for using the mine to stage  critical experiments related to neutrino and dark matter research.”

At yesterday’s roundtable,  both Hultgren and Biggert spoke of their support for the facility, with  Hultgren touching on a key point when he remarked “The challenge going forward  is to find a way to do this within the reality of the current budget  environment.”  Also speaking in support  of the facility was Fermilab Director Pier Oddone who stated “While the  immediate program at Fermilab is world class, it will not stay this way into  the future without developing forefront facilities and inventing new technologies  to probe the intensity frontier.  Without  a national deep underground facility we will be condemned to carry on multiple  generations of these experiments off shore and lose the benefits of having the  world’s vanguard deep underground laboratory in South Dakota.” 

Kevin Lesko of Lawrence  Berkeley National Laboratory is the lead investigator on this project.  He told the roundtable “The proposed physics  experiments address questions central to our understanding of the  universe--what makes up the majority of matter in the universe, and  understanding the most perplexing particle in the universe, the neutrino, whose  unusual properties might hold the key to the most fundamental questions of  science.”

Michael S. Turner, Rauner  Distinguished Service Professor and Director of the Kavli Institute for Cosmological  Physics at the University of Chicago and Vice President of the American  Physical Society (a Member Society of the American Institute of Physics) also addressed the roundtable.   His remarks follow:

“Representatives Biggert and  Hultgren, thank you for inviting me to participate in this important discussion  of the Deep Underground Science Lab, a facility that has major implications for  the future of high-energy physics in the U.S. and for U.S. science leadership  more broadly.

“First, some relevant  background about me. From 2000 to 2003 I led the National Academy of Sciences  study Connecting Quarks with the Cosmos which recommended a deep, underground science lab in the U.S. From  2003 to 2006 I served as the Assistant Director for Mathematics and Physical  Sciences at the National Science Foundation and initiated the NSF planning  process for such a laboratory. Since 2006, I have been a member of the Board of  Directors of Fermilab Research Alliance, which manages Fermilab for DOE.

“Today I speak on behalf of  the American Physical Society and then as a scientist excited about the science  that can only be addressed in an underground lab. The APS rarely endorses a  specific science project, and it has not endorsed DUSEL; its foremost concern  is the health of the U.S. physics enterprise.

“For more than 50 years  high-energy physics has been a flagship of U.S. physics and U.S. science more  broadly, producing stunning discoveries and garnering Nobel prizes. For this  reason, U.S. leadership in physics is inextricably tied to the health of  high-energy physics. With the shutdown of the Tevatron, the near-term future of  Fermilab and U.S.-based high energy       physics more generally is  tied to the health of Fermilab's neutrino program and projects associated with the  cosmic frontier. Absent significant advances in detector technology, such  experimental efforts require an underground laboratory.

“Let me conclude with some  personal remarks informed by my own view of science; the U.S. has led the way  in underground science beginning with the pioneering work of Raymond Davis on  solar neutrinos at Homestake (for which he won a Nobel Prize). Thirty years ago  at a workshop held at Los Alamos National Lab and whose proceeding I hold here,  the case for an underground lab was laid  out. The world listened and has built underground labs in Japan, Italy and  Canada. Today, the biggest science questions remain unanswered - the nature of  the mysterious dark matter, the origin and longevity of atoms, and the  properties of neutrinos - and the opportunity for the U.S. to lead remains if  it builds an underground lab.”