The International Linear Collider (ILC) took another small step forward yesterday when Japan's High Energy Accelerator Research Organization (KEK) released a plan for getting the country ready to host the $10 billion project by tripling its relevant science and engineering workforce over the next 4 years.
As currently envisioned, the collider will occupy a 31-kilometer-long tunnel in Iwate Prefecture north of Tokyo. The education ministry needs to be convinced the country has the human resources required to execute the project before it will approve the project, says Yasuhiro Okada, a theorist at KEK, which has led Japan's preliminary planning and design work. The "Action Plan," released yesterday, "is a small but critical point to show [the ministry] we will have the necessary manpower," says Okada, who chaired the working group charged with drafting the plan. Japan also needs to demonstrate to potential international partners that the country will shoulder its share of the final design effort, he adds.
"We are concentrating on getting the green light from the government by 2018," says Satoru Yamashita, a University of Tokyo physicist involved in the planning. The government would then initiate negotiations for support from other interested countries, with the goal of starting construction by 2020 and beginning experiments around 2030.
The ILC would pick up where Europe's Large Hadron Collider leaves off in studies of the Higgs boson and other exotic particles. In the 1990s, groups in North America, Japan, and Europe independently started planning linear colliders to smash together electrons and antielectrons, or positrons. The project's complexity and projected costs led the teams to pool their efforts in 2004. An international team completed a basic design in June 2013 based on superconducting techniques to accelerate the particles to energies of up to 500 gigaelectron volts. The collider could be upgraded later to even higher energies.
Scientists in each region originally hoped to host the facility. But in 2012 the Japanese high energy physics community raised its hand and gradually got the support of American and European physicists. In August 2013 a committee picked the Iwate Prefecture site.
Before starting a final engineering design, KEK took a hard look at the project's manpower requirements. The United States and Europe are currently designing and building large physics facilities with superconducting radiofrequency cavities similar to what the ILC will use, and many of those scientists and engineers will become available to work on the ILC, Okada says. But Japan hasn't had a similar cutting-edge project. Okada says KEK currently has 30 to 40 scientists and engineers with relevant expertise but will need about triple that number to manage its share of the final design work. KEK hopes to fill the gap by luring experienced hands as well as signing up new recruits. "We think the ILC is a project which can attract young talent," Okada says.
Meanwhile, Yamashita says support for the project is building among local governments and neighboring prefectures as well as among national politicians. He says the ILC may also benefit from the fact that government spending on the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo will be winding down before the first funds are needed for its construction.
*Correction, 8 January, 9:00 a.m.: This story has been revised to correct the date the basic design of the ILC was completed and to clarify the superconducting technology it plans to use.